UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


Ke Zhou

Applications of whole-systems approaches to place-based decision making: leveraging urban housing for population health and sustainable development

Funded by the National Institute for Health Research School for Public Health Research (SPHR), England. The project is advised by Paul Wilkinson, Petra Meier, and Susan Michie.

Healthy and sustainable housing is a major entry point to address both intersectional health and environmental challenges. Urban regeneration projects which aim to restore economic, social and environmental conditions in the locality through improving housing conditions, have vast opportunities for delivering both health and sustainability goals. However, complex dynamics of urban, social and organisational systems can result in unintended consequences and failures to achieve either health or sustainability goals.

In the UK, housing associations (HAs), despite being main providers of social housing to low-income residents, continue to be pushed from a traditional social-oriented-only pathway to a hybrid social-and-business trajectory, reflecting general challenges that not-profit making organisations face. The dual yet conflicting social and market logics, pose a range of risks of unintended consequences such as exaggeration of the housing crisis and failures to provide quality housing. Exploring the decision making process and challenges that HAs face, is critical for ensuring quality housing for vulnerable populations but as yet this has only been explored to a limited degree.

Satisfying decision-making within bounded rationality, is essential for organisations to deliver multiple objectives to projects in practice. To investigate the dynamics of decision making under competing logics and hybridity, participatory system dynamics are used as the main tool for this project. Interviews and participatory workshops are used for data collection. System frameworks for explaining the decision making under competing logics, and scripts for supporting decision-making in practice through participatory workshops, are main outputs. Simulation models will be used to examine generic features of decision making dynamics under competing logics. The use of a simulation model will also help understand how changes of decisions would change outcomes of healthy and sustainable housing.