Coming out of Covid-19: Reimagining Scotland

The Commission was established to identify and address some of the immediate policy implications and challenges arising from the coronavirus outbreak and support the future of Scotland beyond the immediate crisis. Established in May 2020, the Commission has spent the past 18 months exploring four key themes: how to build national resilience; what makes good public debate and participation; the use of data, evidence and science in understanding and responding to Covid-19; and how inclusive public service was witnessed throughout the pandemic.

The learnings and recommendations of the Commission have now been brought together into a report.

This report reflects on the Commission’s learnings, findings and recommended actions to support Scotland as it emerges from the pandemic. The Commission is making several recommendations for decision-makers, to support Scotland’s Covid recovery and future resilience, including:

  • Forming a national participation centre and strategy for Scotland
  • Creating a national foresighting centre
  • Establishing a fully independent fact-checking service
  • Transforming how we deliver public services

Download the report.

An easy-read version of the report is available to download here.

Response from Deputy First Minister John Swinney:

The Commission brought together leading practitioners and thinkers from various sectors along with those with direct lived experience of the pandemic. Welcoming the report’s findings, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said:

“The Scottish Government values the work of the RSE as Scotland’s National Academy and its commitment to advancing learning and useful knowledge. This commitment has been particularly evident over the last 18 months, with fellows of the RSE being at the forefront of supporting people in their understanding of the pandemic.

We welcome the Post-Covid Futures Commission report and will consider its recommendations closely.

The Scottish Government’s recently published Covid Recovery Strategy sets out the need to work collaboratively and build on the urgency, flexibility and creativity seen during the pandemic to tackle the inequalities that were exposed and exacerbated. We look forward to further engagement with the RSE as we work to support Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic and bring about a fairer future for everyone.”

Summary of key findings:

  • Public participation in decision making is key.

The Commission recommends the Scottish Government establishes a National Participation Centre for Scotland, which will be tasked with working across Government and its agencies, as well as within communities and businesses, to support genuinely effective public engagement. This will also support the development of a National Participation Strategy for Scotland, in which third sector bodies and academic experts set out a vision for how best to engage citizens in the development and delivery of public policy and services.

  • Preparedness is vital.

An independent foresighting centre should be established, tasked with assessing future risk and preparedness. It would be responsible for advising Government, its bodies and business leadership organisations on effective management of these risks and how best to support resilience. The Commission also recommends that the RSE should work with the Scottish Government and the university sector to develop a rapid response service that enables the Government and wider public sector to rapidly access good quality, independent evidence and expertise from across the academic community, in a crisis situation.

  • Improving how science is communicated and increasing public trust in science is imperative.

A fully independent fact-checking service should be created to review and challenge misreporting and support accurate presentation of scientific information in the public domain. The Scottish Government should also work with partners to support an informed national conversation about the use of personal data and data sharing for public good, to inform responses to future pandemics and other societal challenges.

  • A transformation in how we deliver public services is critical

The Scottish Government should set up a public service transformation partnership to actively promote the principles and experience of social prescribing from around Scotland and beyond. The Scottish Government should also reaffirm and recommit to the principles of the Christie Commission, and work with delivery partners to implement them across public services and beyond, with business champions engaged to support the approach.

Read more about the individual Working Group summaries here.

The above report was launched live via Zoom on October 25 2021, featuring an introduction from Commission Chair Professor Dame Anne Glover, and excerpts from representatives and Chairs for each of the four Working Groups. A recording of this event is available to view below.

Hello. My name is Jocelyn Bell Burnell. I’m the interim President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The Royal Society of Edinburgh has about 1600 fellows, all distinguished academics or practitioners in the areas of science, the arts, humanities, business, public service, and all well connected with Scotland.

Welcome today to the launch of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission report. Early on the Royal Society of Edinburgh recognised that this pandemic might have considerable impact, that there would be lessons to be recognised, articulated and learnt. For example, what worked well, what didn’t work.

And also that we might benefit from having an awareness of what the lessons learned were. So for the last 18 months, a group of fellows of the Royal society of Edinburgh, have been working on this and today their report is launched. Their findings will be presented to you immediately after this. Thank you.

Thank you, Dame Jocelyn. Um, I’m Jim Naughtie and it’s my great pleasure to welcome you to the launch of the Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission report commissioned by the RSE, of which I’m a Fellow. And I’m very proud to have been a Commissioner on this project. Although today I’m really sitting here as Chair to introduce those who’ve chaired the Working Groups, to share the findings with you and to reveal some of the outcomes of the discussions that have been taking place over some time.

I’ll be trying to keep proceedings moving along swiftly. I’m sorry. We had a few technical difficulties that caused us to start a little late. But I’ll also be encouraging you now to submit questions. The format is that we’re going to hear about the background to the Commission, its findings, its key recommendations from Dr Rebekah Widdowfield and Professor Dame Anne Glover. And there’ll be a Q and a with the attendees here to follow. You can submit questions throughout the event, using the Q and A tab on your screen. You won’t be able to see the questions, but we can, and we’ll try to answer as many of them as possible.

And afterwards, we’ll look to assemble questions by theme, and the answers will go up on our microsite, which you can access very easily. And you should note that this event is going to be recorded and it will be available very soon on the RSE’s YouTube channel. There is also a BSL interpreter present. So straight away, I want to invite Dr Rebekah Widdowfield, Chief Executive of the RSE to provide some background context to the Commission. And she’s going to pass straight over to Professor Dame Anne Glover. We’ll then hear responses from each of the Working Group Chairs, one by one. Dr Widdowfield.

