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Urban science advice and Covid-19: City responses

c.washbourne8 June 2020

From Wuhan to New York to São Paulo, cities have been the stage for many of the biggest dramas unfolding throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They have been the focus of the most rapid and stringent containment efforts and key players in the ongoing debate around the future of our social lives, work and mobility. Significant independence, resourcefulness and creativity on the part of cities has been required in order to ensure that public health is protected as countries begin to relax rules limiting movement and social contact. This cannot be effectively managed without the advice of experts and insights and support of communities, to understand the ongoing risks posed by COVID-19 and to shape the most appropriate and effective responses.

Cyclists in Mexico City

Cyclists in Mexico City

As noted in the first instalment of this series, effective urban science advice in particular is critical for responding to crises like COVID-19. Cities have to be empowered to act on the basis of the most relevant and appropriate information available, tailored as much as possible to their local context, using appropriate mechanisms to turn this advice in to decisions which could be enacted and enforced at scale. In the US alone, the National League of Cities’ COVID-19: Local Action Tracker, has been documenting the growth of city-level policies and as of 8th June 2020 stands at 1,837 policies tracked, representing 506 cities and around 95,500,000 citizens. City-level responses include actions as diverse as the release of emergency relief funding, distribution of masks, development of public health campaigns and setting guidelines for the reopening of recreation and leisure facilities. The effectiveness of many of these actions ultimately depends on insights from biological, physical and social sciences and engineering amongst a range of other important expertise, guiding the way that they are shaped, implemented and evaluated.

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COVID-19: how much do local science system capabilities matter in Africa?

c.washbourne6 April 2020

By Julius Mugwagwa, Carla-Leanne Washbourne, Remy Twiringiyimana and Anne-Marie Kagwesage from the STECS Project Team, UCL & University of Rwanda

Science matters

Colleagues from UCL and the University of Rwanda are nearing the end of the STECS research project in which we were investigating and unpacking the role, relevance and contribution of African science councils in national development. The role of science in economic development is widely recognised across Africa, and is amply ingrained in continental agendas and programmes such as the African Union’s Agenda2063 and STISA-2024, as well as national institutions and resource deployments.

In order to strengthen the role and contribution that science can make to national, continental and global causes, the African Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI) has been supporting science granting councils or national science councils in 15 sub-Saharan African countries through various capacity strengthening activities which include development and use of research management tools, use of innovation indicators, partnerships with the private sector and enhanced networking of country-level science granting councils. Challenges such as the current COVID-19 global health pandemic are presenting both challenges and opportunities for science communities globally.  In the African countries that were part of the STECS project, we have started to witness the role and location of the science community’s voice in public discourses on the pandemic. What remains unclear for us though is the science advice input behind the public health actions taking place in the countries.

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Urban science advice and COVID-19

c.washbourne2 April 2020

Millions of urban dwellers across the globe are currently under lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. While the virus is not only an urban issue, it is indisputable that cities have been the focus of some of the most rapid and stringent policy decisions designed to limit its spread. Lockdowns in major global cities like Paris have preceded those in the rural surrounds, attempting to slow the spread of cases between residents living and working in crowded urban settings and limit its diffusion along the multiple transit routes by which people commute for work and leisure.

City skyline

Expanding urban areas are a global phenomenon, with over 50% of the global population now living in cities, predicted to rise to 68% by 2050. While their cumulative spatial footprint remains small in global terms, their influence on environment, society and economy are significant. Cities are great concentrators of people and ideas and as such they have an increasingly large role to play in directing the global approach to sustainable development. They are also highly interdependent, complex spaces, bringing people in to close physical proximity and have been critical arenas in many historic public health crises.

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Science Advice: How to Navigate a Field Struggling with Diversity?

jenny.mcarthur13 June 2019

Dr Leonie Tanczer and Dr Jenny McArthur, lecturers for UCL STEaPP’s elective module on Science Advice for Policy, reflect on the contradictions of drawing from a Eurocentric discipline when teaching at London’s global university.

Science advice, the process by which governments take account of science, technology, and engineering expertise in decision making, favours the well-networked and influential few – the great and the good, as they like to say in the United Kingdom. At its core, science advice is about expertise, knowledge, and power. Advisors are often affiliated with prestigious universities, sit at the table with ministers and industry stakeholders, and count leading scientific experts as friends. Given these dynamics, if there is one discipline that should be at the forefront of critical reflection on its own biases and consideration of non-conforming voices, it should be Science Advice.

It’s becoming impossible to ignore the fact that many university syllabi, reading lists, and faculties have a diversity problem. Representation of scholars from the Global South is lacking. Academia isn’t inclusive when it comes to social categories such as gender and class. And too many disciplines perpetuate Western norms and expectations for public policy. If you don’t believe us, see here, here and here. Critiques from inside higher education raise questions over the way that universities reproduce colonial power relations, advanced by the movement to decolonise the curriculum. (more…)