I am a Systems Thinking practitioner/senior researcher with The University of Queensland’s Centre for the Business and Economics of Health, and a Non-Executive Director with 15 year’s Board experience. I am dedicated to helping organisations use system thinking tools to diagnose, understand and analyse and develop solutions for the critical challenges before them. In the rapidly changing healthcare environment, systems tools and methods have been used with great success to transform organisations through fostering an integrative approach to patient-centred care, improving efficiency, and promoting co-ordinating operations, amongst other positive results. Systems thinking’s holistic approach to understanding the interconnectedness of system elements and the underlying dynamics of systems can help explain why health systems behave the way they do and offer valuable insights into leverage points for sustainable change.

I am proficient with system thinking methods, both qualitative and quantitative, and specialise in working collaboratively with organisations to deploy these methods to explore the broader context of their complex problems and develop holistic solutions. Systems often involve feedback loops where actions produce consequences that affect future actions. A systems thinking approach to problem solving focusses on understanding how those changes may propagate through the system, and where those effects actually impact.

I enjoy working with industry partners to impart systems thinking skills. This usually involves facilitating participatory workshops which use scripted activities to enable stakeholders at the coalface to translate their expert knowledge into meaningful systems maps used to communicate to others, enhance understanding of system behaviour and inform leverage points for improvement. Complex systems tend to have multiple processes which cross multiple boundaries. This can encourage a silo mentality promoting” firefighting” fixes over systemic solutions. These are often costly and can mask unintended consequences. Systems thinking methods encourage thinking across boundaries wherein the system maps and system solutions are codesigned from a shared understanding.

Health is systemic and integrative, multidimensional, and multilevel. I can help your organisation to explore problems from a systems perspective to (a) identify leverage points for intervention, (b) discover a richer understanding of the implications of interventions and policy, (c) foster more robust interventions and (d) strengthen stakeholder buy-in and policy ownership through encouraging a shared vision and collaborative style.

Underpinning my research skillset is my 15 years’ experience of Boards and 25 years of senior leadership experience in Industry. I am a Non- Executive Director of the Sunshine Coast Health and Hospital Board (SCHHS). In my past corporate finance/Treasury roles, both public and private, I have had extensive experience in project leadership (as treasury systems design/implementation and as CIA on grants), governance (Chair/member of Governance Committees), regulation and strategic oversight (Treasurer, JBS Australia), cash and foreign exchange risk management, policy frameworks and financial and enterprise risk management. I have 15 years’ experience on Boards, six and a half as Board Chair. In 2019, I completed the London Business School’s Leading Change Course which gave me unique insights into ways to help businesses understand, respond, pivot, and succeed. I have been accepted into Oxford University’s six day onsite intensive Oxford Healthcare Leadership Program to be held in October 2024, aimed at helping healthcare leaders face the unprecedented challenges begore them. I have lived experience in compliance and ethics, risk and assurance, strategy formation, financial oversight, and culture resets. All this experience has benefitted my industry facing roles, enabling me to better support industry partners to evaluate and discern, collaborative effectively, make evidence-based decisions with confidence, understand the consequences of feedback in systems, consider broader impacts on healthcare systems and communities and foster a culture of innovation.

Research interests

Applying participatory systems thinking methods: using systems thinking methods to understand the complex, ambiguous problems confronting health services delivery and find systemic solutions.

Capacity Building in System Thinking: Health policy and planning often fails to achieve its intended result because of the complexity of health systems and their counter-intuitive behaviour so a system perspective and tools can help.

Improving patient flow through health systems: can be achieved by promoting an integrated approach to healthcare using systems thinking methods and system dynamics simulation.

Research impact

Working with Metro North HHS, in 2023 I led a project which used a systems thinking approach to understand the structure and behaviour of the outpatient management system; and provide an extensible tool virtually testing allocation algorithms to inform improved equity and access to outpatient's services. The algorithm is in use.

I worked with MLA Australia to co-design, develop and embed a system dynamics simulation model to compare the environmental footprints of traditional and artificial meat production systems. The model is used by industry to predict the size of Australia’s herd.

I led the use of participatory system thinking workshops as part of a multi-method evaluation engaging with Queensland Health sites to explore the impact of augmenting nursing/midwifery ratios in Queensland. The multi-method evaluation outcomes will inform Queensland policy.

I led the system thinking on an NHMRC funded Indigenous-led research project involving facilitated workshops which focused on better understanding the risks and mitigating factors for COVID-19 in urban Indigenous communities. A key output was co-constructed causal systems map with input from a large group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous health and policy experts.

I led a project with the Sustainable Infrastructure Research Hub (UQ) to develop a system dynamics Hydrogen Supply Chain Tool whereby the user can experiment with different supply chain combinations to explore footprints over time and system-wide implications and trade-offs.


To find out how we can collaborate and bring value to your organisation, I can be contacted via:
 Email - s.mcavoy@business.uq.edu.au
Connect with Sue on LinkedIn