HealthcarePapers 13(1) April 2013 : 64-68.doi:10.12927/hcpap.2013.23346

Doing the Dance of Culture Change: Complexity, Evidence and Leadership

Allan Best, Jessie Saul and Cameron Willis


The challenge of culture change in hospitals must address three distinct but interwoven tensions: the need to shift paradigm and understand healthcare as a complex adaptive system; the challenge of knitting together the contributions of both evidence-based medicine and practice-based evidence; and the critical role of distributed, problem-focused leadership.

The authors of the lead paper highlight five key issues in addressing this challenge: (1) the implementation of strategies like front-line ownership (FLO) in the context of macro-level social forces; (2) the central role of distributed leadership and its strengthening within the organization; (3) the need to attend to developing systems thinking skills at all levels; (4) the very significant challenge of how to scale up the labour-intensive change strategies within FLO, the role of "simple rules" and the potential for systems thinking tools such as concept mapping and dynamic modelling; and (5) the concurrent orchestration of not one culture change but three tensions in the challenge FLO represents to simpler versus complex adaptive systems, leadership and management and the balance between evidence-based medicine and practice-based evidence, at the clinical, organizational and macro-system levels.



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