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Social Policy Innovation

With expertise in fields ranging from international development, nonlinear dynamics, ecological modelling, ecological psychology and mental health. PH-labs interdisciplinary team of systems thinkers is dedicated to using these discoveries to create an integrated understanding of how to build durably vibrant, human networks that connects the nuance of human practice to complex ecological issues facing the world today.

PH-lab’s goal is to bring this empirically sound, regenerative theory, measures and practice to bear on real-world problems including in mental health, food networks, and economic development. Our long-term mission is to support the birth of a environmentally conscious civilization by using this rigorous integration of philosophy, theory, practice, and measures to support existing reform efforts taking place across the world and in a myriad of fields, all working toward planetary health.

New paradigms need a theoretical framework to organize diverse ideas into a coherent pattern of understanding. Bringing new ideas and visions into the real world requires effective practice backed by an integrated understanding of how to build regenerative vitality in mental health and human systems of every type: agricultural and urban to financial and business; and at every level: local, regional, national, and global. Sustainable Practice and environmental policy, however, need effective measures of systemic health to guide action and refine process. Our goal is to connect complex system theory to planetary health in a way that enhances all facets of our physical and mental well being.

The Planetary Health Lab seeks to examine, understand, and promote health as an emergent property of an integrated socio-ecological system—the next threshold of complexity in the universe. The new paradigm, built on the systems view of life, focuses increasing the well being of all planetary systems. The mission of the planetary health lab is to clarify and promote this new paradigm. The lab will clarify the new paradigm by building a global community of collaborative learning. The lab will promote the new paradigm through conference, online courses and social media.

As part of the University of Edinburgh, we work to solve problems as well as create new knowledge. As an arm of the Global Health Academy, we promote better and more equitable health for all by creating, curating, and implementing all facets of global health knowledge.As a member of the Planetary Health Alliance, we seek to generate better understanding of the links between accelerating global environmental change and human health to support policy making and public education. Our specific focus is paradigmatic change. We elucidate science through story, test theory with measures, and develop policy through practice.


Edinburgh’s Ph-lab is striving to become an effective leader in promoting integrated social, economic, political, environmental and health reforms. Toward this end, we are working to build a systemic framework for socio-economic innovation that integrates work across several of Edinburgh’s disciplines and research centers. We will:

The Malawi Social Innovation Project:

Ph-labis currently working to develop national policies that integrate social entrepreneurship and nature conservatism into economic development and healthcare efforts across regional sectors in Malawi. This research focuses on creating opportunities for individuals to improve their livelihoods by supporting the process of innovation, from the development of novel educational tools to medical technologies, with the objective of social impact at scale.
Ph-lab will assess healthcare delivery organizations where strategic action and decision making is distributed to different arenas of healthcare work. We will

The Pakistani Systemic Health Project

The district of Swat witnessed its worst humanitarian crises between 2007 and 2010. The violence and destruction that accompanied the Talibanization of the district reached its peak in 2009 when fighting erupted between the Pakistan army and the Pakistani Taliban. Over 1.5 million people were displaced. The district’s already weak and fragile education infrastructure was affected–over 400 schools were destroyed or damaged, of which 217 were girls’-only schools . Women confronted norms that limited their participation in public spaces and constrained their mobility in rural Pakhtunkhwa, restricting access to education, often denying them participation in the labour force, forcing early marriages, and limiting their contribution to socioeconomic development. In 2010, floods caused by monsoon rains further complicated the humanitarian crisis, washing away many schools, and damaging property and businesses.

Normalcy returned gradually after the Pakistani state reasserted itself in 2009. As a result, Swat began to receive support from the public and private sectors, and from various international donor agencies particularly focused on rehabilitating over 350 schools. The tourism industry has reemerged energizing the local economy. Last year (2018), the army handed administrative powers back to civilian authorities—a sign that day to day life in Swat is significantly safer and more secure than during the conflict.

As normal life in Swat has resumed, parents and children have demonstrated a renewed interest in education. In a short study conducted in 2013, interviewees believed that parents are more resolute about their children’s, particularly girls’ education as a result of the recent humanitarian crisis. Many also believed residents’ refreshed interest was inspired by the story of Malala—who became a prominent supporter of girls’ education internationally after being shot at close range by the Taliban in 2012. Malala’s two friends–KainatRiaz and Shazia Ramzan, who were injured in the same attack–recently returned to Pakistan after graduating from the University of Edinburgh. The University of Edinburgh is partnering with Kainat and Shazia to support and work for increased girls’ participation in education in Swat.

Since the humanitarian crisis between 2007 and 2009, school enrollment particularly at primary level has significantly increased. However, the district still faces huge challenges including quality of learning (only 37% can read a sentence correctly), poor survival rates (girls: 54%; boys: 78%) during primary schooling, and transition rates (primary to secondary/middle schools) especially for girls is poor in rural communities. Health indicators are particularly abysmal for children in rural communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa including Swat district.

Approximately 50% of the children in the province (under the age of five) suffer from stunting, anemia or iodine deficiency. These deficiencies result in deficits in mental and physical development leading to lower school performance and lower productivity as adults which in turn have negative effects of the country’s economic growth.

The Ph-lab along with the University of Edinburgh will design a multi component project that will address education, as well efforts to scale up ecological sustainable measures in the region and health needs of children residing in some of the low performing/under served areas of Swat district.

More specifically the following questions will be addressed:

  1. What is the overall mission and key objectives of the government education sector in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) particularly in relation to early childhood development/education (ECD/ECE), primary, and secondary schooling?
  2. What are the key education programs/initiatives and policies implemented and/or supported by government and other actors (non-profit, private) in Swat district in pursuit of achieving those objectives?
  3. Which areas/tehsils/sub-districts/union councils (a) have the lowest primary enrolment, completion, and primary to secondary school transition rates, (b) are low performing on learning outcomes (primary), and (c) have significant variation in these rates for boys and girls?
  4. Are there health programs that focus on children (0-12 yrs) such as programs that aim to improve the health of 0-3 year-olds and school age children—nutrition, hygiene, parental practices etc. detrimental to children’s physical health and their ability to develop and thrive? Who are supporting these programs and which areas/sub-districts/union councils do they cover?
  5. How do these education and health programs in Swat district respond to the Sustainable Development Goals?
  6. What types of local recourses (community, public, skills, etc.) are available in these under-performing/underserved areas that can be channeled to contribute to improving educational and health outcomes for children?
  7. How is the pursuit of education and ecological sustainability mutually sustaining goals?
  8. In what ways is improving the general affluence of the region linked with achieving educational goals and what opportunities does this present in creating a thriving eco-tourism industry?
  9. What function and impact do greenspaces serve in cognitive-skills development throughout their childhood?

Network Theory:

A learning process for the implementation of sustainable environmental practices.

Research Clusters: