Bulletin no. 09: Scoping the potential uses of systems thinking in developing policy on illicit drugs

Rationale

While a great variety of systems approaches have been developed, they all have some common characteristics: a recognition of the need to deal with complex issues by looking at the ‘bigger picture’; the evaluation of multiple policy options prior to (and often during and after) implementation; and exploring interconnections and potential consequences to identify and minimise unwanted ‘side-effects’ of policy. While this focus of systems thinking on dealing with complexity has been found to be useful in many other policy contexts, such as policing and sustainable cities, systems approaches have been used less frequently in policy making on illicit drugs. However, given that this area of policy can be highly complex, characterised by tensions between stakeholder groups and requiring difficult balances to be struck between enforcement, prevention and treatment, it seems worthwhile to explore what added value systems approaches can offer, and what barriers to their use might be encountered. This DPMP project was designed to scope the potential uses of systems thinking for developing policy on illicit drugs.