Working Paper


What can Education Systems Research Learn from Health Systems Research?


Image of Kara Hanson

Kara Hanson

Intellectual Leadership Team

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

This RISE Working Paper aims to feed into the first year of conceptual thinking of the RISE Programme through providing a comparison of education systems research with the field of health systems research. Emerging over the past 15-20 years as a recognised field of academic enquiry, health systems research has grown in response to a lack of knowledge and understanding into how the effective delivery of health services is underpinned by a health system.

By reviewing the development of the health systems research field, the contributions it has made to policy making, and what range of disciplines and methods are required for carrying out research of this nature, this paper demonstrates how a new field of education systems research can be supported through reference to health. Both systems have many similar features, share common challenges and goals, and engage with both researchers and policymakers in generating evidence about how these systems can be improved.

This paper is authored by Kara Hanson, RISE ILT Member and Professor of Health System Economics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who makes several conclusions into how education systems research can develop. She suggests that education systems research should develop as a “question driven field”; that the field must use different system models to address different questions, and must draw on a broad range of social science disciplines in order to understand the nature of the “software” of systems; that evaluations of education systems should recognise their complexity and be strongly theory-of-change led; and finally, that researchers should reflect on what structures and organisations might be needed to “build the field” in order to secure adequate funding and demonstrate impact.

Author bios:


Hanson, K. 2015. What can Education Systems Research Learn from Health Systems Research? RISE Working Paper Series. 15/003.