Experts aren’t just for emergencies: How COVID-19 is changing evidence-based policy making for the better

 

 

This blog post was written by Anthea Terry, Interim Head of PolicyBristol and was originally published Universities Policy Engagement Network (UPEN) blog. Read the original article.

Michael Gove famously said in 2016 that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts’, and with social media ‘bubbles’, fake news, and the media desire to present opposing viewpoints – however marginal – it can often feel this way.

But the actual public perception of experts and their work is more nuanced. A 2018 survey by the Wellcome Trust found that 82% of people said they were fairly or very interested in health research, up from 77% in 2015, and 75% in 2012.

The value placed on experts by policymakers has always been variable and hard to measure, ‘evidence-based policymaking’ has been around for decades, and for almost as long, the perhaps inevitable cynicism about ‘policy-based evidence making’. We have incredible success stories about research influencing policy (my favourite being the research on CFCs that led directly to the Montreal protocol and recovery of the ozone layer), yet the combined weight of almost all the world’s climate scientists fails to enact sufficient policy change.

One of the many unique features of this time is the level of public discussion about research and the role of experts in policy making. I can’t remember another time when the membership of expert advisory groups such as SAGE was mainstream news. Similarly, a call for participants in a Covid-19 vaccine trial in Bristol was shared on neighbourhood WhatsApp and Facebook groups, and I’m talking to my family about R-numbers and logarithmic growth curves whilst lamenting the lack of supermarket delivery slots.

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Repatriation of Dutch children in Syria now unlikely – but it shouldn’t be a political choice

Authors:
: Reader in Law, University of Bristol
Lecturer in Criminology, Monash University
Post-Doctoral Researcher in Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and International Law, T.M.C. Asser Institute

Many thousands of children of foreign Islamic State fighters travelled with them to conflict areas such as Syria and Iraq, or were born there. Now these children and their families face considerable legal and logistical challenges. They are unable to access basic services, or return to their countries of origin, especially if an adult in the family has been deprived of citizenship.

With many countries refusing or delaying efforts to repatriate, these children are in a particularly precarious situation.

An ongoing Dutch case, brought on behalf of 23 women and 56 children by a team of lawyers, shines a probing light on these issues. The central question of whether or not the decision to repatriate is a political choice will be watched closely by other countries.

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PolicyBristol and Covid-19

Written by Lindsey Pike

These are uncertain times. Both research and policymaking has been thrown into unknown territory, and anxiety is running high. The coronavirus situation is dynamic and is likely to change how we live and work for the foreseeable future. At PolicyBristol we are looking at how we can reprioritise how we work and what we do, to ensure we’re making the most of the resources we have within the team.  

The team are working from home, but are available to discuss policy engagement and related issues – related to COVID, or any other topic – over the phone or videoconferencing.  

We understand that both researchers and policy colleagues that we work with are under pressure to adapt to working from home, often while coordinating and managing childcare and other responsibilitiesHowever, we’ll continue to signpost you to relevant opportunities and information to make sure that, especially in times such as these, policy decisions are informed by a robust evidence base.  

We’re also aware that other policy priorities, while currently overshadowed, have not gone away. We’d like to reiterate that regardless of your area of research or policy, we’re here to support you. 

Many colleagues in our research community are already forging links with public health, clinical, social and third sector services to offer the resources we have. If you are a researcher whose work is relevant to Covid-19, we have listed some relevant engagement opportunities below: please get in touch with one of the team (emails below) if we can support you in any way; for example with support to edit or structure scientific summaries into policy/ lay friendly ones, horizon scanning, or any other task related to getting findings out there and used.  

Contact your faculty’s PolicyBristol Associate 

Meet the team and contact us here. 

We hope you stay safe and well during this time. 

Resources from the University of Bristol 

Guidance for researchers during the COVID-19 outbreak (internal). 

The University is keen to hear about the circumstances our partners and communities are facing, how they are responding and how we might work together to meet these unparalleled new challenges. Please contact us if you have suggestions for how the University, our staff and students can support your organisational or community activities in response to COVID-19. 

The University of Bristol’s researchers, staff and students are working together and with partners from across society to understand coronavirus (COVID-19) and its far-reaching impact on our lives. Find out more here. 

