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George Hope, The Forum lead, Imperial College London

22 June 2020, 8:17 UTC Share

Imperial College London’s The Forum: Policy engagement during the pandemic

The Forum, Imperial’s policy engagement programme, connects Imperial researchers with policymakers. This has been no different during the lockdown and The Forum has been helping researchers to ensure that their latest findings reach policymakers. 

An issue that emerged quickly into the pandemic was that innovators who had ideas and capacity to help with the production of personal protective equipment and similar technologies needed in the NHS to fight the COVID-19 were unsure of how to make these compliant with health regulations. 

Dr Aldo Faisal and his team at Imperial tackled this by working with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, Health Research Authority and the Care Quality Commission to produce a guide with key regulations that innovators must comply with when designing and building technologies to be used in clinical practice in a safe and compliant manner. This supported anyone with a technical initiative to fight COVID-19 but unsure of how to navigate the regulations. Teams at Imperial have been helping the effort, for example developing respirator equipment to protect surgeons and making hand sanitiser

The Forum has published several in-depth feature articles. Most recently, we looked at how Imperial’s COVID-19 Response Team has been working since the early days of the outbreak in January to try and understand it using a variety of tools. We spoke to Professor Neil Ferguson and Professor Azra Ghani about how team-based, collaborative epidemiology and disease modelling are essential in managing pandemics.

In another, we took a deep dive into the importance of science and learning in dealing with coronavirus, arguing that evidence-based science is more important than ever. Speaking to Dr David Nabarro, WHO Special Envoy on COVID-19, and Professor Helen Ward, we looked at how building trust with communities through engagement and education with patients and the public can help address the new wave of misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories. 

The Forum took an in-depth look at pandemics and their relationship to privacy, just as the NHS began testing its contact tracing app on the Isle of Wight. We gained insights from Dr Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye who posed eight questions for policymakers about contract tracing apps, and Professor Esther Rodriguez-Villegas about the benefits of an app designed by her team.

The Forum works across all disciplines at Imperial and it’s been important for us to continue our business as usual. During the lockdown we’ve successfully held online workshops for policymakers on the topics of water management and the circular economy. 

We’ve trained 50 academics in policy engagement remotely, many of whom are early career researchers and will be the next generation of scientists informing policies for the better of society.

George Hope leads The Forum, Imperial College London’s science and policy engagement programme. The Forum connects Imperial researchers with policymakers to discover new thinking on global challenges. Follow us on Twitter @imperial_forum

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