Tau Conceptual Framework Article Published

Tau Conceptual Framework Article Published

After presenting at the Oxford Educational Research Symposium in December, my colleagues and I worked on completing our article. The Journal of Academic Perspectives has just published the final product - Complex Adaptive Systems and the Tau Conceptual Framework for Understanding Healthcare and Human Services in the United States. 

The model was developed as a collaborative effort between a cohort of doctoral students and a dissertation chair. The model depicts an understanding of the current U.S. healthcare system, represented as a negative feedback model. The model shows the interdependencies of certain factors, activities, or realities on other parts of this vast and complex system. Raising practitioner awareness and preventing errors, for example, has an inverse reaction and lowers costs associated with care, litigation, and repeated treatments.  Raising the number of regulations is inversely related to quality of care, and lowers job satisfaction, increases fear which further exacerbates risks, and does not directly improve care. These are just two of the many relationships we found in the literature, and through our practical experience and doctoral research studies. 

Students interested in healthcare research may find this article useful to:

  • Explore healthcare as a Complex Adaptive System
  • Address safety and quality issues through application of the High Reliability Organization (HRO) framework
  • Address or prevent MediCare fraud and abuse
  • Explore access to care, 
  • Explore Accountable Care Organizations
  • Explore healthcare costs and potential savings, and more.

The article is meant to continue growing as more researchers add to the literature. As healthcare policies change, and as more people gain access to care, the model will adapt to reflect the current state of the system. The article is available here: Complex Adaptive Systems and the Tau Conceptual Framework for Understanding Healthcare and Human Services in the United States


Educators applied complexity sciences to analyze healthcare and human services in a complex adaptive system (CAS), which supported the need to restructure services to sustain the goals of the healthcare continuum. CAS theory introduces new perspectives for leaders challenged with meeting inconsistent and seemingly contradictory healthcare mandates. CAS theory enabled identification of variables directly or inversely related based on the direction of their feedback loops and system behaviors from evidence-based research findings. The authors explored the benefits of using this approach as a learning tool for students and faculty engaged in healthcare research and as an evaluation method for healthcare leaders to improve outcomes. This exploratory review resulted in the development of the Tau Conceptual Framework model, which revealed relationships and elements of a CAS negative feedback system. The name Tau was selected because of the symbolic meaning of the harmonic union between the objective and subjective and the Franciscan ideal to promote the greater good. The research methodology enabled identification of variables related to access, safety and quality, cost considerations, and stakeholder satisfaction. Independent variables were added to the model showing the effects of a direct or inverse relationship with the dependent variables. In using this model, a student-designed submodel was developed using the High Reliability Organization (HRO) theory to improve quality. The models depict healthcare delivery as a multifaceted feedback system that may be used to improve safety and quality within a complex adaptive healthcare system. The model may also enable educators and students develop new submodels and help leaders develop universal practices to improve safety and quality, increase patient and stakeholder satisfaction, and reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending by $1 trillion annually, thus improving access to services.


Gossett, K. D., Padgett, J. D., Pierce, S. M., & Scott, J. L. (2019). Complex adaptive systems theory and the Tau conceptual framework for understanding healthcare and human services in the United States. Journal of Academic Perspectives 2019(2). Retrieved from https://www.journalofacademicperspectives.com/back-issues/volume-2019/volume-2019-no-2/

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