Review criteria 2: Governance
The UHWB programme consists of staff at the IPO (the Executive Director and Administrative Assistant at time of writing; there is no Science Officer or Communications Officer), and the Scientific Committee. The Scientific Committee defines the priorities and implementation strategy of the programme, elaborates policy and plays an advocacy role. This includes working with the Executive Director in soliciting the additional funds necessary for the conduct of programme activities directed by, or coordinated through, the IPO. The programme operates under the infrastructure of the host institution – the Institute of Urban Environment located at the Chinese Academy of Sciences – which provides internal services and financial support, operating under the institution’s and host country’s internal standard operating procedures.
In reality, the programme is too small to warrant an elaborate governance structure. However, at the same time, roles and responsibilities appear to be in conflict. A major challenge for the Executive Director is the competing priorities of the international programme vis-à-vis its location within a Chinese research centre; and restrictions on the amount of time allocated for research activities (i.e. 20%). Efforts to overcome these tensions need to be resolved, with expectations clarified on what is achievable within the constraints of the role.
This clarification should be carried out in line with a strategic planning meeting facilitated by the Scientific Committee in order to focus the programme’s mission, vision, and action plans during its final phase. The 2019 International Conference on Urban Health, which the programme is co-hosting, provides an ideal platform for holding these discussions, as well as a vehicle to achieve the programme’s capacity-building and network development activities.
Developing a domestic research programme supported by a native speaking Co-director or Associate Director, as well as post-doctoral fellows and doctoral students, could assist the initiative in at least two ways. It would provide more support to the Executive Director in his efforts to create an international programme – with students benefiting from the opening up of an enormous network of researchers (through the Scientific Committee). And it would support developing networks within China while creating a domestic research programme focused on urban health and well-being through the lens of system science.
The role and functions of the Scientific Committee should be revisited. It is clear that some functions have not been fulfilled in accordance with its initial terms of reference. The Scientific Committee, together with the Executive Director, should re-examine its own functioning and terms of reference, and aid the Executive Director in setting a new strategic and science action plan that is relevant, feasible and attainable within the remaining lifespan of the programme. The Scientific Committee should review the programme’s progress against key performance indicators on a regular basis.