Cape Town welcomed the world to the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research between 30 September and 3 October 2014. One hundred and twenty five countries were represented by almost 2000 participants, who gathered to discuss and debate the science and practice of people-centred health systems. Over the course of the symposium, which included four plenary sessions, 170 concurrent and satellite sessions, 572 posters and 11 films, participants had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the field of health policy and systems research. Policy-makers, activists, community representatives, managers, researchers and educators from around the world shared new information and insights from their experiences with the ‘Journey to universal health coverage’, the theme of the Second Global Symposium, and developed a deeper understanding of people-centred health systems. This statement was synthesized from broad-ranging discussions over the three days of the meeting, drawing upon rapporteurs’ notes across all the sessions.