Using systems science methods to enhance the work of national and local walking partnerships: practical insights from Ireland

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BACKGROUND: Physical activity (PA) literature is dominated by individual-level descriptive studies, which are known to have limited impact on population PA levels. Leveraging systems science methods offers opportunities to approach PA in a manner which embraces its inherent complexity. This study describes how participatory systems mapping and social network analysis (SNA) were used to understand the work of local and national level walking systems in Ireland. METHODS: Two adapted participatory action research workshops with multisectoral stakeholders were used to develop a systems map for walking in Cork, Ireland. The Global Action Plan for Physical Activity 2018-2030 (GAPPA) map was used as a framework to categorize workshop outcomes. Secondly, SNA methods were used to analyse the communication network between partners of Get Ireland Walking, a national walking promotion initiative, as defined within their strategic plan and the actual communication network as experienced by the partners. RESULTS: The systems mapping process allowed stakeholders to identify 19 suggested actions for the Cork walking system. The SNA found that there were considerably fewer communication ties between partners in the actual communication network than in the strategy defined network. CONCLUSION: The systems mapping process was a useful catalyst for engaging stakeholders in cross-sectoral communication and the GAPPA was a practical way to organize workshop outcomes. Social network analysis methods highlighted that the communication network of a national level walking promotion partnership is not working as planned. Overall, the use of systems science methods can provide practical insights for local and national level walking systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)i8-i13
JournalEuropean Journal of Public Health
Issue numberSuppl 1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2022


  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Ireland
  • Walking


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