Research, Policy & Global Development, Urban Planning, Environment and Health

Citizen Participation is an Indispensable Prerequisite for Environmental Decision Making

Citizen involvement at all stages is crucial in studies assessing the health impact of urban and transport planning decisions


In spite of the fact that urban and transport planning decisions have direct repercussions on public health, this impact is generally not quantified or taken into account, partly because of the lack of appropriate models or tools for this purpose. In a recently published article, ISGlobal researchers propose a new model for assessing the health impacts of urban planning, which combines citizen participation and quantitative models.

Health impact assessment (HIA) is one of the main instruments used to inform the decision making process with scientific evidence and to introduce health-related criteria into all policies. It comprises a set of tools used to analyse the potential effects of a policy, programme or project on the health of the population and the distribution of such effects.

David Rojas, ISGlobal researcher and coordinator of the study, explains that “the number of studies assessing the health impact of urban and transport planning decisions is increasingly rapidly, but there is a clear lack of models that combine quantitative methods and citizen opinion”.

The authors of the study, which was published in Environment International, emphasise that HIA has to be multidisciplinary, involve all the major stakeholders and have active citizen support at all stages.  “The process—in other words, how we get there—is just as important as the final result, and the right process will improve the answers we get to key questions” adds Rojas.

Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen, director of ISGlobal’s Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative and lead author of the study, makes the point that “a great deal of scientific literature underscores the importance of citizen participation in improving urban planning”.

Participation allows planners to identify citizens’ needs, include their priorities and proposals, build greater consensus and improve public acceptance of decisions.  “It is now generally recognised that citizen participation is an indispensable prerequisite for sustainable development and environmental decision-making” explains Nieuwenhuijsen.

Barcelona Science Festival

The importance of citizen participation in the field of science was recently demonstrated at the Barcelona Science Festival, which hosted a wide-ranging programme of activities between 15 and 28 May. Over the two weeks, the Pint of Science Festival, Citizen Science Day, and the city’s 11th Science Festival offered workshops, talks, debates, performances, and much more, with the active participation of ISGlobal researchers.   


Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen, Haneen Khreis, Ersilia Verlinghieri, Natalie Mueller, David Rojas-Rueda. Participatory quantitative health impact assessment of urban and transport planning in cities: A review and research needs. Environ Int. 2017 Jun;103:61-72. doi: