Abstract for: Understanding Social Determinants from the Ground Up

Social determinants of health explain significant variations in public health and represent potentially important leverage points for community mobilization and social action. Social determinant variables and their causal relationships can be highly subjective and context-specific, and thereby add to the overall dynamic complexity of a system. Group model building (GMB) is one approach to understanding social determinants by including otherwise marginalized voices in the modeling process. GMB can potentially increase mobilization and social action, and lead to better models. How this claim happens is often unclear and confounded by the fact that GMB is itself a dynamically complex system. This paper presents a theory of GMB in the form of a system dynamics simulation model. Results illustrate the relative importance of modeler expertise, initial problem selection, and participation. Implications for future research and practice are discussed with specific attention to the design of community based group model building projects.