‘What Counts?’: an inquiry into obtaining and using evidence for Covid-19 decisions

Sense about Science launches ‘What Counts?’: an inquiry into obtaining and using evidence for Covid-19 decisions

Early results of a national survey show public interest in government information on Covid-19 has waned – especially among young people – but over half of UK adults have been using government statistics and medical websites.

The proportion of the UK who reported being ‘very aware’ of government Covid-19 information, guidelines and rules is 21 percentage points lower for the period since March 2021 than it was during the first 6 months of the pandemic, according to a survey conducted for Sense about Science by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen).

The survey’s first results, released today, mark the opening of an inquiry by Sense about Science into people’s experiences with obtaining and using the evidence for policies, inside and outside government. Public submissions to the inquiry are now open.

The survey, conducted in September and October 2021 with 2563 UK adults, has looked at who used government information sources and whether people got what they needed from them. It also found that people engaged less frequently with government Covid-19 information since March 2021 compared to 2020. Initial analysis indicates that the decrease was larger in younger people. The national survey shows a mixed picture in relation to different government sources, with higher-than-expected levels of engagement with sources such as the ONS website, Public Health England data dashboard and reports of government statistics.

The full results of the survey are being analysed and will be published with the report of the What Counts? scoping inquiry. Alongside NatCen’s national survey, preparations for the inquiry include interviews with people around the UK providing facilities and services and those faced with decisions in a wide range of settings and communities about risks and trade-offs to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and assess government reasoning.

Tracey Brown, director of Sense about Science, said: Society is not central government plus everyone else. It’s made up of many types of government, facilities and businesses, and hundreds of thousands of people making judgements and decisions, many of which have involved understanding the evidence, reasoning and robustness of government statements. It’s important that we use this opportunity – and that any official inquiry uses the opportunity – to ask how that went and what is needed in national deliberations about evidence and policy decisions. What Counts? is open to everyone until the end of January to add their experience to the research, survey and interviews. We will be reporting in early Spring.

Guy Goodwin, Chief Executive of the National Centre for Social Research, said: As the pandemic continues, it’s vitally important we understand people’s experiences of, and interactions with, government information on Covid-19. This research and the ‘What Counts?’ inquiry provide evidence that can help shape effective government communications during the pandemic. Crucially, this can support people across society to make sound decisions during these changing times.

Anyone who wishes to contribute to the inquiry can contact us HERE.

The full press release can be found HERE.