Grappling with complexity with the community: Arts-based methods, tools, and lessons learned

Grappling with complexity with the community: Arts-based methods, tools, and lessons learned

Networking Session banner

When: Tue 22nd Aug 2023, 12:00 pm AEST (Sydney time)

It is now widely accepted that the starting point in designing interventions at a community level is an understanding of what is already in place. In practice, we are encouraged to draw on a variety of data and seek out multiple community perspectives through processes of co-creation. This is made more challenging when tackling complex problems, such as the social determinants of health. Complex problems are nonlinear, interconnected with context, and dynamic in nature. How do we ensure fidelity to this complexity that engages stakeholders rather than bamboozling them?

Pathways in Place (Victoria University) is a research program that focuses on place-based systems change. In this presentation, we will draw on our work in one community in Melbourne’s West where we focus on education and employment pathways for young people. To present what is already known (existing data) we worked with a graphic artist to design a system map. We applied the metaphor of a road network to communicate the nonlinear nature of education and employment pathways for young people. We then ran a series of workshops with community stakeholders who were invited to add data, experiences, and perspectives onto the system map. The use of metaphor and graphic illustrations invited multiple interpretations, drawing attention to particular parts of the map (or road network) while simultaneously maintaining a focus on the ‘whole’. In doing so, the complexity of pathways for young people remained in sight.

In this session, we will:   

(1) describe our approach to community engagement,

(2) share some resources we have developed,

(3) discuss our approach to tracking and measuring research engagement, and

(4) take the Carnegie Community of Practice through one of our online activities.


  • Principles of complexity and systems thinking in work with communities
  • Use of arts-based methods and online activities in community engagement
  • Practical examples of how to use our tools in your own work


Therese Riley
Therese Riley is an Associate Professor of Complex Community Interventions at Victoria University. Therese has over 20 years’ experience undertaking community-based research across Australia. Over the last decade, Therese has focussed her research efforts on the application of systems thinking in addressing complex problems at a community level with publications covering areas such as coproduction and systemic action learning. Therese is currently leading the community work with the Pathways in Place team at Victoria University.

Amy Mowle
Amy Mowle is an early career researcher with an emerging track record of presentations and publications covering a diverse range of topics, from networked feminist communities to community resource mapping. In her role as a Research Officer for the Pathways in Place program, Amy is engaged in research across the public policy, evidence, and evaluation workstreams, and is interested in the manifestation and exercise of power in collaborative decision-making.

Price: FREE