Journal of Public Health Policy

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 203–215 | Cite as

Participatory simulation modelling to inform public health policy and practice: Rethinking the evidence hierarchies

  • Eloise O’DonnellEmail author
  • Jo-An Atkinson
  • Louise Freebairn
  • Lucie Rychetnik
Original Article


Drawing on the long tradition of evidence-based medicine that aims to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of clinical practice, the field of public health has sought to apply ‘hierarchies of evidence’ to appraise and synthesise public health research. Various critiques of this approach led to the development of synthesis methods that include broader evidence typologies and more ‘fit for purpose’ privileging of methodological designs. While such adaptations offer great utility for evidence-informed public health policy and practice, this paper offers an alternative perspective on the synthesis of evidence that necessitates a yet more egalitarian approach. Dynamic simulation modelling is increasingly recognised as a valuable evidence synthesis tool to inform public health policy and programme planning for complex problems. The development of simulation models draws on and privileges a wide range of evidence typologies, thus challenging the traditional use of ‘hierarchies of evidence’ to support decisions on complex dynamic problems.


dynamic simulation modelling participatory modelling evidence hierarchy evidence synthesis systems science health policy 



This work was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC) through its partnership centre grant scheme (Grant ID: GNT9100001). NSW Health, ACT Health, The Commonwealth Department of Health, The Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia and HCF Research Foundation contributed funds to support this work as part of the NHMRC partnership centre grant scheme. The contents of this paper are solely the responsibility of the individual authors and do not reflect the views of the NHMRC or funding partners. The authors thank Geoff McDonnell for his review and valuable comments on the penultimate draft of this paper, and Sally Redman for her contributions to discussions during the conceptualisation of this work.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eloise O’Donnell
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jo-An Atkinson
    • 2
  • Louise Freebairn
    • 4
  • Lucie Rychetnik
    • 3
  1. 1.The Australian Prevention Partnership CentreSax InstituteSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, School of MedicineThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, School of MedicineThe University of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  4. 4.The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, Knowledge Translation and Health Outcomes, Epidemiology Section, ACT HealthCanberra CityAustralia

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