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A possible model for real-time public science? A social study of Independent Sage

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A possible model for real-time public science? A social study of Independent Sage

Team: Prof. Noortje Marres (PI), Ms. Oihane Etayo (RA)
Funder: Research England Participatory Research Fund 2022

This study investigates the model for public science that was implemented by Independent Sage, the group of experts that formed in May 2020 to "provide independent scientific advice to the UK government and public on how to minimise deaths and support Britain's recovery from the Covid-19 crisisLink opens in a new window."

Project summary
This social study examines two distinctive innovations in public science undertaken by Independent Sage: 1) the group committed to offer expert advice to the public in more-or-less real time, and 2) it developed expert advice through research co-produced with affected organisations and communities in society, such as the National Education Union, and the British Society of Occupational Health (McKee et al, 2022).

We will evaluate these innovations by undertaking a contextual enquiry of the methodological strategies Independent Sage adopted in response to Covid-19: a) developing scientific insight through interdisciplinary exchange (i.e. weekly Zoom meetings, b) participatory research and c) placing scientific knowledge in the public domain (for example, through collaboration with the Citizens) - all in more-or-less real-time.

Through interviews and interpretative data mapping, we will conduct a situational analysis (Clarke, Friese et al, 2019), examining whether and how its methodological strategies enabled Independent Sage to make a difference in the political situations (Barry, 2013) of Covid-19: enduring health emergencies which affected the whole UK population in myriads of ways, and which demonstrated the limitations of the institutions of the UK state and the public sector - and at times their fundamental failings - in terms of their capacity to respond adequately to emergency and safeguard life and society. 

To facilitate this, we have selected three topical areas of Covid-19 in which the Indie Sage was particularly active and which presented political situations in which the science/society interface became topicalized:

  • Test and trace as public health infrastructure
  • Covid-related inequalities
  • Science-informed governance in societal institutions (e.g. schools)

The overall aim of the study is to describe and evaluate Independent Sage's model of public science, and its role in the creation of public knowledge and the public communication of science during a time of emergency in more-or-less real-time. By building on the PI’s research on "experiments in participation” (Lezaun, Marres and Tironi, 2016), we will specify the situational, publicity and institutional requirements for public science to provide orientation to policy, governance, and collective action in a time of emergency in more-or-less real-time.