How does Covid-19 affect our evaluation culture?

6. May. 2020

Lessons (to be) learnt from living with Covid-19 (#11)

by Dorothea Sturn

We have seldom been able to listen to as many scientists – of whom few are women - in the media than we currently do. Anthony Fauci in the USA, Jérôme Salomon in France, Fernando Simón in Spain, Christian Drosten in Germany: almost every country has its Corona star. In a recent interview with the Austrian magazine “Falter”, Helga Nowotny was pleased with the growing interest in scientific information and even identified a "new relationship between science and society" (Der Falter, April 29, 2020, p. 36).

Does this mean that evidence-based politics gets a new chance after the long dry spell of losing trust in science? Limited. The data situation is often poor, there is no longer period of experience and comparisons between different countries can not only relate contagion, recovery and deaths to the more or less restrictive measures, but also have to take a lot of framework conditions such as health systems, age structure etc. into account. And we all simply don't know: how much does keeping a distance, wearing a mask and washing hands? Can children transmit the virus? Will there be a second wave?

The effects of the crisis on society, such as increasing inequalities in education, the economy and many other areas of life, will continue to be with us for a long time and will also have an impact on research, science and our evaluation culture.

First, there will be budgetary effects. There is legitimate concern that research will once again top the list when the red pencil is applied. In Austria as in Europe. And evaluations are expensive if they are done with the necessary care. You never know exactly what will come out.

Secondly, quality can suffer too. In Austria, a large number of institutions that carry out evaluations in the field of research, technology and innovation have committed themselves to complying with the standards of the Austrian Platform for Research and Technology Policy Evaluation (fteval). This requires sufficient funding for evaluations and enough time.

But we have no time. This applies in particular to research funding organisations, which are now creating all kinds of new formats as a quick response to the crisis. The WWTF was the very first: The applications were very short, the processing time was record-breaking. In the meantime, the FWF is supporting "urgent funding for research into humanitarian crises such as epidemics and pandemics” or “acute funding to combat SARS-CoV2 “. The OeAD has introduced a hardship fund for cancellation costs at school events, and the FFG is implementing the immediate measure to combat the corona virus through its "Corona Emergency Call "; the LBG has set up an OIS Research Enrichment Fund. All work with - more or less - shortened procedures, reduced criteria and simplified application forms. This is good and understandable in times of crisis, but hopefully it will not become a permanent phenomenon of the “new normal”.

Angela Merkel replied to the question of whether all restrictions on our democratic fundamental and freedom rights would be restored after the crisis with: "I hope so." A "matter of course" would have been better. Even if we do not know if everything that happens now is correct - we know for sure that we urgently need all of this, including our standards.

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Tags: Corona Virus, evaluation