National consultations and inquiries related to COVID19 

Online harms (Home Affairs Committee) The inquiry seeks evidence on Online Harms arising from the Covid-19 lockdown period and the adequacy of the Government’s proposals to counter them. Deadline 21 May 2020

Covid-19 and the food supply (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee)
This inquiry examines issues related to the food supply chain and access to healthy foods. Deadline: 22 May 2020

Economic impact of coronavirus (Treasury Committee) In this stage, the Committee will examine the operational effectiveness, cost and sustainability of the Government’s and Bank of England’s support packages. The Committee will also examine the impact on the economy and different sectors, the implications for public finances, and how the Government can work towards a sustained recovery. Deadline 27 May 2020

The impact of coronavirus on business and workers (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee)
The BEIS Select Committee has launched an inquiry into the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers. Deadline: 29 May 2020

The impact of Covid-19 on education and children’s services (Education Committee) The inquiry will examine both short term impacts, such as the effects of school closures and exam cancellations, as well as longer-term implications particularly for the most vulnerable children.
Deadline: 31 May 2020 

Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (Education Committee) This inquiry will investigate the issues faced by disadvantaged groups, with an initial inquiry into the educational underachievement of white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds including white working class pupils. This inquiry will examine the extent of the achievement gap between this group and their peers and how it is measured, alongside a consideration of the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. It will also look at what the priorities should be for tackling this issue. Deadline 5 June 2020

Defence contribution to the UK’s pandemic response (Defence Committee) This inquiry will focus on the Ministry of Defence’s and the Armed Forces’ contribution to the United Kingdom’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The scope will include: assessing the MoD’s planning and preparedness for a pandemic; understanding how the Armed Forces have supported the civilian authorities during the pandemic; evaluating the effectiveness of the specific actions and activities undertaken by military and civilian personnel, and; exploring how the MoD has ensured that potential adversaries have not taken advantage of the need to focus on the pandemic response. Deadline: 15 June 2020

Impact of COVID-19 on DCMS sectors: (Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee) The DCMS Committee has launched an inquiry into the ‘Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors’. It will consider both the immediate and long-term impact that Covid-19 and the related social and financial measures are having on the wide range of industries and organisations under the Committee’s remit. The Committee expects to hold a number of evidence sessions from late April onwards to hear directly from stakeholders, arms-length bodies and Government about what is being done and what further support is needed. Deadline 19 June 2020

Coronavirus and Scotland (Scottish Affairs Committee). Deadline 23 June 2020

Coronavirus: implications for transport: (Transport committee)The Transport Committee is asking transport workers, stakeholders and members of the public to write to them about the transport issues they face during the coronavirus outbreak. MPs will explore the impact felt by the industry, its workers and passengers in a rolling programme of work to monitor the impact of coronavirus on UK transport, sector by sector. Deadline: 29 June 2020

The science of COVID-19: (Science and Technology Committee (Lords) This inquiry will investigate the scientific and technological aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the nature of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, its transmission and spread, the development of vaccines and treatments, and how digital technologies can be used for tracking and modelling. The inquiry aims to help Government and society learn from the pandemic and better prepare for future epidemics.Deadline: 30 June 2020

The Government’s response to Covid-19: human rights implications
(Human Rights Joint Committee)
The Committee is seeking evidence on how the Government is ensuring measures are human-rights compliant, the impact of these measures on human rights in the UK, and the groups who will be disproportionately affected. Deadline: 22 July 2020

UK Science, Research and Technology Capability and Influence in Global Disease Outbreaks (Science and Technology Committee)
Once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed its peak, the Committee will inquire formally into the place of UK research, science and technology in the national and global response, and what lessons should be learned for the future. Deadline: 31 July 2020 

Past COVID inquiries

Impact of Covid-19 on the charity sector
(Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee)
Deadline: 16th April 2020 

  • This is a short inquiry into the impact on the charity sector. Find out more here. 

Home Office preparedness for Covid-19
(Home Affairs Committee)
Deadline: 21 April 2020 

  • The Home Affairs Committee is undertaking a short inquiry into the Home Office’s preparations for and response to Covid-19 (Coronavirus). Find out more here. 

The Covid-19 pandemic and international trade
(International Trade Committee)
Deadline: 24th April 2020 

  • This wide-ranging inquiry seeks views on impact on UK businesses, supply chains, and access to essential goods. Find out more here 

Unequal impact: Covid-19 & people with protected characteristics
(Women and Equalities Committee)
Deadline: 30th April 2020 

  • The committee wants to hear about the different and disproportionate impact that the Coronavirus – and measures to tackle it – is having on people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act. Find out more here.  

Humanitarian crises monitoring: impact of coronavirus
(International Development Committee)
Deadline: 17 April/ 8th May 2020 

  • This inquiry is seeking evidence in two waves; current situation and immediate risks (17 April) and longer-term issues and implications (8 May). Find out more here.

