Outside the Box? Our project’s contribution to the public discussion on the pandemic

Protego >  Articles >  Outside the Box? Our project’s contribution to the public discussion on the pandemic

We do not know how many times we have read “unprecedent” during the last eight months. Let’s say we have heard it an “unprecedented” number of times. For our project, these months have not been challenging in terms of data collection and access to stakeholders and policy-makers because we already had our data and could talk to our well-established contacts on line. Rather, the challenge was to offer a contribution to the public discussion on the Covid-19 pandemic coming from a particular angle, that is, rules, administrative procedures, and how governments and societies learn from policy instruments.

Last few months have been hectic for everyone because of the pandemic. All in all, the Protego team managed to keep up the work in schedule by moving all the activities remotely.

This is what we have done

We were on track in submitting scientific articles to academic journals based on our findings, such as Journal of European Public Policy and Policy Studies Journal. But this was, clearly, not enough, in a world where claims to science-based decisions, trust in evidence and extraordinary solidarity were appearing together with fear, death and extreme restrictions to our daily life. One reflection that pushed us hard above the comfort zone was about ‘What is a policy scholar for ?’to appear soon in a volume on The Future of the Policy Sciences. On the same wavelength, Claire Dunlop (with Edoardo Ongaro and Keith Baker) sketched “with epistemic humility” the research agenda for policy scholars who study the social and political consequences of the pandemic, drawing attention to the policy instrumentation.

Together with UCL economists, geographers and social scientists, Claudio Radaelli took part in a Covid-19 Symposium focusing on the political economy of the responses to the pandemic. This event was part of a major effort of UCL’s School of Public Policy to provide state-of-the-art information on policy options at a time when British public opinion was utterly puzzled by the uncertainties of the initial policy signals sent by Boris Johnson in Spring 2020. In the same weeks, prime ministers were evoking “science-based decisions” – but can policy-makers learn during a sudden, fast-burning crisis? Radaelli and Kamkhaji blogged on the learning pathways of policy-makers during the pandemic, suggesting learning from a mechanism of probing followed by the validation of feedback.

The European University Institute – School of Transnational Governance  organised a high-level online interdisciplinary conversation on the European Union response to the pandemic with a list of policy recommendations Radaelli offered his regulatory perspective to the authors of the final list of policy suggestions.  On the topic of “Governments versus the Virus” Claire Dunlop recorded an interview for the UK’s society for Public Administration Committee addressing the different approaches taken by UK jurisdictions as a consequence of the spread of the pandemic.

Trust in rules and legislation as fundamental asset during a crisis: Radaelli and Taffoni wrote on regulatory impact assessment and judicial review through the lenses of trustworthiness – this chapter will appear in a IAL volume on the crisis of confidence in legislation. The UN published a General Comment on the right to science on 30 April: this prompted two forthcoming reflections (in Italian) on ‘The right to science and better regulation’ (Taffoni) and ‘Regulatory precaution and the right to science’ (Baldoli and Radaelli), under the aegis of a campaign orchestrated by Science for Democracy. They will appear in a volume to be presented at the Salone Internazionale del Libro next year.

Once the recovery plan took shape, we felt that the discussion was moving too quickly to ‘how much money can government X spend’ without due attention paid to the role of rules and regulations in re-kindling growth and innovation. This was the focus of a webinar hosted by the platform Associazione Luca Coscioni in Italy. On the same platform, Radaelli and Baldoli talked about the consequences of the tough regulations in Italy for citizens, compliance and nonviolence – an original take on these regulatory policies which was much appreciated by the hosts of the event. Closer to our regulatory field, we were waiting for the Commission to publish a new Communication on Better Regulation: this has not happened yet. In this context of uncertainty, Radaelli provided a set of ideas of where Better Regulation should go once the hard lessons of the pandemics are learned – if they will ever be heard!

In the end, the crisis provided an “unprecedent” opportunity to experience unity in fragility in a big way and to think about ‘effective governance’ (a concept that appears right in the Protego acronym) with a wide conceptual horizon.