Jan 24, 2021

Understanding Evidence pathways and government decision-making in response to Covid-19: a multi-country comparative analysis


In the face of Covid-19, governments globally have been making urgent and difficult decisions. Yet in spite of the apparent uniformity of threat, and the almost universally proclaimed adherence to scientific guidance, their responses have diverged. Government responses have ranged from the negation or minimisation of the threat and reliance on individual behavioural modification, to stringent population-wide restrictions of movement, employment and education, as well as everything in-between.

What is behind the diversity?  How are different governments framing the problem and what elements are they prioritising in response to local conditions? Do the institutional settings of different jurisdictions present impediments or advantages in their respective responses?  Which domains of expertise are governments engaging to help them come to decisions and shape responses?

Our project is asking all of these questions. In collaboration with colleagues from the Universities of Auckland, Bergen, Sheffield and Southampton, we have designed a project that draws on our joint expertise in science advice, policy studies, epidemiology and philosophy of science as well leveraging the membership of the International Network for Government Science Advice (www.ingsa.org), an international organisation run from the University of Auckland that provides a network for practitioners in, and build capacity for, the growing field of science advice to governments.

The project consists of three parts

  1. Evidence to policy tracker: since March, volunteer “rapporteurs” from over 100 countries in the INGSA network have been keeping regular logs of policy announcements about interventions related to Covid-19. While there are other online tools tracking covid-19-related policies, the INGSA tracker is unique in that it focuses on the evidence base or justification for the policy interventions, as well as the lead institutions and people.Furthermore, rather than collecting data centrally, the project benefits from the local knowledge and interpretation skills of rapporteurs working in their home countries as academics and policy professionals. Results of this Covid-19 Policy-making data collection exercise are displayed through an online visualisation tool (in development) that allows users to compare the policy intervention timelines of multiple countries, as well as to where and what kind of evidence/expertise underpinned each decision (and where it was absent).
  2. Supplementary survey: A survey to supplement the tracker data has been sent out to rapporteurs, with the aim of capturing the broader contextual influences on policy-making during Covid-19.
  3. ”Deep-dive” study: In the second phase, data from the tracker will be used to structure deeper investigations in a select number of countries, in which we will work with local academic collaborators and rapporteurs to conduct qualitative interviews with decision makers and those involved in science advice to government at critical stages of the pandemic.

Selected outcomes

The outcomes of the project include:

  1. The tracker data presents a unique, real-time-collected, globally-oriented collection of information. It lends itself to asking a variety of questions and for a variety of project types. It has already been used e.g. in parliamentary inquiry committees (in the UK).
  2. Academic presentations and publications: An early report will be presented at INGSA Global Dialogue conference in September 2020.
  3. A model for a policy comparison tool that can be applied to other topics, not only rapid response.