The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis that demands a powerful, research-led response. From the moment the first suspected cases were announced, The Conversation has been at the forefront of reporting and explaining the latest research on the virus to the general public – investigating the impacts and the potential solutions in an accessible, evidence-based way. A global audience of tens of millions is already reading our content on the topic.
We are now deepening our commitment to addressing this urgent issue by bringing our editorial expertise to the International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO) – a two-year, £2m project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The IPPO will build bridges between policy and research, focused on mitigating the biggest social impacts of COVID-19 and accelerating the UK’s recovery from the crisis.
The project is led by UCL’s Department of Science, Technology, Engineering & Public Policy (STEaPP), with whom The Conversation shares a London office. It brings together the expertise of partners including Cardiff University, Queens University Belfast, the University of Auckland, the University of Oxford, The Conversation, and leading think tanks, including the International Network for Government Science (INGSA).
Through this network, the IPPO will give UK policymakers easy access to resources, evidence and analysis of global policy responses to COVID-19. This will enable them to make better decisions on how to address the immediate social, economic and public health impacts of the pandemic. It will also inform the UK’s response to and recovery from the pandemic, benefiting the general public – in particular marginalised and at-risk groups. The IPPO will focus on a broad spectrum of policy areas including education; mental health and wellbeing; living online; care homes and adult social care; and housing, communities and cohesion. It will also address the disproportionate impacts on BAME groups.
The Conversation’s involvement with the IPPO will sit outside its editorial operation and be managed by a new services department run by Matt Warren, a former deputy editor. This project, and specifically a newly-appointed editorial manager reporting to Matt, will produce a dedicated website, evidence briefs and systematic reviews, ensuring output is dynamic and accessible.
Professor Joanna Chataway, principal investigator (UCL STEaPP) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for policymakers around the world. The range and urgency of evidence they need is continually growing, and if it’s not easily accessible this creates yet another hurdle to developing the measures we need to help society through the impacts of COVID-19.
"The IPPO will build lasting connections between policy and research experts from across the world and provide real, flexible and targeted insights on how best to address the UK’s response and recovery from the pandemic. Our aim is to not just help address the pressing issues around COVID-19 but to also create a best-practice approach to connecting the worlds of policy and social science, especially during times of crisis and rapid change. Ultimately, evidence needs to reach those who need it.”
ESRC’s executive chair, professor Jennifer Rubin, said: “The coronavirus pandemic raises a great many questions and policymakers have to make often unprecedented decisions – some most urgent, others to address the longer-term recovery and wider challenges. Evidence is growing rapidly about different approaches, in the UK and globally. The IPPO will give policymakers vital insights into the research, the knowledge being gained, what options are being trialled and what can work. I believe it will make an invaluable contribution.”
The IPPO will play a critical role in policymakers’ responses to the pandemic, drawing on data, analysis and evidence to deliver rigorous and accessible insights. To ensure it is directly addressing the UK’s most urgent policy needs, the IPPO will crowdsource key questions and topics from policymakers and the public.
It will provide regularly updated “Living Maps” of evidence and policy to help cut through the vast amounts of social research and policy responses on COVID-19. This will provide a searchable database of research which is relevant to COVID-19 policy decisions and give direct access to the latest evidence.
The IPPO will also undertake policy research and work with the devolved administrations, including through the Scottish Policy and Research Exchange (SPRE), Wales’ Social Science Park (SPARK), and Queen’s University Belfast and Pivotal, Northern Ireland’s leading policy think tank.
Professor David Price, UCL vice-provost (research) said: “I am delighted that UCL will host and lead this innovative international observatory, which will act not only as an opportunity to bring together leading policy experts from across the university, but also to further connect us with our brilliant colleagues across the world.
"It is more crucial than ever that we are able to come together to address the impacts of the pandemic, as well as the climate crisis and other global challenges, and ensure that world-leading research can better inform our response, aid our recovery, and enhance our resilience.”