ESRC-funded observatories will help tackle impacts of COVID-19

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Two observatories funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) will bring research and policy together to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 and accelerate the UK’s recovery.

A group led by University College London (UCL) has won funding for a new International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO), to help decision-makers develop strategies to deal with the social, economic and public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The £2 million project, following a call for proposals in summer 2020, is a collaboration between UCL, Cardiff University, Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Auckland and the University of Oxford, together with think tanks including the International Network for Government Science and academic news publisher The Conversation.

Through this global network, the IPPO will give UK policymakers access to resources, evidence and analysis of global policy responses to COVID-19, so that they can make better decisions when dealing with the impacts of the pandemic.

Enabling decisions that matter

With funding for the next two years, the IPPO will focus on a range of policy areas – from education to adult social care, from mental health to living online, and from community cohesion to the impact of the pandemic on BAME groups.

To address the most urgent policy needs, the IPPO will crowdsource key questions and topics from policymakers and the public. It will create ‘living maps’ of evidence and policy to cut through the vast amounts of social research and policy responses on COVID-19 and provide a searchable database of research.

Professor Joanna Chataway of UCL, the IPPO’s principal investigator, said:

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for policymakers. The range and urgency of evidence they need is continuously growing, and if it’s not easily accessible this creates yet another hurdle in 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 flexible and targeted insights on how best to address the UK’s response and recovery from the pandemic.

Our aim is also to create a best-practice approach to connecting the worlds of policy and social science, especially during crisis and rapid change. Ultimately, evidence needs to reach those who need it.

Economics Observatory answers vital economic questions

ESRC is also now providing a further two years’ funding for a separate project focusing on the economics of the pandemic, following a successful trial.

The Economics Observatory (ECO) was launched in 2020 to provide sound and non-partisan answers to the many economic questions raised by COVID-19, bridging the gap between academic research, government policy and the general public.

The ECO collates research from a wide network of experts and institutions across the UK. It publishes articles, videos, charts, questions and answers, to help the public and policymakers better understand the pandemic and the numerous challenges that will follow. These resources are published on its website,

The funding will enable the ECO to expand its work now and over the next two years. It will grow its links with universities across the country, expand its use of media including data visualisations, and take part in regional and central discussions on economic policy for pandemic recovery.

Meeting a need, now

Commenting on the new funding for the IPPO and ECO, Professor Jennifer Rubin, Executive Chair of the ESRC, said:

These observatories answer a real need, right now. 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 and ECO will give policymakers vital insights into the research, the knowledge being gained, what options are being trialled and what can work. I believe they will make an invaluable contribution.

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