Life of Breath – The perspective of the humanities on COVID-19

This post was written by Professor  Havi Carel (University of Bristol) and Professor Jane Macnaughton (Durham University)

Editor Note: COVID-19, with its wide ranging impacts, has opened up an opportunity to demonstrate the value of scholarly analysis from a wide range of perspectives.  The use of an Arts and Humanities lens helps reveal unexamined areas of interest and importance that would otherwise remain blindspots in our understanding of the health, disease and societal impacts. This piece not only highlights beneficial arts and science collaborations (Singing for Lung Health) but also shows the power of reframing concepts in new ways, which can affect how we approach them.

For the last five years (2015-2020) we have been leading a Wellcome-funded project, the Life of Breath  https://lifeofbreath.org/.  Our aim has been to explore the experience of breathing and breathlessness from an interdisciplinary medical humanities perspective, including insights and knowledge from the humanities, social science and the arts.  It is astonishing that just as we submitted our end of project report, the whole world has been taken over by the COVID-19 pandemic and, with it, the fear of breathlessness. This is all the more strange because a major theme of our project was the invisibility of breath: how as healthy individuals we take breathing for granted; how hidden are those who live with the daily fear of death that accompanies severe breathlessness; and how trustingly we rely on the air around us.

Although breathlessness is central to the diagnosis of COVID-19, and also a sign of disease progression, it is still not highly visible in the media, despite being a pervasive symptom of severe disease.  Many of our pressing current concerns are more tangential: we are concerned about the curbs on personal freedom, about accessing food, and most of all about the health and wellbeing of our loved ones. Why are we not trying to understand the experience of breathlessness better?

Our research sheds light on this strange avoidance.  Breath is essential to life and any threat to it is too frightening to be able to comprehend, let alone express.  Our deepest and most atavistic fears relate to suffocation, drowning, or being unable to breathe.  Breathlessness itself, we have found, is a complex experience that is difficult to articulate, and clinical language can obstruct understanding and prevent the update of suitable management. https://lifeofbreath.org/2019/07/the-meaning-of-the-name-pulmonary-rehabilitation-oxley-et-al-2019/

Much of our work explored how arts and humanities approaches can be used to support and alleviate the suffering associated with chronic breathlessness.  Our research showed that encouraging expression of what breathlessness feels like can be aided by involvement with the arts, for example, through the ‘letter to my breath’ workshops our project designed and ran (https://lifeofbreath.org/2019/01/dear-breath-using-story-structure-to-understand-the-value-of-letter-writing-for-those-living-with-breathlessness-penny-malpass-2019/)

Outreach work from our Catch your Breath exhibition showed that poetry unleashes ideas and metaphors that enable the experience of breathlessness to be not only expressed to others but also understood by the breathless person themselves.  Our ‘Singing for Lung Health’ groups provided important evidence that learning basic diaphragm control and simple singing exercises can increase confidence and sense of control.

Philosophy has also been used in our work to develop a framework for understanding breathlessness more broadly, as a lived experience, rather than as a medical symptom.

See: https://lifeofbreath.org/2016/10/phenomenology-of-illness-by-havi-carel/

We have also published policy recommendations on how breathlessness could be better managed, especially in end of life care:

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/policybristol/policy-briefings/life-of-breath/

Approaches to management can be enhanced if we take a step away from clinical contexts and instead step onto the dance floor to improve exercise capacity.

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/policybristol/policy-briefings/life-of-breath/

The Life of Breath website provides resources based on our research to support people with breathlessness or who are feeling anxious during this difficult time.  We hope you find them useful.

https://lifeofbreath.org/2020/03/breathing-in-isolation-support-with-anxiety-breathlessness-during-lockdown/

https://lifeofbreath.org/2020/03/dance-easy-breathe-better-and-feel-good/

This post was originally published by the International Science Council. You can read the original article here.

Covid-19 in South Africa: The Long Walk to Freedom Continues

Angelique Retief (PhD student, School of Policy Studies, University of Bristol)

The large number of deaths of BAME people due to the coronavirus has quickly disproved the claim that the pandemic is a ‘great equaliser’ and has instead brought to the fore the many social ills in society. As most determinants of health are socially created, it logically follows then that the fact that socioeconomic deprivation disproportionately affects BAME people will be a precursor to the impact of the virus on those communities. With living space, gardens, and local areas (or the lack thereof) dictating our wellbeing, the gap between the rich and the poor has never been more obvious. The coronavirus will therefore not be felt equally and – compounded by the already profound challenges to wellbeing in non-OECD countries – will only serve to further entrench existing racial and economic disparities.

