UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


UCL STEaPP leads £2m international research-policy initiative to mitigate social impacts of COVID-19

2 December 2020

UCL STEaPP is leading a £2m collaboration, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC),  to build bridges between policy and research, focused on mitigating the biggest social impacts of COVID-19 and accelerating the UK’s recovery.

Leaflet showing stay at home government advice for coronavirus

The International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO) is a collaboration between UCL, Cardiff University, Queens University Belfast, the University of Auckland and the University of Oxford, with leading think tanks including the International Network for Government Science (INGSA), and academic news publisher The Conversation.

Through this global network, the IPPO will give UK policymakers easy access to resources, evidence and analysis of global policy responses to COVID-19, enabling them to make better decisions on how to address the immediate social, economic and public health impacts of the pandemic.

The IPPO will also provide insights on how these can be used to inform the UK’s response to and recovery from the pandemic. It will focus on a broad spectrum of policy areas including education; mental health and well-being; living online; care homes and adult social care; housing, communities and cohesion; and addressing the disproportionate impacts on BAME groups. This will enable national, devolved and local UK governments to make better decisions to benefit the British public, particularly marginalised and at-risk groups.

The partnership, led by the UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering & Public Policy (STEaPP) and the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Coordinating Centre (EPPI Centre), based in the UCL Social Research Institute, will bring together experts from UCL Public Policy’s Capabilities in Academic-Policy Engagement (CAPE), the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, INGSA and The Conversation.

Professor Joanna Chataway, Principal Investigator (UCL STEaPP) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for policymakers around the world. The range and urgency of evidence they need is continuously growing, and if it’s not easily accessible this creates yet another hurdle to developing the measures we need to help society through the impacts of COVID-19.  

“The IPPO will build lasting connections between policy and research experts from across the world and provide real, flexible and targeted insights on how best to address the UK’s response and recovery from the pandemic. Our aim is to not just help address the pressing issues around COVID-19 but to also create a best-practice approach to connecting the worlds of policy and social science, especially during times of crisis and rapid change. Ultimately evidence needs to reach those who need it”

ESRC’s Executive Chair, Professor Jennifer Rubin, said: “The coronavirus pandemic raises a great many questions and policymakers have to make often unprecedented decisions – some most urgent, others to address the longer-term recovery and wider challenges.  Evidence is growing rapidly about different approaches, in the UK and globally. The IPPO will give policymakers vital insights into the research, the knowledge being gained, what options are being trialled and what can work. I believe it will make an invaluable contribution.”

The IPPO will play a critical role in policy makers’ response to the pandemic, drawing on data, analysis and evidence to deliver rigorous and accessible insights to policy stakeholders, who are addressing the pandemic’s fall-out and leading the subsequent recovery strategies. To ensure it is directly addressing the UK’s most urgent policy needs, the IPPO will crowdsource key questions and topics from policymakers and the public.

It will provide regularly updated ‘Living Maps’ of evidence and policy to help cut through the vast amounts of social research and policy responses on COVID-19. This will provide a searchable database of research which is relevant to COVID-19 policy decisions and give direct access to the most up to date evidence. Working with The Conversation, the IPPO will ensure outputs are communicated in a dynamic, accessible way via a dedicated website, including evidence briefs and systematic reviews as ongoing engagement with key policy stakeholders.

The IPPO will also undertake policy research and work with engagement leaders in the devolved administrations, including the Scottish Policy and Research Exchange (SPRE), Wales’ Social Science Park (SPARK) and Queen’s University Belfast and Pivotal, Northern Ireland’s leading policy think tank.

Professor David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research) said: “I am delighted that UCL will host and lead this innovative international observatory, which will act not only as an opportunity to bring together leading policy experts from across the university, but also to further connect us with our brilliant colleagues across the world.

“It is more crucial than ever that we are able to come together to address the impacts of the pandemic, as well as the climate crisis and other global challenges, and ensure that world-leading research can better inform our response, aid our recovery, and enhance our resilience.”

The IPPO is funded by a £2 million, two-year Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) grant.