Context Four maternity/obstetrical care organizations, representing women, midwives, obstetricians and family doctors conducted interdisciplinary policy research under auspices of four key stakeholder groups. These projects teams and key stakeholders subsequently collaborated to develop consensus on strategies for improved maternity services in Ontario.
Objectives The objective of this study is to evaluate a 2-day research synthesis and consensus building conference to answer policy questions in relation to new models of interdisciplinary maternity care organizations in different settings in Ontario.
Methods The evaluation consisted of a scan of individual project activities and findings as were presented to an invited audience of key stakeholders at the consensus conference. This involved: participant observation with key informant consultation; a survey of attendees; pattern processing and sense making of project materials, consensus statements derived at the conference in the light of participant observation and survey material as pertaining to a complex system. The development of a systems framework for maternity care policy in Ontario was based on secondary analysis of the material.
Findings Conference participants were united on the importance of investment in maternity care for Ontario and the impending workforce crisis if adaptation of the workforce did not take place. The conference participants proposed reforming the current system that was seen as too rigid and inflexible in relation to the constraints of legislation, provider scope of practice and remuneration issues. However, not one model of interdisciplinary maternity/obstetrical care was endorsed. Consistency and coherence of models (rather than central standardization) through self-organization based on local needs was strongly endorsed. An understanding of primary maternity care models as subsystems of networked providers in complex health organizations and a wider social system emerged. The patterns identified were incorporated into a complexity framework to assist sense making to inform policy.
Discussion Coherence around core values, holism and synthesis with responsiveness to local needs and key stakeholders were themes that emerged consistent with complex adaptive systems principles. Respecting historical provider relationships and local history provided a background for change recognizing that systems evolve in part from where they have been. The building of functioning relationships was central through education and improved communication with ongoing feedback loops (positive and negative). Information systems and a flexible improved central and local organization of maternity services was endorsed. Education and improved communication through ongoing feedback loops (positive and negative) were central to building functioning relationships. Also, coordinated central organization with a flexible and adaptive local organization of maternity services was endorsed by participants.
Conclusions This evaluation used an approach comprising scoping, pattern processing and sense making. While the projects produced considerable typical research evidence, the key policy questions could not be addressed by this alone, and a process of synthesis and consensus building with stakeholder engagement was applied. An adaptive system with local needs driving a relationship based network of interdisciplinary groupings or teams with both bottom up and central leadership. A complexity framework enhanced sense making for the system approaches and understandings that emerged.