Showcasing the Contribution of Social Sciences to Health Policy and Systems Research

SHAPES Special Issue, International Journal for Equity in Health

Stephanie M. Topp et al. Download

Showcasing the Contribution of Social Sciences to Health Policy and Systems Research

Topp, S.M., Scott, K., Ruano, A.L. et al. Showcasing the contribution of social sciences to health policy and systems research. Int J Equity Health 17, 145 (2018)



This Special Issue represents a critical response to the frequent silencing of qualitative social science research approaches in mainstream public health journals, particularly in those that inform the field of health policy and systems research (HPSR), and the study of equity in health.


This collection of articles is presented by SHAPES, the thematic working group of Health Systems Global focused on social science approaches to research and engagement in health policy and systems. The issue aims to showcase how qualitative and theory-driven approaches can contribute to better promoting equity in health within the field of HPSR.


This issue builds on growing recognition of the complex social nature of health systems. The articles in this collection underscore the importance of employing methods that can uncover and help explain health system complexities by exploring the dynamic relationships and decision-making processes of the human actors within. Articles seek to highlight the contribution that qualitative, interpretivist, critical, emancipatory, and other relational methods have made to understanding health systems, health policies and health interventions from the perspective of those involved. By foregrounding actor perspectives, these methods allow us to explore the impact of vital but difficult-to-measure concepts such as power, culture and norms.


This special issue aims to highlight the critical contribution of social science approaches. Through the application of qualitative methods and, in some cases, development of theory, the articles presented here build broader and deeper understanding of the way health systems function, and simultaneously inform a more people-centred approach to collective efforts to build and strengthen those systems.