IBTN 2020 Session 2A: Lessons learned from the UK response to COVID-19

Duration: 33 minutes

Presented by Susan Michie, PhD

View Q&A session

Speakers have kindly provided responses to questions submitted by conference participants during the Discussion session that did not get an opportunity to be discussed.

  1. Given the COVID-19 experience, how do we leverage this to embed behavioural scientists in the general decision making and policy process of governments? Given that most of our challenges in the world are behavioural in nature.

It already is in some countries – with ‘behavioural insights teams’ springing up both in central and local government. In those cases more co-ordination is needed with something like a ‘Chief Behavioural and Social Scientist’ position taking a lead.

Robert West (moderator)
  1. The CDC recently indicated that the primary mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close person-to-person contact and that while one can get COVID-19 by touching surfaces and then touching their face it is not the main way the virus spreads. In addition, there have been some reports that wearing a facemask may not be good for all and that it actually increases people’s likelihood to touch their face. Yet we are constantly being told to wear a mask, wash hands, etc. Can you comment on this?

We do not know how much transmission the direct airborne route and how much by fomites. And this will vary considerably depending on context. We do know that the virus can remain active for more than a day on some surfaces. The issue of face masks is contentious because of a lack of directly relevant evidence. Observational studies suggest a benefit but risk of confounding is very high and RCTs have yielded equivocal results. Clearly they can be effective if used properly and safely disposed of or cleaned and if they are not used (as in the UK) as a way of getting people to accept reduced social distancing in areas such as public transport.

Robert West (moderator)
  1. Question from Grace Wangge – To what extent did the UK gov take behavioural research data as consideration in their Covid-19 policy (compared with other evidence come from other types of research)?

To start with it seemed to. Then as it conflicted with their political priorities they did the exact opposite of what was being advised and things have gone from bad to worse since then.

Robert West (moderator)
  1. Question from Angela Pfammatter – Susan mentioned the need for trustworthy sources to put out info in a way that can be understood by the public, but that might require an inherent trust in the sources by the public. How might we increase and instill trust from the public in the process and product of science?

Trust requires openness, honesty, engendering confidence and creating a sense that the government’s motives align with the public good. In countries such as the UK with a government that has none of these attributes scientists probably have to distance themselves from the government.

Robert West (moderator)
  1. Question from Huseyin Kucukali – Many governments made several types of mistakes in this crisis, are there specific methods or good practices for undoing, reconstructing wrongly established behaviours?

There are principles of crisis management that are well established and have not been adhered to. Key among them are: 1) preparedness, 2) timeliness, 3) proportionality, and 4) willingness to learn.

Robert West (moderator)

PLEASE NOTE: Though numerous questions were submitted by conference participants, only the questions for which we obtained responses are shared here.