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COVID-19: how The Conversation helps build bridges between research and policy

Child drawing rainbow
IPPO will be assessing the evidence on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. Shutterstock

A year after the UK first entered lockdown, the social impacts of COVID-19 are vast and far-reaching, particularly on vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. But just as research led to the development of the vaccines that are now being rolled out globally, so it can help mitigate the pandemic’s effects on society.

Children and young people, carers and those in care, BAME communities and the homeless are among those facing the greatest social challenges. Rigorous research on these challenges – and the potential solutions – is needed urgently. But it is also critical that it reaches policymakers so they can address the social crisis in an evidence-based way.

Read more: COVID-19 has sparked new relationships between academia and policymakers – we must maintain them

In late 2020, The Conversation partnered on the ESRC-funded International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO), a collaboration of UK academic institutions – including UCL, Cardiff University, Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Oxford – and global networks. It has been established to help UK policymakers address COVID-19’s social impacts by connecting them with the best-available evidence from around the world. The Conversation’s IPPO Co-Investigator, Matt Warren, and Editorial Project Manager, Mike Herd, bring the network’s research communications, editorial and “newsroom” expertise to the project.

As the UK takes its first tentative steps out of its third lockdown, IPPO and The Conversation are hosting a joint webinar on the social impacts of COVID-19 and how to tackle them. It will take place on Tuesday, March 30 at 2pm BST and feature panellists Sir Geoff Mulgan (IPPO Co-Investigator and Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation at UCL); Hetan Shah (Chief Executive of the British Academy); Deidre Heenan (Professor of Social Policy at Ulster University), and Jo Adetunji (The Conversation’s Managing Editor). The webinar, the first of a series, is free to watch live on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and no registration is needed. You can sign up to receive a reminder about the event and details of how to watch it here.

Read more: A conversation about COVID-19: how should we tackle its long-term social impacts?

Making a difference

Since the IPPO website launched in mid-February, IPPO has focused on assessing the policy needs and evidence relating to COVID-19’s impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of different communities, including schoolchildren and young people, and care home residents and staff.

A roundtable discussion on schoolchildren’s wellbeing needs has led to more work synthesising evidence on what a summer support programme should look like, and a follow-up discussion that drew up specific, practical plans for policymakers in all four UK nations. These will be published on IPPO’s website at the end of March 2021 as a “ten-point plan for children’s summer support”.

Parallel IPPO work investigated the global impacts of COVID-19 on street homelessness, amassing the latest data on pandemic policy responses in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. A roundtable focused on next steps, with emphasis on prevention measures and the use of real-time, individual-level data. Forthcoming roundtables include:

How should the UK improve adult training and job placement to aid its recovery? A joint roundtable with the Economics Observatory (IPPO’s sister Observatory) on Tuesday April 20 2021 (3.30pm-5pm BST). You can register for this event here.

Online education: What will we take forward from the pandemic? This roundtable, which forms part of a longer-term systematic review of evidence in this area, is on Monday April 26 2021 (4pm-5pm BST). If you are interested in attending, please email (adding “online learning” in the subject line).

A Living Map and specialist networks

We have also now launched the IPPO Living Map: an easy-to-search, regularly updated database of systematic reviews of COVID-19 research. The Living Map is continuously maintained by researchers at one of the partner organisations in IPPO, the EPPI-Centre at UCL. It covers global social sciences research evidence on COVID-19, including (but not limited to) IPPO’s priority topic areas: mental health, education, housing, care, BAME communities, vulnerable communities, and online life. For details on how to use the IPPO Living Map, click here.

Read more: The pandemic has been tough on young people – which is why summer break is so important for their mental health

Over the coming months, many countries will face a common challenge: how to start unlocking in ways that recognise that some have had the vaccine, or a past COVID-19 infection, and could potentially be treated differently from those who haven’t. Making the wrong decisions over the next few weeks could lead to major setbacks in 2021, so evidence on the best ways forward is needed. Read Geoff Mulgan’s call for evidence-based contributions on the issue of vaccine passports and “unequal freedoms” here.

Read more: What we learned from tracking every COVID policy in the world

Indeed, a key element of IPPO’s strategy is to develop a network of topic specialists who can advise on, review and even author our various content streams – ranging from expert blogs and “rapid answers” to in-depth evidence briefs and systematic reviews. If you are a specialist in this field interested in joining the IPPO network, fill in this short survey and we will get in touch with more details.

IPPO is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. Read more about its Observatories programme here. You can contact IPPO at

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