ESR’s social systems team applies extensive expertise and experience to help decision-makers address challenging and intractable problems with high levels of complexity and uncertainty.


Mātauranga pāpori / Social science

About ESR's social systems expertise

Our work helps decision makers make confident decisions and provides our clients with 'bigger picture' understanding of issues, and research based insights on how to bring about change. Our multidisciplinary team has expertise including public and environmental health, environmental policy, problem structuring, workshop facilitation, systems thinking, developmental evaluation and modelling. We work in close partnership with our clients and deliver practical solutions that can be readily applied.

The Social Systems team applies systems thinking to much of its work. Systems thinking sheds new light on solutions to the very difficult and contentious problems facing New Zealand. It uses a range of methodologies to understand how those things which may be regarded as parts of a system influence one another.

The team's work covers these interrelated areas of research:

Healthy communities 
Improvements to health systems, including oral health and opioid substitution treatments, 'whole of system' change in family violence and child abuse.

Healthy environments
Integrating the biophysical world with communities and stakeholders for heathier environments.

Sustainable development 
Balancing different, and often competing, needs against an awareness of the environmental, social and economic limitations we face as a society.

Science, technology and society 
The governance of new technology and public understanding of science.

Find out more about the work we do through the case studies below, or get in touch with Maria Hepi:


Collaborative community engagement

Kaikōura, a South Island coastal town, is world famous for its beautiful environment. Responsible stewardship of the land is critical for the town's thriving Māori-owned and -operated nature-based and cultural tourism industry, and the local community has embraced this responsibility.

STEM Taupulega

Raising Pasifika student achievement in science

ESR is contributing to an New Zealand Qualification Authority (NZQA) advisory group to help lift Pasifika student achievement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

lump sugar

Te Mate Huka - Diabetes study

Reducing health inequalities and achieving health equity for Māori will depend on a better understanding of the science of implementation.


Facilitating service redesign

ESR worked in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the Capital and Coast DHB to redevelop the model of care for those involved in Opioid Substitution Treatments (OST).

the glenn inquiry

Measuring the effectiveness of whole-of-system response to prevent family violence

Preventing family violence – one of society’s most complex social issues.

Coral beach sand Bikenibeu Bronwyn Humphries water

The role of natural coral sand in water quality

Can natural coral sand be used to overcome some of the wastewater and drinking water challenges in the Pacific islands?

Making services reachable

Making services reachable

How do we enable families/whānau to succeed to ensure that all New Zealand children fulfil their potential? What are the critical causal influences on positive outcomes for family/whānau, and are there connections between them? How do these critical influences differ for ‘family’...


Primary Prevention in Public and Environmental Health (P3EH)

Public health personnel work collaboratively with a range of organisations to support health through prevention.