Nordin Hasan, ICSU Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Presentation Title: Developing an urban health research programme using the systems approach




There is an urgent need to initiate urban health and well-being programs that promote more holistic evidence-based outlooks for decision-making systems and approaches at the local and regional levels. Recognition of this imperative led the International Council for Science (ICSU) to promote research that does more than pay attention to distal factors and cross-scale influences. It stresses the need for studies of urban dynamics, including the effects of feedbacks and human-environment interactions. The ICSU Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (ROAP) developed in 2011 its Science Plan,  'Health and Well-Being in the Changing Urban Environment: A Systems Approach.' A number of pilot projects have been initiated, each of which aims to investigate the challenges and benefits of taking a systems approach to population health in major cities in the region.

Key Lessons Learned

  • Developing a multidisciplinary research idea into a viable research project involves a great deal of effort and perseverance.
  • There is a need for clear articulation of a research approach and methodology.  Using the systems approach, researchers from several disciplines had first to be /coached in the methodologies available to collaboratively conceptualize the relationships of all the major determinants of urban health and well-being in a changing environment.
  • Once conceptual models are more or less understood and agreed upon, various research questions must be prioritized in order to develop a coherent proposal to attract funding.   

Policy/Practice Implications of Research

  • This research is designed collaboratively with the participation of scientific, technical and managerial staff in a designated urban area. This co-design of research ensures that the science questions posed in the project will produce answers that can be applied to urban policymakers and managers.
  • Policy relevance of the research is ensured because the design is collaborative, and the scientists in the research teams understand the need to be policy- and practice-relevant. The institutional challenge is to ensure the participation of city managers in scientific research design, and to implement the research findings even if it means overturning earlier decisions or replacing old policies with newly redesigned policies.

Knowledge Gaps and Needs

  • Groups engaged in the co-design of multidisciplinary collaborative research need to participate in capacity-building workshops to understand systems approaches. The tendency is for established research groups/teams to do more of the same using familiar methods.
  • New methods for data analysis, data and information integration from several fields and multiple disciplines are needed, e.g., quantitative methods in one field may not be applicable in another.


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