Racial disparities have a history. The product of centuries of colonialism, apartheid and racial exclusion, South Africa’s welfare system has struggled to provide the freedoms promised in 1994. It has been 26 years since South Africa’s first democratic election, and it is still one of the world’s most unequal societies. With unemployment levels at a decade high of 30% (reaching 40% in some areas), poor levels of basic service provision (StatsSA, 2018), over 2 million AIDS orphans, and the highest level of people with HIV of any country (UNAIDS, 2018), the impacts of Covid-19 will be acutely felt in this part of the world.

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Coronavirus: flying in fruit pickers from countries in lockdown is dangerous for everyone

Dr Denny Pencheva
Senior Teaching Associate, Migration Studies and Politics, University of Bristol

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, major agricultural companies and charities have chartered flights to urgently bring in tens of thousands of Bulgarian and Romanian agricultural workers. Flights have headed to places like Karlsruhe and Düsseldorf in Germany, along with Essex and the Midlands in the UK.

This comes after farmers in both countries warned there is a real risk that thousands of tons of produce might be left to rot – further affecting food supply chains – if vacancies for agricultural workers go unfilled.

The excessive demand for food during lockdown has meant that farm labourers are classed as key workers, which is why they are being flown to the UK and other Western European countries.

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British Somalis and FGM: ‘everybody is a suspect – you are guilty until proven innocent’

Saffron KarlsenSenior Lecturer in Social Research, University of Bristol

Christina PantazisProfessor of Zemiology, University of Bristol

Magda MogilnickaResearch Associate in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol

Natasha CarverLecturer in International Criminology, University of Bristol

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), whereby the female genitals are deliberately injured or changed for non-medical reasons, is considered by the UN to be a “global concern”.

International organisations often report statistical evidence that 98% of women and girls in Somalia/Somaliland have undergone FGM.

Because of this international evidence, girls born to Somali parents living in the UK are considered to be at high risk of experiencing FGM. Yet research shows that attitudes towards FGM change dramatically following migration and therefore girls in the UK are unlikely to be put through this procedure.

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A Moment of Opportunity? Britain and the Maritime Security Challenge

Dr Scott A Edwards Research Associate for the Transnational Organised Crime at Sea project.

On 28 February 2020, SafeSeas hosted an IdeasLab in Bristol on UK maritime security after Brexit, with the kind support of PolicyBristolMigration Mobilities Bristol, and the Bristol Global Insecurities Centre. Titled ‘Securing Britain’s Seas’, the goal of the day was to ask how maritime insecurities and blue crimes impact on UK interests, explore how current governance arrangements work in response to these, and consider how these may be challenged and transformed both by a rapidly changing security environment and the challenges of Brexit.

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The Future of ‘Citizenship Policy’ in the UK

The article was originally published in the Border Criminologies Blog at the University of Oxford. This guest post, written by Katherine Tonkiss, Agnes Czajka, Tendayi Bloom, Eleni Andreouli, Devyani Prabhat, Cynthia Orchard, Nira Yuval-Davis, Kelly Staples and Georgie Wemyss,* considers the future of citizenship policy in the UK in response to a recent inquiry into citizenship policy in the UK.

As the Windrush scandal has shown, when a person is unable to show evidence of their citizenship, the results can be devastating. In August 2019, the think tank British Future launched an independent inquiry into UK citizenship policy, chaired by Alberto Costa MP,  inviting experts to submit evidence. In response, one group of academics and NGOs came together to map an agenda for citizenship policy in the UK. This blog summarises some of their recommendations. Continue reading

Do development indicators underlie global variation in the number of young people injecting drugs?

Dr Lindsey Hines, Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow in The Centre for Academic Mental Health & the Integrative Epidemiology Unit, University of Bristol

Dr Adam Trickey, Senior Research Associate in Population Health Sciences, University of Bristol

Injecting drug use is a global issue: around the world an estimated 15.6 million people inject psychoactive drugs. People who inject drugs tend to begin doing so in adolescence, and countries that have larger numbers of adolescents who inject drugs may be at risk of emerging epidemic s of blood borne viruses unless they take urgent action. We mapped the global differences in the proportion of adolescents who inject drugs, but found that we may be missing the vital data we need to protect the lives of vulnerable young people. If we want to prevent HIV, hepatitis C, and overdose from sweeping through a new generation of adolescents we urgently need many countries to scale up harm reduction interventions, and to collect accurate which can inform public health and policy. Continue reading