The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought devastation around the world, but crises also create opportunities to reimagine how we do things. Attention has focused on the biomedical sciences to identify treatments and vaccines, but the social sciences are necessary for addressing the social, economic, and political dynamics that affect mask wearing, distrust of vaccines, and racial inequity in our health, education, employment, criminal justice, and social service systems.
Philanthropy can play a key role in rebuilding by supporting social science researchers to work in collaboration with policymakers, practitioners, and communities through research-practice partnerships.
Taking the long view, philanthropy must build the capacity of the research, policy, and practice communities as well as the public for democratic engagement in evidence-informed policy. For far too long, research has been an instrument of elites. Academic researchers who study low-income or marginalized communities and federal policymakers who mandate evidence-based programs for communities wield their evidence from a position of power.
Communities—particularly those most marginalized by racism, class, and xenophobia—need a place at the table in shaping research agendas and the ways evidence is used in policy and practice. Philanthropy can support democratic participation in evidence building and use—and empower communities to use science to shape their surroundings.