Over half of the World’s population lives in urban areas and the urban population is increasing by about 2% annually. Urbanization presents opportunities and risks, as well as enormous challenges for maintaining and improving human health and wellbeing. Systems analysis, which is explicitly designed to deal with complexity, and which draws on insights and inputs from diverse scientific disciplines, is an approach that has unique potential to address these issues. It is an approach that can enable the scientific community to generate and communicate knowledge in a way that can usefully inform policy choices based on the realities of urban environments.
The genesis of an interdisciplinary program on urban health and wellbeing was a meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on the occasion of the 27th General Assembly of the International Council for Science (ICSU), our predecessor organization, in September 2002. This initial meeting struck a bold vison for health as an area of common legitimate interest for the international science community. From the outset, health and wellbeing were both regarded as the fundamental pillars for building a common vision and undertaking collaborative, interdisciplinary activities. A second outcome of the Rio meeting was a commitment “to facilitate interdisciplinary by forming effective partnerships that transcend disciplinary borders.”
A Scoping Group worked during the 2006-2007 period. Its final report was subsequently endorsed by CSPR and the ICSU Executive Board. On the strength of the Strategic Plan adopted for the period 2006-11, ICSU’s Executive Board accepted the Scoping Group’s recommendation to proceed with a full-scale planning exercise to design and propose the framework for a new ICSU interdisciplinary program on ‘Health and Wellbeing in a Changing Urban Environment’ using a systems analysis approach. In April 2007, it mandated CPSR to establish the Planning Group. The Planning Group worked from January 2008 to May 2010.
The selection of the country and venue for the International Program Office (IPO) was concluded in late 2013 with the Institute of Urban Environment (IUE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) located in Xiamen. Subsequently, Dr. Franz Gatzweiler was chosen as the UHWB Program’s Executive Director in 2014. Only two months after the Executive Director arrived in Xiamen, the IPO was officially launched in December 2014, highlighted by the Xiamen Expert Workshop on Systems Approaches to Urban Health and Wellbeing.
The Urban Health and Wellbeing programme creates projects that are multi-disciplinary and collaborative, utilize systems analysis modelling methodology using feasibly-obtainable data, to simultaneously address multiple aspects of urban health, and be designed to generate understanding and products useful to policy-makers. In addition to stimulating specific research projects, the programme focuses on developing new methodologies and identifying data needs and knowledge gaps; building and strengthening scientific capacity; and facilitating communication and outreach. The programme is envisaged as a 10-year initiative, to allow sufficient time for the research and policy communities that are concerned with urban health and wellbeing to adopt systems analysis approaches.
⭐ The ISC and Urban Health & Wellbeing
The Urban Health and Wellbeing programme is an interdisciplinary body of the International Science Council, hosted by the Institute of Urban Environment (IUE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The programme is co-sponsored by the International Science Council, the International Society of Urban Health (ISUH) and the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP).
The IPO is headed by an Executive Director, whose appointment is agreed upon by all co-sponsors, in consultation with the Chair of the Urban Health Scientific Committee and the Director-General of IUE. The co-sponsors of the programme appoint the Scientific Committee. The ISC’s CEO is an ex-officio member of the Scientific Committee. The Executive Director is responsible to the Chair of the Scientific Committee regarding strategy, policy, and implementation of the programme.
Along with the other co-sponsors, the ISC contributes to the development and approves strategy and activity plans, as well as associated budgets. The ISC also establishes and appoints international steering/advisory committees, with the possibility for ISC members to submit nominations as part of the process. The ISC is also in charge of reviewing the programme, defining review terms of reference, appointing review panel members, funding ISC representatives.