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Health and Wellbeing in the Changing Urban Environment: a Systems Analysis Approach

An international scientific programme, approved by the ICSU 30th General Assembly in Rome, October 2011 and described within the plan, proposes a new conceptual framework for considering the multi-factorial nature of both the determinants and the manifestations of health and wellbeing in urban populations.

General criteria are presented for the development of research projects within this framework and illustrative examples of potential projects described. Projects envisaged for the science plan will be multi-disciplinary and collaborative, utilize systems analysis modelling methodology using feasibly-obtainable data, 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 new programme will focus on: developing new methodologies and identifying data needs and knowledge gaps; building and strengthening scientific capacity; and facilitating communication and outreach. This 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 definition of systems analysis approaches is available here.


In response to the interest of a number of its Members, and particularly a large group of Unions, Health and Wellbeing was included as a new priority in the 1st ICSU Strategic Plan, 2006-2011.  An initial scoping exercise identified urban areas and systems analysis approaches as two key foci for a potential interdisciplinary programme that could build on ICSU’s unique strengths and fit with its overall mission.

Urban Health and Wellbeing and Systems analysis

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 maintain 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.

A Planning Group was established to take this forward and an interdisciplinary science plan “Health and Wellbeing in the Changing Urban Environment: a Systems Analysis Approach”  was published in October, 2011.   Simultaneously, the ICSU Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific published a regional plan  that was an adaptation of the global plan with a focus on regional implementation.

Both the global plan and its regional counterpart were endorsed by 30th ICSU General Assembly in September 2011, with the formal decision as follows:

  • To establish a new interdisciplinary research initiative of ten years durations on Urban Health and Wellbeing, in collaboration with other partners, and
  • To recognise the initiative as an Interdisciplinary Body and use the regional structures to ensure the necessary involvement of less developed countries
  • The appointment of a Scientific Committee is the first essential step to take forward this decision and implement the programme

Co-sponsors and International Programme Office

In January 2014, the United Nations University (UNU) and the InterAcademy Medical Panel (IAMP) joined ICSU as the co-sponsors of the new 10-year global interedisciplinary science programme on Health and Wellbeing in the Changing Urban Environment: a Systems Analysis Approach.

The International Programme Office is hosted by the Institute of Urban Environment (IUE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Xiamen, China. Dr Franz Gatzweiller is the Executive Director of the programme.

Website: http://www.urbanhealth.cn/

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