National Academies Taps Social Science Expertise for Policy-Maker Use

While hopes for a medical answer to the current COVID-19 remain strong, the reality is that social, behavioral and economic science drives is driving policy as officials and individuals strive to halt its spread, mitigate its effects and respond to its toll. In an effort to assist decision-makers in the United States, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, with support from the National Science Foundation, recently established a network of experts and institutions in social, behavioral and economic fields to provide pragmatic answers to urgent policy questions. (See below for a webinar they’re hosting this Friday.)

The scientists tapped by this Societal Experts Action Network, or SEAN, are available to develop evidence-based recommendations to support local, state, and national responses and policies. 

Guiding SEAN is an executive committee that will coordinate with the NASEM Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats.  According to the National Academies, the committee will work with staff to develop governance structures and processes for the larger network; coordinate the solicitation and responses to questions; anticipate social, behavioral, and economic science expertise is going to be needed; and guide the dissemination of the responses.

The committee is chaired by Mary T. Bassett, a former commissioner of health for New York City and currently the director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, and by Robert M. Groves, a former director of the U.S. Census and now the Gerard J. Campbell, S.J. professor in the Math and Statistics Department as well as the sociology department at Georgetown University, where he has served as the executive vice president and provost since 2012.

Members of the committee are Dominique Brossard, professor and chair in the department of life sciences communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Janet Currie, Henry Putnam professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and the co-director of Princeton’s Center for Health and Wellbeing; Mike Hout, professor of sociology at New York University; Arati Prabhakar, founder and CEO of Actuate, a nonprofit organization to research and demonstrate breakthroughs for societal challenges; Adrian E. Raftery, professor of statistics and sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle; Jennifer Richeson, Philip R. Allen professor of psychology at Yale University. They are joined by a 19-member advisory group of academics and practitioners.

Their debut product, released in June, was a COVID-19 data guide for decision-makers, which summarized the benefits and drawbacks of seven specific COVID-19 measurements that decision-makers can consider as they respond to outbreaks. The guide is accompanied by an interactive tool. “The goal of our rapid expert consultation,” Bassett said at the time, “is to clarify the limitations of these data points and help leaders as they make decisions, such as when to allow public gatherings or reopen businesses.”

Late last month, the network released another “consultation” on how to make the adoption of protective behaviors – such as wearing a mask or washing your hands – more likely and unwanted behaviors less likely. The document, which draws from research done on smoking cessation and seatbelt use, includes 10 communication tips.

This Friday at 1 p.m. ET the network is offering a free webinar on “Understanding COVID-19 Data: What Decision Makers Need to Know.” The webinar features Bassett, committee members Currie and Raftery, and Linn Langston, a former county supervisor in Linn County, Iowa. (To resister, click HERE.)

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