Science, technology and innovation policy

Scientific advice in crises: Lessons learned from COVID-19



 3-4 March 2022  Virtual workshop



This workshop is one in a series of international expert workshops organised by the Global Science Forum in 2021-2022, as part of a project on mobilising science in response to crises.

The specific focus of this event is on scientific advice. It builds on previous OECD-GSF work on Scientific Advice for Policy Making: The Role and Responsibility of Expert Bodies and Individual Scientists and Scientific Advice During Crises: Facilitating Transnational Co-operation and Exchange of Information. These reports lay out a broad typology of different science advisory structures and processes, identify key issues and challenges for their effective operation and define a set of principles for developing rigorous and trusted scientific advice.

These were considered to be broadly applicable in the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic (see our COVID-19 response policy note) but it is timely to revisit them in the light of the unprecedented ‘pressure test’ and intense scrutiny that scientific advice has been exposed to as the crisis has evolved. Science advice ecosystems are complex, operate at different scales and involve different actors, including scientists, policy-makers, risk analysts and crisis managers.

COVID-19 has highlighted the critical importance of trust between these various actors and the public at large. The workshop tried and integrated perspectives from these different actors in order to identify what worked (and did not work) during the pandemic, how trust was established (and lost) and the implications for science policy.



WORKSHOP documents


Watch the sessions

Day 1 - Introduction and Opening Keynote

  • Workshop Co-chairs: Tateo Arimoto (National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Tokyo) and Randolph Kent (African Leadership Centre, Kings College, London), GSF Expert Group (EG) members
  • Chair of the OECD Global Science Forum: Amanda Collis (UK Research and Innovation)
  • Short presentation from the OECD-GSF Secretariat: Carthage Smith.


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Day 1 - Session 1.1 - Science, policy and politics

This opening keynote presentation laid out how science, policy, politics and public trust have been intimately intertwined in the different actions that countries have taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keynote Presentation: Sheila Jasanoff (S&T Studies, Harvard Kennedy School, United States) - Comparative Covid response: crisis, knowledge, politics.


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Day 1 - Session 1.2 - The operational challenges of making evidence-based policy

Several short oral interventions (4-5 mins each), with a focus on the practical realities and challenges of working at the interface between science and policy in public health crises. 

Intervanants: Ian Diamond (UK’s National Statistician) Jet Bussemaker (Council of Public Health and Society; Leiden University, the Netherlands) Bob Kolasky (Director of the National Risk Management Center, Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency, United States Department of Homeland Security and Chair of the OECD High-level Risk Forum).

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Day 1 - Session 2 - Evolving advisory processes, roles and responsibilities of scientific advisors

This session explored how different national advisory systems – centralised and decentralised – responded in the face of the COVID-19 Pandemic and how they needed to adapt as the crisis evolved.

Key questions:

  1. What advisory structures were in place prior to the crisis and what role did these play during the crisis? What new structures or mechanisms were put in place and how did these perform?
  2. Aside from the scientific advice coming via formal government mandated advisory structures, what other scientific advice informed policy-making and how did this interact with formal mechanisms? What level of plurality/disagreement in terms of science advice is optimal/desirable?
  3. How was scientific autonomy maintained and how were conflicts of interest managed in advisory processes? What measures are in place to ‘protect’ scientists, who provide advice from abuse or legal prosecution?

Panel discussion with key individuals involved in science advisory processes in different countries and experience of working across the interface between science advice and policy making.

Moderator – Marie Delnord (EG member and Sciensano, Belgium)

Panellists: So Young Kim (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Korea) Marion Koopmans (Head of Viroscience, Erasmus University, the Netherlands) Petr Smejkal (Chief Epidemiologist, IKEM, Prague, Czech Republic) Dominique Costagliola (Sorbonne Université, INSERM, Institut Pierre Louis d'Epidémiologie et de Santé Publique, Paris, France) Patrick Fafard (Global Strategy Lab, University of Ottawa, Canada).

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Day 1 - Session 3 - Ensuring a holistic/multidisciplinary evidence base

This session explored how key policy questions were formulated and who was involved in this process. It also explored how evidence from different scientific domains and disciplines has been included in science advisory processes during the pandemic and how effective this has been in addressing policy questions.

