Strategic Planning in Population Health and Public Health Practice: A Call to Action for Higher Education

Charles Phelps, Guruprasad Madhavan, Rino Rappuoli, Scott Levin, Edward Shortliffe, Rita Colwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Policy Points: Scarce resources, especially in population health and public health practice, underlie the importance of strategic planning. Public health agencies' current planning and priority setting efforts are often narrow, at times opaque, and focused on single metrics such as cost-effectiveness. As demonstrated by SMART Vaccines, a decision support software system developed by the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Engineering, new approaches to strategic planning allow the formal incorporation of multiple stakeholder views and multicriteria decision making that surpass even those sophisticated cost-effectiveness analyses widely recommended and used for public health planning. Institutions of higher education can and should respond by building on modern strategic planning tools as they teach their students how to improve population health and public health practice. Context Strategic planning in population health and public health practice often uses single indicators of success or, when using multiple indicators, provides no mechanism for coherently combining the assessments. Cost-effectiveness analysis, the most complex strategic planning tool commonly applied in public health, uses only a single metric to evaluate programmatic choices, even though other factors often influence actual decisions. Methods Our work employed a multicriteria systems analysis approach - specifically, multiattribute utility theory - to assist in strategic planning and priority setting in a particular area of health care (vaccines), thereby moving beyond the traditional cost-effectiveness analysis approach. Findings (1) Multicriteria systems analysis provides more flexibility, transparency, and clarity in decision support for public health issues compared with cost-effectiveness analysis. (2) More sophisticated systems-level analyses will become increasingly important to public health as disease burdens increase and the resources to deal with them become scarcer. Conclusions The teaching of strategic planning in public health must be expanded in order to fill a void in the profession's planning capabilities. Public health training should actively incorporate model building, promote the interactive use of software tools, and explore planning approaches that transcend restrictive assumptions of cost-effectiveness analysis. The Strategic Multi-Attribute Ranking Tool for Vaccines (SMART Vaccines), which was recently developed by the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Engineering to help prioritize new vaccine development, is a working example of systems analysis as a basis for decision support.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-125
Number of pages17
JournalMilbank Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • cost-effectiveness
  • population health
  • public health practice
  • systems analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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