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Pan-European cooperation to solve problems caused by pandemics

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread problems across the globe. A new EU-funded research project will contribute to strengthen Europe’s response to the impact of COVID-19 as well as future pandemics.

Members of the CIVICA network, the Stockholm School of Economics and LSE, are both part of the new project PERISCOPE (Pan-European Response to the Impacts of COVID-19 and Future Pandemics and Epidemics), funded by EU Horizon 2020. Launched on 1 November, the project will be running for the coming three years. It brings together partners from across Europe, from vastly different fields, ranging from economics, psychiatry, politics and law to engineering, health, technology and even journalism.

Together they will work to strengthen Europe’s preparedness, map the impact of the current pandemic and develop solutions and guidance for policymakers and health authorities on how to mitigate spread – and deal with other problems that arise in the wake of a crisis.

“This is one of the largest projects I’ve ever seen in Europe. Not only because there are so many partners and representatives from different countries and cultures. The experts represent a wide range of different fields and there is vast research on something so connected to our daily activities. This gives us a chance to look at one problem from so many different perspectives. It’s challenging. But it’s also giving us a sense of purpose that one rarely finds in research: this is one of the most relevant and immanent problems society has now,” says Roberto Verganti, Professor of Leadership and Innovation at the Stockholm School of Economics, who, along with professor Mattia Bianchi and Dr. Jelena Angelis, will co-ordinate the work at SSE’s House of Innovation (HOI).

Social sciences crucial during the pandemic

During the first phase, project members will collect data from different European countries and contexts. The data will include healthcare statistics, but also information about different mitigation policies and their outcomes, behavioural data, and the impact that the pandemic has had on all aspects of life, from mental health and the economy to the capacity to treat other illnesses than COVID-19.  

During the second phase, HOI will lead the creative work of imagining new policies for future scenarios. The social sciences have been central in dealing with this and future pandemics, professor Verganti emphasizes. While the first phase will focus on how to deal with the pandemic, from social distancing to economic incentives, the second phase will look at the why.

“The why is about understanding the complex web of interaction between health, the wellbeing of people – which is not only health – wealth, and last but certainly not least, meaning. What is the real aspiration of people in life? During the pandemic, countries and leaders have been forced to choose between these classic priorities. Health over wellbeing or meaning.”

Contributing knowledge

Deciding what to prioritise is a deeply philosophical question, professor Verganti stresses. And the answer will depend a lot on culture and context. But what the researchers can do is present policy options that more clearly demonstrate the effects, positive or negative, that a policy will have on a population in a number of areas, not just health.

“It’s a very complicated problem that requires a lot of expertise. The kind of policies we can imagine are what we call contingent policies. They will depend on contextual variables that are specific for countries and regions, and varies over time.”

The creative phase of the project, which will propose new interventions, will work like a very extended hackathon, spanning a year and a half of work, numerous workshops and multiple evaluations from a scientific board. The project offers a great opportunity for the researchers and students at the Stockholm School of Economics to help create knowledge that will help Europe to become stronger and more resilient in the future.

This article was originally published on the CIVICA website.

About the project PERISCOPE

The project runs from 1 November, 2020, until 31 October, 2023. It brings together economists, engineers, journalists, communication experts, lawyers, political scientists, experts in regulatory governance, mathematicians, policymakers, health authorities, physicians, social psychologists, sociologists, statisticians, experts in ethics and new technologies and representatives of patients’ organizations. The 32 European partners come from Italy, Belgium, Austria, Czechia, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK.

About Horizon 2020

Horizon 2020 is the EU’s main research and innovation programme, which has nearly EUR 80 billion of funding for the period 2014–2020. It ensures that research and innovation policies in a wide range of areas are implemented, securing Europe’s global competitiveness. It has an emphasis on science, industrial leadership and initiatives that tackle societal challenges. 

Read more on the EU Horizon 2020’s website.