Time-limited prevention initiatives are frequently used to address complex and persisting public health issues, such as non-communicable diseases. This often creates issues in terms of achieving sustainable change. In this study, we use a system dynamic perspective to explore the effects of stop– start funding over system behaviour in two community-based initiatives designed to prevent chronic diseases and obesity. We conducted a qualitative exploratory study using complexity theory as an analytical lens of two Healthy Together Communities (HTCs) initiatives in Victoria, Australia. Data were generated from 20 semi-structured interviews with health promotion practitioners and managers, from community health and local government organizations. Template analysis based on properties of complex systems informed the inductive identification of system behaviour narratives across the stop–start life-course of HTCs. A central narrative of system behaviour emerged around relationships. Within it, we identified pre-existing contextual conditions and intervention design elements that influenced non-linearity of system self-organization and adaptation, and emergence of outcomes. Examples include cynicism, personal relationships and trust, and history of collaboration. Feedback loops operated between HTCs and these conditions, in a way that could influence long-term system behaviour. Taking a dynamic life-course view of system behaviour helps understand the pre-existing contextual factors, design and implementation influences, and feedback loops which shape the longterm legacy of short-lived interventions aimed at solving complex issues. In turn, greater awareness of such interactions can inform better design and implementation of community-based interventions.
- community health promotion