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Home > OPPORTUNTIES > Examples and case studies

Examples & Case studies

February 25, 2018

How does taking a systems approach to urban health and wellbeing look like in practice? Here we list some examples from science and practice to illustrate what it means to take a systems approach to urban health and wellbeing. Currently we are working on a checklist for cities to which city administrators and citizens can refer, for the purpose of information and inspiration on how to implement systems approaches for urban health and welbeing.

We invite all to contribute to this collection of examples of systems approaches to UHWB - in science and practice. Contact us.


Latin America provides a unique opportunity to study the links between the urban environment, health and sustainability.

The project will:

  1. Quantify how city and neighbourhood factors impact health and health inequalities in Latin America
  2. Evaluate the impact of urban policies and interventions on health and the environment
  3. Use systems thinking and modelling to better understand relationships between the urban environment and health
  4. Translate and disseminate the research findings to policy makers, scientists and the public


Marta Olazabal and colleagues from the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3) illustrate the benefits of participatory tools when dealing with complex problems, in particular, with the adaptation to climate change impacts in complex urban contexts.


Systems Thinking and Place-Based Methods for Healthier Malaysian Cities (SCHEMA)

The SCHEMA project is seeking case studies about feedback problems related to urban health in Malaysia. Many factors interact with health in cities, including built infrastructure, policy/governance, green space, food, social networks, public transit, and others. Understanding the relationships among these factors helps us grapple with complexity and design new solutions for health and sustainability.

A joint project between the Sustainable Places Research Institute (Cardiff University) and the International Institute for Global Health, funded by Newton-Ungku Omar Fund.

Contact: d.tan@unu.edu


The Ecological Sequestration Trust and resilience.io

The Ecological Sequestration Trust (TEST) has developed ‘resilience.io’ an open-source, integrated human – ecology – economics systems modelling platform that enables resilient planning, policy-making, investment and procurement for city-regions. It is a collaborative decision support tool designed to connect to many data sources, including from earth observation satellites, government and private sector data, local sensor networks, smart phones, tablets and local survey data. This data is processed by the systems model and visualized to give an improved understanding of the human, economic and ecological systems within a region including how these are interlinked .

TEST together with the UHWB programme are collaborating with Beirut Arab University on a pilot project in Beirut, Lebanon


Taking a systems approach for adaptive climate management in the city of Murg, Germany

In June and Juli 2017 the city of Murg, Germany initiated a pilot project on ?Collaborative learning for climate change by interconnected systems thinking”.

The goal of the project was to get familiar with systems thinking and to develop a systems model for a sustainable, climate neutral and resilient city. Citizens, citizen initiatives, the mayor of Murg and other communal representatives participated in the project.

The project was an introduction into systems thinking for climate change and an important step in awareness building for reaching the goals of the global climate agreement. It was supported by the ministry of environment of the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg.

Murg pilot project in the press:



ComplexCity hosts 14 interdisciplinary and international research projects on cities. In addition to these projects we are developing a conceptual framework based on data science aimed at creating a science of cities.


Healthy Polis

The overall aim of the Healthy-Polis consortium is to help protect public health by promoting multi-disciplinary policy relevant research on urban environmental health and sustainability, improving methodologies for health risk assessment with a special focus on systems approaches, facilitating international collaboration (including standardisation of research methods), contributing to the research training of scientists and students, and engaging with key stakeholders in Government, local authorities, international organisations (e.g. WHO and WMO), industry and academia.


Environmenal Health Clinic at New York University

The Environmental Health Clinic is a clinic and lab, modeled on other health clinics at universities. It approaches health from an understanding of its dependence on external local environments; rather than on the internal biology and genetic predispositions of an individual. Patients receive prescriptions for actions rather than for medication. It is aims at understanding and improving people’s environmental health plus referrals, to specific art, design and participatory projects, local environmental organizations and local government or civil society groups, instead of medication.


Environmental/Health Modeling, Simulation, Collaboration

Urban simulation for environmental health analysis (SIENA).

The urban simulation for environmental health analysis at Imperial College London. SIENA is a GIS-based urban area model built for performing simulations in an environmental epdidemiological context. It is a user controlled system for integrated environmental health impact assessment system.

Wellesley Urban Health Model, Wellesley Institute, Toronto, Canada

The Wellesley Urban Health Model (WUHM) is a systems dynamics model and captures dynamic interaction between health and social determinants, and simulates alternative futures over a period of 30 years to help understand policy interventions with the most impact in improving health outcomes in the city of Toronto.

Urban Health Collaborative. Drexel University, Philalelphia, US

The urban health collaborative is a networked, interdisciplinary, cross-sectorial organization. It aims to improve health in cities by increasing scientific knowledge and public awareness of health and health variation within cities, and by promoting urban policies and partnerships that promote health and reduce health inequalities.

Climate CoLab at MIT Center for collective intelligence

The goal of Climate CoLab is to harness the collective intelligence of thousands of people from all around the world to address complex societal problems, starting with global climate change.


Systems analysis of the UK soft drinks industry levy

Rutter H, et al. 2017. The need for a complex systems model of evidence for public health. The Lancet. Viewpoint. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(17)31267-9

In 2016, a soft drinks industry levy was announced to be introduced by April, 2018, aiming to reduce sugar content in soft drinks. The levy is a potentially major perturbation in complex interlinked social, health, and economic systems. A comprehensive, system level, natural experimental evaluation of the soft drinks industry levy has been planned, consisting of a concept mapping workshop with experts from a range of academic disciplines. An initial system map, guided by predefined questions and iterative consensus building was created. A modified online Delphi survey refined the map, with representation from academia, public health professionals, government, civil society, and industry. The study uses a combination of methods for the evaluation of complex systems to gain knowledge that would not be generated using traditional approaches.


Smart Cities Applications and Urban Health Atlas

The ‘smart cities pro’ smartphone application developed by Dure Technologies aims at integrating information from communication technology (ICT) and Internet of Things (IoT) to facilitate the management of a city’s assets. The city’s key assets include, but are not limited to, local departments' information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services. The company aims at developing technology for the open access and democratization of data and to empower citizens by connecting and informing society.

The Urban Health Atlas was developed in Bangladesh. It is an interactive web-based visualization tool providing information of healthcare service providers in major cities of Bangladesh. It provides information on maps about urban health facilities, their location, how to reach them, which services are provided, and can be linked to other datasets for public service provisions not restricted to healthcare facilities.


Declarations and initiatives

WHO Healthy Cities initiative

The WHO European Healthy Cities Network engages local governments in health development through a process of political commitment and institutional change. The aim is to put health high on the agenda of city governments. The members are committed to the Zagreb Declaration for Healthy Cities (2009) which defines Healthy Cities principles and values and the Health in all Policies concept which originated from the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion in 1986.

Zagreb Declaration for Healthy Cities 2009

The Zagreb declaration for healthy cities expresses a commitment of political leaders of cities in Europe to strengthen and champion action on health, health equity, sustainable development and social justice. It celebrates and builds on 20 years of knowledge, experience and public health accomplishments of the European Healthy Cities movement.

Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion 1986

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