NASEM Launches Pandemic Response Strategic Science Initiative

To help decision-makers navigate through the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and take actions toward a strong and sustained recovery, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) have launched a new strategic science initiative to provide rapid, scenario-based analyses aimed at protecting critical societal functions, avoiding worst outcomes, and building upon potential opportunities.

The a newly appointed Response and Resilient Recovery Strategic Science Initiative executive council is comprised of distinguished leaders with experience in crisis management from government, industry, civil society, and academia, including committee chair Martín Sepúlveda, CEO and principal of CLARALUZ LLC, and senior executive consultant for IBM Corp.; Adm. Thad Allen, former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard; John Lumpkin, president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation; and Janet Napolitano, former U.S. secretary of homeland security, former governor of Arizona, and president emeritus of the University of California system.

The council has identified several critical focus areas for scenario-based strategic planning, such as how the pandemic could impact ecosystem health and climate change, the educational and research capabilities of U.S. research universities — important engines of innovation and economic growth — and the learning trajectories of low-income and special-needs K-12 students.

For each of these areas, strategy groups composed of multidisciplinary teams of experts will be mobilized to provide likely scenarios, along with estimates of uncertainties, and identify potential interventions that could mitigate the most severe possible outcomes and leverage opportunities.

For the initiative’s pilot case, a strategy group will examine how the pandemic could affect rental property evictions for low- and middle-income households and disadvantaged groups and identify potential chains of consequences — such as increased spread of COVID-19 due to homelessness or displacement, inability to maintain employment, or added strains on already taxed community resources. Each strategy group’s work and advice will be presented in short, peer-reviewed documents designed to be easily accessible to stakeholders across the public and private sectors, and at the national, state, and local levels.

“We want to become far more proactive about looking for opportunities to provide value to the nation on emerging problems,” said National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt, who proposed a framework. McNutt noted that this type of scenario planning could also be applied to a broad range of issues beyond COVID-19. “This is a tool where we can identify these emerging issues and come up with a series of steps to get them in front of stakeholders before these scenarios have actually played out with negative consequences.”

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