Review criteria 1: Strategic planning and implementation
Overall, the UHWB programme is a long way from reaching its overarching goals. The reviewers suggest that what is needed in the short term is a system of prioritization of activities and a concomitant sense of where best to apply limited resources. Moreover, there needs to be more of a targeted approach to engagement – with partners, other researchers, policy-makers and civil society. The programme, through its Scientific Committee, should work to develop a more strategic and focused work plan.
The reviewers do recognize that the IPO has put considerable effort into writing research applications and attending scientific meetings in an effort to meet the goal of coordinating research projects. However, much of this effort has been opportunistic rather than strategic, and the Science Committee needs to provide stronger guidance on where to expend energy given that resources are limited.
The goal of developing methodologies for data needs remains to be met. Through engaging its Scientific Committee, the programme has built a strong foundation by establishing a loose ‘network’ of active system science researchers. The opportunity over the next five years is to expand and strengthen this network.
The programme has also struggled to achieve the goal of ‘coordinating’ research. This has proved challenging for a number of reasons: limited resources (staffing); language issues; the Executive Director’s work description (i.e. only 20% of time should be dedicated to research activities); and the terms of reference of the Scientific Committee (i.e. not to generate the research outputs of the programme). With these constraints, it is difficult to see where original research will be produced.
The programme has worked to drive the promotion of the ‘systems approach’ – as exemplified by the various workshops and meetings in which the Executive Director has actively participated. However, due to limited resources, and the fact that the programme has not been able to recruit a Communications Officer, promotion of the programme’s activities has not been as effective as anticipated. A more pragmatic approach is required going forward, that encourages the secretariat of the IPO to perform in a hybrid mode that generates external resources, while at the same time facilitates and promotes the research activities of others – that is, external partners.
The programme’s positive engagement with the International Society for Urban Health (ISUH), and in particular its annual congress, provides an ideal opportunity to find a base through which to engage academics, and foster the development of a new generation of system scientists. Moreover, with the leadership of the eminent Scientific Committee, there is an opportunity to grow the field by publishing special journal issues as well as internationally published edited monographs related to issues at the forefront of systems science (for example, the ISUH’s journal).
Strengthening, formalizing, promoting, supporting and utilizing system science researchers already in the network should be a key focus. A main goal should be to capitalize on these researchers’ expertise to train the next generation of system scientists in the cutting-edge area of undertaking systems science. Creating a formal network of system scientists – particularly early and mid-career academics that are able to foster individual research and publish new findings – will help provide a more active portfolio for the programme.
Given the rapid urbanization occurring in China, and the fact that the programme is located there, it would be a missed opportunity if efforts were not made to develop a network of system scientists in the country. The host organization, the IUE, must and should play a key role in establishing, promoting and facilitating this network, with a domestic scientific committee overseeing its development.