The application of complex systems to understand peer network health promotion with sexually adventurous men

Stream: Navigating Sexual Health: Professional, youth and MSM perspectives
Date: Friday, 1 April 2016
Time: 11.15 am – 1.00 pm


Sexually adventurous gay men are quick to adopt new opportunities for pleasure and prevention.

Peer based health promotion use insights from engagement with these networks to understand how they are changing, and how to influence. Traditional evaluation methods struggle with programs that are continuously evolving in tandem with their target audience and context.

The What Works and Why (W3) project used participatory methods from complex systems to develop:
• better understanding of how peer based programs work;
• methods to support capturing and sharing insights from practice; and
• a framework to evaluate the role and contribution of peer based programs.

With the Sexually Adventurous Men (SAM) project at the Victorian AIDS Council, we mapped out practitioners’ implicit mental models of two complex adaptive systems: the community system made up of separate but overlapping networks and cultures in sexually adventurous practices; and the policy system of the HIV sector, media, health system and politics.

We found the ‘system logic’ of peer network targeted health promotion such as the SAM Project was to create products that were culturally relevant enough to circulate via existing sexually adventurous networks. The goals of these products were to amplify the circulation of social and sexual practices that reduce HIV infection risk rates overall, and to provoke men who consume them to revise their mental models to better fit the increasing complexity of HIV prevention. In the process we articulated a program theory of peer based health promotion not elsewhere advanced in the public health literature.


Daniel Reeders, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University
Daniel Reeders has been a health promotion practitioner for ten years, working in HIV, viral hepatitis and cancer screening with Aboriginal, CALD and sexually diverse communities. Most recently Daniel has been working at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society on the What Works and Why (W3) Project applying systems thinking and complex adaptive systems theory to the peer-led health promotion.

Graham Brown (Presenter), Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University
Dr Graham Brown is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University. Graham has worked in community based health promotion and research for 20 years, with a particular interest in the role of community based organisations and peer-led programs, building long term collaborations with state and national research centres and community organisations in Australia and Europe. Graham has adjunct appointments at the Burnet Institute and the Centre for Social Research in Health, and close links with the Australian HIV community sector.

Colin Batrouney, Victorian AIDS Council

Carlos Sepulveda, Victorian AIDS Council