Pandemic Preparedness

What has the pandemic taught us about transforming our thinking on dominant development models?


In early 2020, the world became aware of a new global threat. Covid-19 spread rapidly, upending the lives and livelihoods of people around the world. With support from the Research and Evidence Division of the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, we initiated a new social science research programme called the Covid Collective, that focused on the impact of the pandemic.

Given the scale of the challenge, we wanted the Collective – as its name suggests – to be highly collaborative, involving effective partnerships and engagement. The purpose of the Collective is to generate research and knowledge in response to the most pressing development challenges emerging from the pandemic. This required rapid generation of policy-relevant evidence to inform decision-making, as we moved from crisis to recovery phase and beyond. We saw a need for transformations in perspective, worldview, and practice, and we believed that this could be achieved through a genuine integration of social science alongside other scientific approaches being adopted to address this global crisis.

The situation was fluid and dynamic and it is painful to look back at our project documentation and to see how the numbers of lives lost increased so dramatically: from 650,000 deaths by the end of July 2020 to 6.5 million by September 2022. At the same time, we saw the enormous impact on citizens around the world as they came to terms with multiple challenges. These included citizens dealing with unpredictable policy responses, leading in turn to issues of trust in governance institutions; and the negative impacts of the pandemic on the lives and livelihoods of those people who were already experiencing marginalisation, exclusion, and a range of vulnerabilities.

Covid Collective Brochure

Find out more about the projects and outputs supported by the Covid Collective during phase one of the programme

The Covid Collective has in many ways confirmed a wider reality. The pandemic has created an unprecedented crisis for development with highly uncertain outcomes, affecting and requiring responses from all countries. Whilst dominant development models are possibly being undone, seeds of hope are also emerging for a radical transformation of development. The Collective’s research shows in multiple ways how Covid-19 is threatening livelihoods, economies, and societies. Responses are exposing, and potentially deepening, foundational cracks in society, heightening fragilities and vulnerabilities in systems of all kinds. The impact is playing out at local, national, and global scales.

Whilst the Collective’s collaborators, and the many communities and organisations they work with, have helped to identify strategies and approaches to address short- and mid-term needs and challenges, they have also demonstrated that this is a time of opportunity.

As our new Covid Collective brochure reveals, we are learning together about what could lead to a genuine transformation of ideas, policies, programmes, and practices. We are seeing collective urgency in fostering collaborative and comparative learning across the experience of different countries and localities; and in finding ways to avoid returning (via recovery) to conditions that do not serve us well.

We hope the examples of research in this brochure will provide evidence that a systemic transformation, even going beyond ‘building forward better’, is not just a possibility but should instead be a priority.

Peter Taylor
Director of Research