Post-pandemic policymaking 'must go beyond following the science', professors say

British Academy project sets out ‘five principles to draw on "full breadth of knowledge" for policy
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By Jim Dunton

02 Oct 2020

A British Academy project to pool thinking on ways policy professionals in the UK and further afield can help deliver a “positive recovery” from the coronavirus pandemic has set out five core principles as a starting point.

The academy’s three-month Shaping the Future project brought together more than 300 academics from 20 disciplines to look at ways the shock of Covid-19 could be turned into a force for change to benefit people, the economy and the environment. Among them was UK national statistician Prof Sir Ian Diamond.

As well as the principles, the project identifies practical steps to boost economic development and increase community participation, such as the creation of a national investment bank “to encourage purposeful businesses capable of contributing solutions to social and environmental problems”.

Strengthening local capacity for policymaking and supporting “positive feedback loops” on local planning, environmental sustainability and economic sustainability issues is another suggestion from the project, which centred on 20 workshops held between May and July.

The principles for policymakers and researchers broadly urge cross-cutting, multifaceted approaches, prioritising education and skills. They also recognise the need to tailor solutions to local areas and to address existing regional inequalities.

Project co-chair Dominic Abrams, a professor of social psychology at the University of Kent, said the five principles drawn from the initiative were designed to assist policymakers in making judgements in areas crowded with information. 

“It is our priority to show that there is never a plain and simple body of evidence – ‘the science’ – in complex areas where policy and research collide. To deal with such complexity, policy makers must draw on the full breadth of knowledge,” he said.

“The SHAPE disciplines – social sciences, humanities and the arts for people and the economy – are well placed to interrogate many of the underlying issues and raise critical questions that are essential to address if we are to revitalise, rebuild and revisit our vision of the future – making society more inclusive, sustainable and equitable.”

The project’s five principles are: using and integrating a wide range of knowledge in policy making; being responsive to and knowledgeable of local and historical contexts; considering the interplay in voice, political authority, trust and discourse; considering the dimensions of time and scale in policymaking; and addressing local inequalities and promoting inclusivity, embedding sustainability, and prioritising education and skills.

The full paper on the project can be read here.

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