Two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, the more complex impacts of the disease are becoming clearer. Rising to these multidimensional challenges, IDS partnerships have gone above and beyond expectations in pursuing social science research to inform policy and practice.
Despite the constraints and restrictions on working during the pandemic, many projects, programmes and centres involving IDS have made substantial progress on collaborative research over the past year. Two initiatives in particular – the Covid Collective and the Pandemic Preparedness Project – have showcased successful and agile partnering in action.
With 56 projects and 28 partners in 34 countries, the Covid Collective is a platform that offers rapid social science research to improve decisionmaking on the most pressing development problems emerging from the pandemic. Coordinated by IDS, the platform draws together the expertise of global partner organisations, and funds and commissions research – both on existing responses and to meet new needs arising from Covid-19.
The Covid Collective website boasts a wealth of online events, blogs, briefings, Helpdesk reports, and themed projects that is testament to the sheer diversity of outputs generated over the past year and to the energy devoted to supporting mutual learning and engagement.
These research outputs are shedding light on how pandemic impacts and responses have affected communities from Brazil to the Philippines – and on the inequities that are preventing many people from meeting basic needs, such as adequate health care and vaccines, social protection, decent work and nutritious food.
Pandemic preparedness from below
Since early 2020, the Pandemic Preparedness Project has pivoted much of its fieldwork and research to focus on Covid-19. Local-level work to examine ‘preparedness from below’ is conducted in Sierra Leone and Uganda, through gathering oral histories, participatory research and ethnographic fieldwork to track how people currently understand and deal with health events and threats.
The project was set up in 2019 in the aftermath of the devastating outbreak of Ebola in Africa during 2014 and 2015. As well as working locally with communities, IDS and research partners from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda and France are interviewing global, regional and national actors to trace how ideas, frameworks and assumptions about health and diseases travel and flow, upwards and downwards.
Having presciently tapped into concerns about disease preparedness before Covid-19 emerged, the project is now working to find entry points and pathways for connections that can enhance and support the legitimacy and agency of communities’ own preparedness for future outbreaks.
Real-time watch on civic space impacts
A major impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the effects of social and political restrictions on civic activism. In another successful partnership, the A4EA workstream project Navigating Civic Space in a Time of Covid looked at pandemic effects on the already shrinking civic space in Mozambique, Nigeria, and Pakistan. All three countries have legacies of conflict, military rule and authoritarianism.
Between June and December 2020, the project investigated the parallel trends of crackdowns on democracy and governance under the guise of Covid-19 restrictions and of increased grassroots mobilisation for community solidarity and accountability.
Research partners in the three countries set up panels of civil society leaders to monitor events and to feed into a synthesis report and country case studies. Findings from this are now influencing policymakers and those working towards protecting democratic space and improving accountability in the study countries and beyond.
Many IDS projects during the year owed their success to the dynamism of the partnering collaboration. Deep, contextual knowledge and experience has been brought into proximity with diverse voices and views, enabling methodological adaptation and innovation, and gaining considerably through the complementarity of interdisciplinary approaches.