Use of Urban Health Indicator Tools by Built Environment Policy- and Decision-Makers: a Systematic Review and Narrative Synthesis

Helen Pineo, Ketevan Glonti, Harry Rutter, Nici Zimmermann, Paul Wilkinson, Michael Davies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (SciVal)


Global initiatives have raised awareness of the need for cross-departmental and cross-sectoral activities to support urban health, sustainability, and equity, with respective indicators routinely used as a way to catalyze and monitor action toward pre-defined goals. Despite the existence of at least 145 urban health indicator (UHI) tools globally, there has been very little research on the use of indicators by policy- and decision-makers; more attention has been devoted to their development and validation. This paper describes the second part of a two-part systematic review of the characteristics (part A) and use (part B, this part) of UHI tools by municipal built environment policy- and decision-makers. Part B is a narrative synthesis of studies on the use of UHI tools. This PRISMA-P compliant review follows a mixed methods sequential explanatory design. The search was conducted using seven bibliographic databases, grey literature searches, and key journal hand searches. Ten studies describing the use of ten UHI tools in seven countries were included in the narrative synthesis, resulting in development of a theory of change (ToC). We found that both expert-led and participatory indicator projects can be underpinned by research evidence and residents’ knowledge. Our findings contradict the dominant view of indicator use in policy-making as a linear process, highlighting a number of technical, organizational, political, knowledge, and contextual factors that affect their use. Participatory UHI tools with community involvement were generally more effective at supporting “health in all policies” and “whole-of-society” approaches to governing healthy cities than expert-led processes. UHI tool producers proposed a range of techniques to address urban health complexity characteristics. Finally, in combining data from both parts of the review, we found that potentially important UHI tool features, such as neighbourhood-scale data, were influential in the use of indicators by built environment policy- and decision-makers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)418-435
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Early online date3 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • Built environment
  • Evidence
  • Healthy cities
  • Indicators
  • Indices
  • Social determinants of health
  • Urban metrics
  • Urban planning
  • Urban policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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