Review criteria 3: Secretariat, funding and operations

This report documents the independent mid-term formative review of the International Science Council (ISC) Urban Health and Wellbeing programme.

Review criteria 3: Secretariat, funding and operations

The review panel acknowledges that a lot of funding, resources, and goodwill has gone into the design, development and administration of the UHWB programme as it currently stands. It is a credit to the individuals involved, and the review panel notes the generous funding and in-kind support provided thus far by the host institute and for the next phase of the programme.

The programme operates under the infrastructure of the host institution – the IUE of the CAS – which provides internal services and financial support, operating under the institution’s and host country’s internal standard operating procedures. However, despite the willingness to accommodate an international programme such as this one, a few practical problems preclude full implementation of the programme in China.

For example, staffing of the IPO has been a serious issue and a key gap. The programme has struggled to recruit a Science Officer (the post has been vacant for 18 months at the time of writing) and a Communications Officer – a position that had been identified as crucial for the programme’s success but has remained unfilled from the start of the programme. Several rounds of interviews have been conducted only for chosen candidates to turn down the offer citing better prospects elsewhere.

The Science Officer role, as advertised, states a PhD is required and that 50% of the time will be dedicated to research. This is a possible reason that candidates decline: the post does not offer adequate opportunity for PhD-level candidates to advance their research. Consideration should be given to employing master’s level staff (with several years of experience) and further redrafting the position description.

The review panel recognises the challenges of an Executive Director who is a non-native speaker working without core staff. The panel recommends that a Co-director model be trialled, with a focus on the development of a domestic research programme connected to the IPO (providing a point of contact and supervision of locally recruited researchers). The Co-director role could also help supplement the current Executive Director’s role, taking care to avoid duplication of responsibilities.

In making this recommendation, the review panel is cognisant of the challenge of ensuring the IPO has adequate access to financial and human resources in a rapidly changing funding environment for international scientific collaboration. Establishing an active programme of domestic research within the IUE offers opportunities, in principle, to build a critical mass, meet local institutional needs, and complement the international goals of the UHWB programme. The IUE is, for example, best placed to attract international researchers to collaborate with the UHWB Programme and to pursue funding for discrete research projects. Such a model also overcomes the programme’s isolation from its local context and fosters more engagement with other researchers and colleagues at the IUE.

In all, an operational mechanism to make the programme successful needs to be based on a new model of getting more students and researchers into the institute. This would embed the programme within the IUE and enable it to benefit from research undertaken there. This model would also go a long way in ensuring the sustainability of the programme beyond its current lifespan.


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