Complex Adaptive Systems Theory 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.

This publication has been peer reviewed.
Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Kenneth D. Gossett
Jared D. Padgett
Shelly M. Pierce
Joni L. Scott
Year of Publication: 
Journal, Book, Magazine or Other Publication Title: 
Journal of Academic Perspectives
Date Published: 
Sunday, August 25, 2019
Publication Language: 
Boyer's Domain: 

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