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Science advice in times of COVID-19

OECD recommendations on providing and using scientific advice in international crises

 

In the report Scientific Advice during Crises: Facilitating Transnational Co-operation and Exchange of Information, the OECD identified five key areas that are particularly important in providing and using scientific advice in international crises.

1. Fostering capacity to provide advice that fits the national context

There are three recommendations on fostering national capacity for scientific advice in crises that are relevant to COVID-19. The most relevant parts of these recommendations are:

  1. National mechanisms for provision of scientific advice should be established. These should build on existing institutional structures, providing ready access to a number of disciplinary perspectives. Processes for quality assurance and communication of scientific advice need to be integrated into these advisory mechanisms.
  2. Knowledge generated and lessons learned regarding scientific advice during crises, including novel and complex events, needs to be structured, recorded, systemised, preserved and disseminated to allow mutual learning and improved use of science advice.
  3. The international community should assist interested countries in developing their domestic systems for providing and utilising scientific advice in crises.

2. International cooperation

There are two recommendations on enabling transnational scientific advice in crises that have relevance to COVID-19. The most relevant parts of these recommendations are:

  1. Countries should share details of domestic and international contact points with responsibility for coordinating scientific advice during crises. There may be multiple contact points in a single country, although the number should be kept to a minimum to ensure effective communication between countries.
  2. Existing frameworks for the exchange of data and information during crises should be strengthened and new frameworks developed as necessary. These frameworks can play an important role in developing common standards and protocols for data exchange and access. Their development and adoption is a shared responsibility both of governments and the scientific community. In this context it is noted that academic norms and practices have not always encouraged the timely exchange of data and information during crises, and agreements between funders and publishers on sharing public health data (as has happened with COVID-19) should be supported. 

3. Promoting mutual understanding and trust: people and networks

There are three recommendations on promoting mutual understanding and trust in scientific advice in crises that have relevance to COVID-19. The most relevant parts of these recommendations are:

  1. Regular interactions and building of mutual understanding between providers of scientific advice (government scientists, academics, scientific advisors) and crisis managers should be encouraged. The different communities need to work together to identify knowledge gaps and how they can be filled.
  2. International science networks should be considered as potentially part of the infrastructure for crisis response, in which case, appropriate links need to be made with crisis management practitioners. Contingency funding that can be rapidly accessed by these networks would improve their ability to engage effectively. 
  3. And in the longer-term, mechanisms to enable exchange and mobility of interested individuals from different institutional settings and countries should be used to promote mutual understanding and trust. Opportunities for academic researchers to work with crisis management structures and for those with domestic responsibility for scientific advice to work with international organisations can be particularly valuable.

4. Being prepared: learning from past experience

There are two recommendations on being prepared and learning from past experience with respect to science advice in crises. The most relevant parts of these recommendations, which have longer-term implications for managing COVID-19, are:

  1. Regular drills and exercises that bring together both crisis managers and those involved in providing scientific advice should be encouraged and supported both domestically and transnationally.
  2. Mutual-learning and training scenarios for novel, complex, trans-national crises (such as infectious disease epidemics, including recovery scenarios) should be developed and tested with input from the scientific community and crisis managers. These need to take into account the communication channels for multiple stakeholders, including policy-makers, relevant industry actors and the public.

5. Communication with the public

There are three recommendations on communicating scientific advice with the public in crises that are relevant to COVID-19. The most relevant parts of these recommendations are:

  1. The public communication of scientific advice during crises should normally be embedded in a broader crisis management communication strategy – involving crisis managers and decision-makers – and an international coordination strategy.
  2. Responsibility for public communication of scientific advice in crisis response situations needs to be clearly defined, and, for transnational crises, those responsible for communication in one country should ideally be in close liaison with their relevant counterparts in other countries.
  3. Experimentation with the use of social media and online tools for gathering and communicating information from, and to, the public during crises is required. There are opportunities for scientists and crisis managers to work together in this regard.

 

Read more about Providing science advice to policy makers during COVID-19.

 

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