Key questions:

  1. How were policy concerns and priorities incorporated into advisory processes and translated into scientific questions? Was there a co-design process and, if so, who was involved and how did this operate? Has this changed during the course of the pandemic?
  2. How were different disciplinary perspectives including biomedical, social and behavioural sciences taken into account? What weight was given to different sources of evidence and did this evolve over time?
  3. How were trusted data sources selected and what quality control measures were implemented? How was big-data, e.g. from social media that was not specifically collected for research, used in scientific advice/policy making?

Moderator – Frans Brom, EG member (Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) and Ethics Institute of Utrecht University, the Netherlands)

Panellists Muto Kaori (Department of Public Policy, Institute of Medical Science, University of Tokyo, Japan) Marijn de Bruin (Head of Research, Behavioural medicine, National Institute of Public Health and Environment, Netherlands) Geoff Mulgan (Science policy University College London, United Kingdom), Rémi Quirion (Chief Science Advisor of Québec and President of INGSA, International Network for Government Science Advice),  Bob Kolasky (Director of the National Risk Management Center, Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency, United States Department of Homeland Security and Chair of the OECD High Level Risk Forum).

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Day 2 - Session 4 - Communication of scientific advice, building trust

This session explored how science advisory structures have engaged with the public(s) and the role of mainstream and social media in this engagement.

Key questions:

  1. How can openness and accountability be ensured and what can be done to effectively communicate scientific advice and its associated uncertainties in a way that promotes public trust?
  2. How can conflicting scientific viewpoints and advice be best managed within formal advisory processes? And in the public debate more broadly?
  3. How can science advice be best communicated to the public using traditional and/or social media? What is the role of the scientists who are involved in formal science advisory processes in communicating this advice to the public and how does this relate to the role of the authorities responsible for crisis response and politicians?

Moderator – Tereza Stockelova, EG member, Institute of Sociology, Czech Republic

Panellists: Mikihito Tanaka (Political Science and Economics, Waseda University, Japan) Michael Bang Peterson (Political Science, Aarhus University, Denmark) Camilla Stoltenberg (Director, Norwegian Institute of Public Health) Henrique Barros (Public health, University of Porto, Portugal).

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Day 2 - Session 5 - Scientific advice at different scales: coordination and contextualization

This session explored the science advice at different scales and in different contexts can operate effectively and the appropriate balance between the inter-dependence and autonomy of different advisory processes.

Key questions:

  1. How can national and international science advisory mechanisms complement each-other and work together most effectively? 
  2. How can national and sub-regional, including municipal and local, science advisory mechanisms be best coordinated?
  3. How can science advice be used to support community decision makers and key actors in regions or situations, where traditional governmental authority is absent? 

Moderator – David Castle (EG member, University of Victoria, Canada)

Panellists Melanie Davern (Associate Professor, RMIT University and Director, Australian Urban Observatory) Christian Léonard (Strategic Director of Sciensano, Belgian Public Health Institute) David Nabarro (4SD, former WHO Director and former UN special envoy on pandemics) Nicole Grobert (Chair, EC Scientific Advisory Mechanism) Ian Diamond (UK’s National Statistician).

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Day 2 - Session 6 - Implications for science advice in future crises

Addressing the structural and systemic challenges that have become evident during the COVID-19 pandemic will be important not only for responding to future emergencies, but also for responding to complex longer-term crises (e.g. environmental change) and implementing the socio-technological transformations that are required to build sustainable and resilient societies.

Key questions:

  1. What science policy actions can be taken to improve the preparedness of science systems to effectively inform policy-making in future emergencies?
  2. What science policy actions are necessary to ensure that the necessary scientific evidence and advice is effectively provided to policy makers (and citizens) to inform solutions to future pandemics? To what extent can this be extrapolated to other complex crises and chronic societal challenges? 

Panellists John-Arne Røttingen (Ambassador for global health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway) Kiyoshi Kurokawa (emeritus Professor, University of Tokyo) Helena Pereira (President of the Board of Directors, FCT, Portugal) Daan Du Toit (Deputy DG, Dept. Science and Technology, S. Africa) Rebecca Bunnell (Chief Science Officer/Director, CDC Office of Science, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, United States).

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