April 3, 2020

Opinion

13 examples of how think tanks and research institutions are responding to the pandemic

Part 4 of  
COVID-19

As I’ve been reading through the On Think Tanks Twitter feed and articles, I’ve been amazed by the speed and range of think tank and research response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And with the crisis impacting nearly every policy area, there’s plenty of opportunity for think tanks to make smart connections to their research and expertise.

Here I’ve pulled together 13 examples of different think tank responses from around the world. It’s not an exclusive list by any means, rather an attempt to show the range and types of contributions, intended to inform and inspire other thinktankers, during this crisis and for future ones.


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Looking across these examples, it’s clear that you don’t necessarily need big budgets or time investments to make a difference.  What’s important is for think tanks to think deeply about the contribution they can best make by asking themselves these three things:

  • Where do we have the most influence or the biggest audience?
  • What information or support do they need?
  • What resources (staff time, data, analysis, networks) do we have to deliver it, and could we partner with others to do it better?

You don’t necessarily have to ask them in this order, you could first ask what resources, information or support you can best offer, then identify who needs that information or data. Whichever makes more sense for your institution.

For more of a discussion on how think tanks can respond constructively and stay relevant in the pandemic, I also recommend Hans Gutbrod and Till Brucker’s article.

1. The global response tracker

The Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford in the UK has launched the Oxford COVID-19 government response tracker, aiming to record 73 governments’ unfolding responses in a rigorous and consistent way. The tracker covers 11 indicators, such as schools closing and travel bans. All raw data is available to download, accompanied by a working paper. The index intends to help researchers, policymakers and citizens understand what measures have been effective in certain contexts, and why. They’ve used publicly available data, drawing on network of academics and students at Oxford University and across the world.

2. The symptoms tracker

Kings College London, Twins UK, Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital and ZOE Global Ltd have launched a COVID-19 Symptom Tracker. They are asking UK residents to self-report daily, even if they aren’t showing any symptoms.  Scientists will use the real-time data to identify high-risk areas in the UK, as well as who is most at risk by better understanding symptoms linked to underlying health conditions. So, UK-based readers, download the app and report in daily (it really is user friendly and quick to do).

3. The public statement

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit airlines hard. And when EasyJet called for a state bailout while simultaneously going ahead with its £174 million dividend pay-out (including £60 million to its founder), the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Common Wealth in the UK did some analysis and issued a public statement suggesting five criteria for government bailouts. It’s reassuring to see that the experts are paying attention and able to use their expertise and analysis to help hold big businesses and governments to account.

4. The legal explainer

The UK Coronavirus Act 2020, containing ‘emergency powers’ was fast-tracked through parliament and came into law on 25 March. The UK’s Institute for Government wasted no time publishing a comprehensive ‘explainer’ on the Act. When news of the law broke, I was looking for exactly this, so thank you Institute for Government.

5. The blog series

The Overseas Development Institute experts have published a series of blogs to critically examine and highlight the impacts of COVID-19 on a number of policy areas – such as healthcare systems and the economy – and importantly, on those furthest behind. The Brookings Institute has taken a similar approach, collating expert opinion and analysis in one place.

6. The expert poll 

The Georgian Institute of Politics polled 40 experts – scholars and political observers – on Georgia’s response and resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic. They published their findings, which were largely positive, but that identified the Georgian Orthodox Church and some citizens not complying with the quarantine as the most serious challenges.

7. The information sorter

Cochrane has created a resources and news page on its website, collating reliable and update information. They’ve helpfully organised the resources for different audiences: the public, patients and carers; healthcare workers; researchers; and policy and guidelines developers. They’ve also worked to translate key documents in up to 8 languages.

8. The frontline guide

A group from NTI, Georgetown University Medical Center, Talus Analytics and the Centre for Global Development have come together to quickly produce guide for local decision-makers. It offers a decision framework for local leaders to think through what will need to be done to help reduce the outbreak impact. There’s a button to send feedback or information to be incorporated as the pandemic continues.

9. The homeschooling resource

The Heritage Foundation – a conservative US research and education think tank – has been promoting its collection of education resources for schools and families, acknowledging that ‘we’re all homeschoolers now.’ It may not be your curriculum of choice, but it’s a good example of how think tanks can look at what they already have and how it may have new meaning, purpose or audience during the pandemic.

10. The public campaign

CIPPEC in Argentina joined forces with journalists, media and businesses to create the #SomosResponsables (we are responsible) campaign to raise public awareness on the impact of individual actions to curb the pandemic spread.

11. The livestreamed policy discussion

On the 19th March, the Sustainable Policy Development Institute in Pakistan livestreamed an open discussion on policy options for combatting COVID-19 with the Federal Minister of Inter Provincial Coordination.

12. The global fiscal response tracker

Yale’s Financial Stability Program launched a Coronavirus Response Tracker, following interventions by central banks, fiscal authorities and organisations restoring financial stability. It also highlights proposals from people and institutions outside government. It’s published as an Excel Google Document that you can view and the program can update with new data as it goes.

13. The global education policy tracker

Another tracker, the Center for Global Development in Washington DC, has published its Excel COVID education policy tracker, providing details about the closures and other supports countries are providing while schools are closed. As with the Yale tracker, this is a live Excel Google Document. The data is a great source of analysis, like this one: New Education Policies May Be Increasing Inequality

About the author:

Louise Ball:  Freelance communications consultant currently based in Medellin, Colombia

Read more from: Louise Ball

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