The systemic complexity of managing a pandemic

A system map on relationships between different factors affecting society in times of a pandemic.

The systemic complexity of managing a pandemic

To try and make sense of factors affecting the management of a pandemic, I created a system map. This is in no way a complete picture, and certainly not a verified one, but a way of showing the potential complexity. For myself it’s a way to summarize and reflect on much of what I’ve seen in the news reporting of March and early April of 2020.

System map with arrows between different topic areas in circles
The systemic complexity of managing a pandemic

For accessibility purposes, below is a text explanation of the text in the system map and the meaning of each of the arrows.

These are examples of the factors at play when looking at how to mitigate spread of disease, and how they may affect one another. The idea is that each factor must be evaluated regularly to support reflective reasoning when making plans of action. Note! This is an example, not a complete picture.

– System map by Per Axbom in April, 2020

  • Virus spread increases number of infections
  • Number of infections increases number of deaths
  • Number of infections increases population immunity
  • Population immunity decreases number of infections
  • Number of infections increases health system overload
  • Health system overload increases medical staff falling ill
  • Medical staff falling ill increases health system overload
  • Health system overload increases number of deaths
  • Number of deaths increases social unrest
  • Social unrest increases health system overload
  • Social unrest incrases ignoring health advice
  • False reporting increases ignoring health advice
  • Racist attacks increases social unrest
  • Ignoring health advice increases virus spread
  • Ignoring health advice increases close gatherings
  • Close gatherings increase virus spread
  • Handwashing decreases virus spread
  • Handwashing decreases other infections/diseases
  • Physical distancing decreases virus spread
  • Physical distancing decreases other infections/diseases
  • Physical distancing increases cancelled events
  • Quarantine decreases virus spread
  • Lockdown decreases virus spread
  • Cancelled events increases mental health distress, domestic violence and drug abuse
  • Quarantine increases mental health distress, domestic violence and drug abuse
  • Lockdown increases mental health distress, domestic violence and drug abuse
  • Lockdown increases market closures
  • Market closures increase layoffs
  • Layoffs increase financial distress
  • Financial distress increases mental health distress, domestic violence and drug abuse
  • Financial distress increases crime
  • Financial distress increases social unrest
  • Lockdowns decrease crime
  • Lockdown increase social unrest
  • Health distress, domestic violence and drug abuse increases social unrest

Let me know what other factors you would add do a system map like this, and how it makes you feel about the complexity of the situation and how to manage it.


This post is also available in Swedish.


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