International Scan of Emergency Preparedness Social Sciences Research, Funding Structures and Frameworks

Graphic image of the a world map and the coronavirus behind it

Sarah O’Meara

In December 2023, the Cross-Government Social and Behavioural Science for Emergencies Steering Group commissioned IPPO and the EPPI Centre to conduct an international scan for organisations, networks, collaborations and institutions that exist to respond to urgent evidence demands during times of crisis.

The focus was to identify organisations that could produce evidence on demand that incorporated social science research, and better understand which mechanisms and frameworks are available to rapidly deploy funding to these bodies in emergencies.

Our international partner INGSA also provided findings from their Evidence to Policy Tracker, which reveals how governments globally used mechanisms to absorb evidence from the research community. 

We have distilled the key findings from the scan and report into a shorter briefing below.

Activities and Networks

A wide variety of organisations were identified engaging in activities that related to emergency preparedness. 

These organisations were often multidisciplinary in nature, and the terms they used to describe their work varied between institutions. This made it challenging to identify the organisations themselves, their evidence methods and research outputs, and where there might be gaps in the provision of evidence in emergencies.

Funding Mechanisms and Frameworks 

Very often there is a lack of explicit information regarding how organisations receive funding. However some funding insights could be inferred from institutions’ websites, such as short-term research funding to address immediate evidence gaps and longer-term funding for monitoring and research tracking. There was less information on how institutions might fund a surge in demand for evidence during emergencies. 

Strategies to increase organisations’ surge capacity included mapping of research activities and funders, decentralising funds to local hubs, and pooling resources through collaborations.

Knowledge Capacity Building 

There was a clear sense that research organisations understand the importance of civic engagement in research at times of crisis. As without a clear sense of local context and population need, there’s a risk that social science-based interventions won’t be effective. 

But while there was clarity over the methods needed for building knowledge capacity, such as training for citizens and health workers in research methods, and community involvement in research and response planning, there was limited information on how these initiatives would be funded in crisis situations.

Types of Collaboration 

Collaboration structures varied according to their remit. They included networks and groups that were set up by national/international agencies such as WHO, UNICEF, and the FCDO. Groups bringing together expertise from data sciences and technology, such as the social science analytics hub, the Cellulle d’Analyse en Sciences Sociales (CASS), and initiatives to meet policy demands or respond to specific emergencies such as the Knowledge for Development (K4D) programme, Zika Social Science network, and Ebola response anthropology platform, Australia Disaster Resilience Knowledge Hub, and the national severe storms laboratory (USA).

Funding Frameworks and Mechanisms

The research funding landscape for social research in emergencies lacks detailed public information. Some inferred funding types include:

Short-term funding: Addresses immediate knowledge gaps, often through open calls for research.

Long-term funding: Supports ongoing research on risk areas such as environmental hazards and diseases, ensuring rapid deployment for emerging evidence needs.

Surge funding: Few details exist on frameworks for swiftly meeting increased research demand during crises. 

Strategies to build surge capacity include research mapping activities, rapid deployment and coordination of community and local networks, resource and research collaboration, and the promotion of real-time, open, online data sharing.

Evidence Products and Outputs

The report highlighted that a variety of fast turnaround evidence products are produced in emergencies, such as rapid reviews, policy briefs, and technical reports. Organisations also used living labs, living maps, and living research to provide readily deployable research evidence for specific needs, with varying levels of access and update capabilities.

In an evaluation of these activities of Societal Experts forum (SEAN), it was noted that these evidence products were most successful when tailored for specific policymakers and professional organisations. 

INGSA – Evidence to Policy Tracker 

Key findings from the report included:

There were limited opportunities for evidence brokerage with governments and collaboration with research communities

Internal/within government advisory mechanisms were relied on more than external channels 

Early policy response lacked structured operationalisation, so governments tended to create new response mechanisms rather than leveraging existing decision-making mechanisms

Multilateral institutions, such as WHO, played crucial role in knowledge sharing and collective response protocols