Planning, implementing and governing systems-based co-creation: the DISCOVER framework

Niamh Smith*, Michail Georgiou, Mohammad S. Jalali, Sebastien Chastin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
14 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Increasingly, public health faces challenges requiring complex, multifaceted and multi-sectoral responses. This calls for systems-based approaches that facilitate the kind of collective and collaborative thinking and working required to address complexity. While the literature on systems thinking, system dynamics and the associated methodologies is extensive, there remains little clear guidance on how to plan, govern and implement participatory systems approaches within a co-creation process. Methods: We used a three-step process to develop DISCOVER, a framework for implementing, and governing systems-based co-creation: Stage 1: We conducted a literature analysis of key texts to identify well-documented methods and phases for co-creation using a systems approach, as well as areas where gaps existed.Stage 2: We looked for the most appropriate methods and approaches to fill the gaps in the knowledge production chain.Stage 3: We developed the framework, identifying how the different tools and approaches fit together end-to-end, from sampling and recruiting participants all the way through to responding with an action plan. Results: We devised DISCOVER to help guide researchers and stakeholders to collectively respond to complex social, health and wider problems. DISCOVER is a strategic research planning and governance framework that provides an actionable, systematic way to conceptualise complex problems and move from evidence to action, using systems approaches and co-creation. In this article, we introduce the eight-step framework and provide an illustrative case study showcasing its potential. The framework integrates complementary approaches and methods from social network analysis, systems thinking and co-creation literature. The eight steps are followed sequentially but can overlap. Conclusions: DISCOVER increases rigour and transparency in system approaches to tackling complex issues going from planning to action. It is being piloted in environmental health research but may be suitable to address other complex challenges and could be incorporated into research proposals and protocols for future projects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Number of pages16
JournalHealth Research Policy and Systems
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2024


  • Co-creation
  • Group model building
  • Health
  • Methods
  • Policy formulation
  • Public health
  • Systems mapping
  • Systems thinking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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