Using Behavior Over Time Graphs to Spur Systems Thinking Among Public Health Practitioners
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Public health practitioners can use Behavior Over Time (BOT) graphs to spur discussion and systems thinking around complex challenges. Multiple large systems, such as health care, the economy, and education, affect chronic disease rates in the United States. System thinking tools can build public health practitioners’ capacity to understand these systems and collaborate within and across sectors to improve population health. BOT graphs show a variable, or variables (y axis) over time (x axis). Although analyzing trends is not new to public health, drawing BOT graphs, annotating the events and systemic forces that are likely to influence the depicted trends, and then discussing the graphs in a diverse group provides an opportunity for public health practitioners to hear each other’s perspectives and creates a more holistic understanding of the key factors that contribute to a trend. We describe how BOT graphs are used in public health, how they can be used to generate group discussion, and how this process can advance systems-level thinking. Then we describe how BOT graphs were used with groups of maternal and child health (MCH) practitioners and partners (N = 101) during a training session to advance their thinking about MCH challenges. Eighty-six percent of the 84 participants who completed an evaluation agreed or strongly agreed that they would use this BOT graph process to engage stakeholders in their home states and jurisdictions. The BOT graph process we describe can be applied to a variety of public health issues and used by practitioners, stakeholders, and researchers.