6 Theories Explaining The Limitations of Global Health Interventions

6 minutes   |  CAREER ADVICE, HEALTH

Even the most well-intended global health interventions and delivery plans can result in unforeseen consequences. These consequences threaten the success of the health project and sometimes even have undesirable effects on the communities they attempt to serve. The Global Healthcare Delivery online short course presented by Harvard’s Office for the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning, in association with HarvardX, has been designed to help you understand how global health interventions can be threatened by social bias.

In Module 2 of the course, you’ll explore a “toolkit” of six social theories. They can be used to better understand the effects and limitations of global health interventions so that future projects are optimally designed and executed. This interactive infographic gives you a look into Module 2 of the Global Healthcare Delivery course – showcasing a summary of each of the social theories and an example to demonstrate their use.

This interactive infographic is best viewed on a desktop.

The six theories you’ll cover in Module 2 of the Global Health Delivery online short course:

1. The social construction of reality

Knowledge is constructed through perceptions or the outcomes of interactions between people. Over time, this knowledge is formalized through rules and habits, so that it eventually seems objective, and thus unquestionable.

2. Unintended consequences of purposive action

Deciding on a plan of action requires a choice informed by the decision maker’s knowledge, values, or motives. This choice influences the intended outcome, as well as any unexpected outcomes. These unintended outcomes may be positive or negative, but they’re often overlooked by the official outcome, resulting in poor understanding of their consequences.

3. Weber’s vision of modernity

Max Weber predicted that power in the 20th century would shift from families and communities to institutions and their associated bureaucracies. This resulted in organizations that can outlast their individual leaders or members but are also resistant to change, exceptions, or new ideas.

4. Local moral worlds

Shared value structures characterize different environments, and influence the actions of individuals who may or may not be in agreement with them. This theory also helps to identify how the values that people strive to live by may be greatly limited by the demands of the context they find themselves in.

5. Biopower

In contrast to times of sovereigns where monarchs had control over death, modern governments now control populations through the use of knowledge and systems that grant them surveillance. Individuals internalize the state’s control by regulating their actions in acknowledgment of being monitored.

6. Social suffering

Most health challenges originate from larger social forces (such as poverty or gender inequality) and often from the same structures (such as institutions or policies) created to counter these forces. Their consequences rarely affect an individual alone; their family and community also suffer.


Want to use social theories to ensure your health projects achieve success? Register for the Global Health Delivery online short course from Harvard’s VPAL.

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