The Ebola Response Anthropology Platform (ERAP) and the related Ebola: lessons for development initiatives have been shortlisted for the prestigious Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Outstanding International Impact Prize. The team comprised leading anthropologists from IDS and its partners, led by IDS director Melissa Leach, that have been funded for over three decades by the ESRC.
The annual ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize is an opportunity to recognise and reward researchers whose work has made a real difference to society or the economy. The prize is awarded to ESRC-funded social science researchers who have achieved impact through outstanding research, collaborative partnerships, and engagement or knowledge exchange activities.
Putting a human lens on the Ebola crisis
In a field dominated by medics and virologists and other natural scientists, IDS and partners showed how valuable a social science perspective can be. Researchers saw early on that the Ebola crisis was more than a medical emergency. The epidemic was also a lens through which much that had gone wrong with development to date could be seen.
‘The initiatives were borne out of an urgent need for agencies to shape their response to the Ebola crisis with respect and understanding of social and cultural practices and structures in the affected areas’, explained Melissa Leach.
Ebola: Lessons for Development was launched at a high-level meeting of key policymakers, NGOs and researchers involved in the Ebola crisis. In a set of nine briefing papers launching the initiative, IDS researchers argued, and still do, that there is an urgent need to look beyond the immediate, on-the-ground concerns of disease control and containment to consider the bigger and broader questions about international development.
ERAP was a unique and timely initiative that delivered rapid, real-time advice to policy and practice around the unprecedented social and cultural challenges that the unfolding Ebola crisis posed. The ERAP team led by Melissa Leach, included Annie Wilkinson (IDS), James Fairhead (University of Sussex), Ann Kelly (University of Exeter), Paul Richards (Njala University), Melissa Parker (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine) and Fred Martineau (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine).
What was the impact of the Ebola initiatives?
The Platform provided timely advice to high-level fora on case identification and diagnostics, funeral practices, home care, clinical trials, communications, community engagement and ‘resistance’. This gave shape to UK and international strategy and on-the-ground action in West Africa. As a social science Sub Committee of SAGE, they advised the government Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientist.
The Platform website became a focal point for live information and dialogue, accessed by over 16,000 users and energising global anthropological networks. They advised three UK parliamentary inquiries which reported in January 2016 that: ‘The importance of sociological and anthropological support in the epidemic cannot be underestimated.’
Cumulatively, the Ebola initiatives influenced and engaged high-level actors including UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development (DfID). Alongside this, media outlets from the BBC World Service’s Science in Action to the Huffington Post’s Healthy Living blog took note and either carried pieces by researchers or clamoured to interview them.
Rewarding social science
Melissa Leach responded to the shortlisting: ‘We are honoured to be shortlisted for the esteemed ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize. ERAP and the related Ebola: lessons for development initiatives were collaborations bringing together key partnerships and decades of research supported and funded by many ESRC projects, as well as the STEPS Centre. We are grateful for the support of the ESRC in enabling the long-term social science so critical in understanding the contexts and drivers of global challenges, and that we were able to mobilise in real-time when crisis hit’
Commenting on the shortlist, Professor Jane Elliott, Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council, said: ’The 2016 Celebrating Impact Prize provides an opportunity to reward those individuals who have achieved the best possible impact from their work, and through outstanding social science research have made a great difference to society. I look forward to hearing about the winners on 22 June.’
The awards ceremony will take place at Central Hall, Westminster on the evening of 22 June 2016, where the winners will be announced. Attendance is by invitation only. To attend as press please contact the ESRC press office.