Policy surveillance, defined as “the systematic tracking of policies of public importance”1 is an important mechanism for understanding the scope and effectiveness of policies that can impact health. What is learned can be used to expand the geographic reach of successful policies and laws and identify unmet needs for policy development and advocacy strategies in any sector that could positively impact public health.2
Expanding upon this definition, the Urban Health Collaborative initiated a policy surveillance project in 2017 as a way to identify best practices in select cities around the United States that are employing promising or effective policy, programmatic, and budgetary initiatives to promote health equity despite actions or inaction at the federal policy level. While much public health policy is enacted at the federal and state levels, cities play an important role in developing and implementing policies and programs that impact population health.
The goal of this project was to create a system to monitor, document, and disseminate local policy actions that can impact population health and improve health equity. While much public health policy is enacted at the federal and state levels, cities play an important role in developing and implementing policies and programs that impact population health, but systems designed to understand these practices across cities are lacking. As public health researchers with a commitment to health in cities, this project helps to fill this knowledge gap. When more is known and shared about policies that can improve health, the more cities can do to fulfill the promise of health equity in their jurisdictions.
This project began with four cities - Philadelphia, New York City, Washington DC, and Los Angeles. These cities were chosen due to their size, importance as active policy centers, availability of policy tracking tools, and vibrant city council-level public debate. We also chose to focus on policy issues related to the social determinants of health, which are often the focus of cross-sector health equity strategies, including education, the environment, and housing.
Details on Policy Surveillance and our methods