Social science approaches for research and engagement in health policy & systems

SHAPES convenes activities and discussions to strengthen and raise the profile of social science approaches for research and engagement within the wider field of health policy and systems research (HPSR).

SHAPES: social science approaches for research and engagement in health policy & systems

SHAPES was founded in 2011 when four networks (social science approaches, policy analysis, participatory action research, and realist evaluation) united under one Thematic Group (TWG). The TWG is active as a Google group (i.e. email listserv) and LinkedIn group, where members circulate resources and engage in dialogue on social science issues in HPSR. In addition, SHAPES members collaborate across seven thematic areas.

Thematic areas with SHAPES

Thematic area leads

  • Theory-driven enquiry

Prashanth N. S, Arima Mishra, Seye Abimbola

  • Policy analysis

Lucy Gilson and Johanna Hanefeld

  • Participatory action research

Rene Loewenson, Zubin Shroff, Kausar Khan, Walter Flores, B. Kaim, A Zulu, Godelieve van Heteren

  • Complexity science and systems thinking

Ligia Paina, Joe Varghese, Raman V.R., Chad Swanson

  • Working across constituencies: linking research with policy and action

Fadi el Jardali and Devaki Nambiar

  • Power in HPSR

Stephanie Topp, Kerry Scott, Veena Sriram and Walter Flores

  • Working across disciplines

Jill Olivier


To strengthen and raise the profile of social science approaches within the wider field of HPSR by:

  • Engendering a view of HPSR as an evolving science that encompasses multiple forms of social and experiential knowledge and approaches of knowledge generation and application. 

  • Enhancing the relevance of social science theory and knowledge generation for real-world change in health policy & systems, particularly through engagement at the level of communities and frontline health systems with system-wide implementation and policy level implications. 

  • Strengthening the relationship between the production and utilization of knowledge for health systems strengthening, through engagement across diverse constituencies 

  • Encouraging reflexivity and ethics in HPSR 

  • Stimulating learning and innovation and helping build research capacities, by assisting in training, 
exchange of best practices, mentoring and creating opportunities for under-resourced researchers. 

  • Creating virtual and actual spaces for researchers, practitioners and policy-makers to interact, 
share experiences and collaborate on improving methods, research practices, and research uptake. 

While the focus of all of our objectives is global, we particularly recognize the importance of strengthening and raising the profile of social science approaches in the context of low and middle- income countries (LMIC) and of maximizing the involvement of LMIC researchers and research users from diverse backgrounds.

Key outputs

Group facilitators

  • Kerry Scott

    Co-Chair of Thematic Working Group
  • Steph Topp

    Co-Chair of Thematic Working Group
  • Manu Gupta

    Coordinator of Thematic Working Group

Get involved

Please contact the group Coordinator, Manu Gupta (manugupta08(at), if you would like to get involved. 

We also welcome you to join our SHaPeS LinkedIn group. 

Join our group