UN mobilizes researchers to pursue solutions to the socio-economic crisis triggered by COVID-19 | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

UN mobilizes researchers to pursue solutions to the socio-economic crisis triggered by COVID-19 Roadmap proposes 25 research priorities in strategic areas to build a more equitable, resilient and sustainable future (photo: Rovena Rosa / Agência Brasil)

UN mobilizes researchers to pursue solutions to the socio-economic crisis triggered by COVID-19

December 02, 2020

By Claudia Izique  |  Agência FAPESP – On November 18 the United Nations (UN) issued a Research Roadmap for the COVID-19 Recovery written by 250 researchers, heads of funding agencies in 25 countries, including FAPESP, and policymakers, among others. The document outlines national and international strategies for recovering from the social and economic crisis that has seized the planet in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group spent ten weeks producing the document, which sets out 25 research priorities. “This Roadmap is a tool that can be used by researchers, research funding agencies, civil society organizations, governments, and international institutions to build partnerships, align research response efforts, and demonstrate the power of global science,” UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed says in the opening message.

The 25 research priorities – five priorities for each of the five pillars of the UN’s socio-economic recovery framework – provide a framework for leveraging the power of science in support of better recovery and a more equitable, resilient, and sustainable future, and are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The five pillars relate to support for health systems and services, social protection and basic services, economic response and recovery programs, macroeconomic policies and multilateral collaboration, and social cohesion and community resilience. 

The Executive Summary says science “represents the world’s best chance for recovering better from the COVID-19 crisis”, as it can produce transformative changes that involve ingenuity, research in the full range of disciplines, partnerships, and collaboration.  The document also identifies five strategies for strengthening research ecosystems and mobilizing scientists to pursue the 25 research priorities.

FAPESP’s contribution

Development of the document, containing five chapters and over 120 pages, was led by Professor Steven J. Hoffman, Scientific Director of the Institute of Population & Public Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). 

Recommendations and research topics are put forward in the form of questions for each of the five pillars. The document also lists three research sub-priorities for each pillar, labeled “quick-win” (having an immediate impact) “best-buy” (promising the highest return on investment), and “game-changer”.

In social protection and basic services, for example, the recommendations include focusing on pro-poor policies, maintaining essential food and nutrition services, especially for women and children, ensuring sanitation, sustained learning, social services, and measures against gender-based violence.

This is Pillar 2. Here, the recommended “quick-win” is research to design effective strategies for safeguarding the mental health of front-line workers, while digital inclusion initiatives are considered “best-buy”, and effective measures to protect basic income are seen as a “game-changer”. Following these, the Roadmap details five research priorities focusing on inclusive social protection, ways of combating marginalization and inequity, and building and sustaining environments so that all people thrive, among other propositions.

Alongside representatives of ten other research institutions from around the world, FAPESP contributed to the formulation of the key questions for Pillar 2. The Foundation was represented by its Scientific Director, Luiz Eugênio Mello, and by researcher Marta Arretche, former director and now board member of the Center for Metropolitan Studies (CEM), one of FAPESP’s Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs). 

“The main challenge was translating the relevant questions into recommendations for immediate implementation that were also linked to concrete research opportunities,” Mello said. “A great deal of knowledge is available, of course, but local adjustments often have to be made so it can be suitably applied for the benefit of society.”

Arretche recalled that FAPESP played an important role in detailing two priority topics. “The first is digital inclusion, a major challenge at this time to which scientific research can make a significant contribution,” she said. “The second is implementation, a crucial stage of policymaking, where research can produce important knowledge on social inclusion strategies.”

Co-chaired by Angela Liberatore of the European Research Council and Bhushan Patwardhan of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, the group that drafted the proposals on social protection and basic services also included Anita Charlesworth of The Health Foundation in the UK, Isayvani Naicker of the African Academy of Sciences in Kenya, and Sara Wolfe of Grand Challenges Canada.

“Leave no one behind”

The main premise informing the United Nations Research Roadmap for the COVID-19 Recovery is that all inhabitants of the planet are interdependent. This principle underpins its threefold aim of equity, resilience, and sustainability, in the framework of an initiative to construct a strong knowledge base for use by governments, civil society, and the private sector, so as to “leave no one behind”. And the key driver of an equitable economic recovery is research.

“Evidence to strengthen national research capacity is critical to ensure that local researchers can generate timely and context-appropriate knowledge to support decision-making,” the document stresses in the section on “Science of Science”. This includes how to make the research enterprise more equitable, diverse, inclusive, and participatory. 

The document urges research funding agencies to “work together to ensure sufficient and coordinated investment” in efforts to pursue the research priorities that will inform the socio-economic recovery from the current pandemic by strengthening domestic and international partnerships. “Indeed, strengthened international collaboration will be vital to implementing this Roadmap,” it says.

FAPESP will now begin discussions to prepare calls for proposals that address the research priorities outlined in the Roadmap. “FAPESP’s active role in this UN initiative gives researchers in the state of São Paulo a chance to take part in international calls for proposals to investigate topics whose solutions and challenges are also of a global nature,” Mello said.

The United Nations Research Roadmap for the COVID-19 Recovery can be read or downloaded in its entirety at: www.un.org/en/pdfs/UNCOVID19ResearchRoadmap.pdf.

 

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