Thank you Jim. The RSE was established in 1783 for the advancement of learning and useful knowledge.

And that remains our mission to this day, the deployment of knowledge for public good. And we fulfill that mission through drawing on the breadth of expertise and our multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral fellowship and using our convening power to bring together a wide range of partners and stakeholders.

In spring 2020, as the pandemic took hold, RSE moved swiftly to establish the Post-Covid Futures Commission to support Covid recovery and renewal, recognising both the society’s role and its responsibilities as Scotland’s national academy. Bringing together leading thinkers and practitioners from across the Fellowship and beyond, the overarching purpose of the commission was to support Scotland to emerge as positively as possible from Covid and generate learnings from the experience that would support a better future.

Now the commission was deliberately set up to include members from a range of backgrounds or sectors. So we had people from culture, from national and local government, from business, from universities and the third sector. And this was to ensure a breadth of expertise and in recognition of the importance of an interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral approach in both responding to the pandemic and in creating a positive future. The Commission focused its attention on four broad areas: on Building National Resilience, on Data, Evidence and Science, on Public Debate and Participation and on Inclusive Public Service.

And the aim of the Commission was not to spend time deliberating amongst itself and to come up with “the answer”, but to support discussion and debate by providing a platform to raise and discuss key issues informed by evidence, expertise and experience. And it also sought from the outset to be outward-looking and to be inclusive.

And this has very muchinformed the way that the Commission approached its work, with a wide and diverse range of activity and outputs, all of which were designed to prompt thinking and discussion and support engagement. So that activity included blogs, community films, a hack on fake news, various discussion events, workshops with the media on the use of data, evidence, and science, and then with young people on blame culture, an international round table with other national academies on public health messaging, a series of podcasts on different dimensions of the pandemic and much more. And you can find all the Commission’s outputs on its microsite, which is:

I’m very grateful to the RSE Fellows, to other members of the Commission and Working Groups, to event contributors and participants, and the very wide range of organisations who have worked with us over the past year and a half, including ENABLE, Young Scot, the National Theatre of Scotland, YouthLink, DemSoc, and many others.

The report the Commission is launching today represents a combination of its activity and learnings from across its work over the past year and a half. And in the spirit of the Commission’s original intentions, the report is intended to provide the basis for continuing conversations and collaboration to build on the experience of Covid to both imagine, and importantly to deliver a better future.

And I’m now going to hand over to Professor Dame Anne Glover, Chair of the Commission, to talk through some of the main findings.

Thank you Rebekah. As Rebekah has outlined, over the last 18 months, the Commission has worked hard and has drawn from diverse sources and used a variety of means, to gather rich and representative commentary to support a vision for a better Scotland post pandemic. I’ll talk briefly about the Commission’s core themes and then I’ll highlight our key recommendations. Through our activity and dialogue, a number of common themes emerged across the four Working Groups who you will hear from later. In particular, there’s a strong sense that we need to move from talking about Covid as a catalyst for change, to making that change happen by recapturing the sense of unity and togetherness we witnessed early on in the pandemic. In particular, we think this should be harnessed to tackle the inequalities that we know have been both exacerbated and amplified by Covid-19 to build a better and a fairer society.

Well, clearly the state has a role to play. Building a better society is not an action for government or for any one sector or organisation alone. It was clear from the commission’s work that understanding and responding to challenges effectively requires a collaborative approach working across boundaries and harnessing the individual and collective potential of the public, private and third sectors.

We saw some great examples of this during the pandemic, which raises the question of how we can ensure that that collaboration and innovative partnership continues. But nor is re-imagining Scotland and building a better society just for organisations. A recurring theme from across the four Working Groups was the need for people to be more consistently and better engaged in policy discussions and in the decisions that affect their lives. An empowered and engaged society is a prerequisite to exploring innovation, to building enthusiasm for change, and for unearthing new thinking. Again, we see good examples of this such as the social security experience panels, which are feeding into the development of Scotland’s new social security system, but meaningful engagement needs to be better embedded across all policy areas and on an ongoing basis with a stronger emphasis on co-creation and people-centred public services.

The Commission’s report also highlights that a commitment to participation is not sufficient in and of itself. And a range of actions is required to ensure that engagement is meaningful and inclusive, and that the results and impact of participation are clear. Perhaps unsurprisingly, another core theme was the critical importance of prevention and robust preparation in supporting an effective response to both emerging and known challenges.

And that also requires a readiness to learn from past experience and other places. And learning was at the heart of the commission and there remains an opportunity to develop a stronger learning culture, which captures experiences and draws lessons from across communities, sectors, and countries. Evidence, data and science came to the fore during the pandemic in ways we’ve not seen before – for example ministers and scientists jointly briefing the public. The Commission recognises and celebrates the role that data and technology have in helping us understand and address challenges. However, it also points to some key gaps in our understanding, including around analysing and communicating risk, in establishing resilience, and an appreciation of how science works. As important as the science is, how it is communicated is crucial. Effective communication in building and maintaining trust is a common theme across the Commission’s work.

Drawing on these core themes led the Commission to identify four Key Recommendations. Firstly, we need to build in the momentum for change generated by Covid to support sustained action and improvement. We were pleased to see in the Scottish government’s Covid recovery strategy published earlier this month, a commitment to build on the approach, which the Christie Commission set out in 2011, with a renewed focus on prevention, greater partnership working, workforce development, and a more transparent focus on performance.

The challenge now as many recognise, is to translate that commitment into action. As a step towards that, the Commission recommends establishing a public service transformation partnership to promote principles and experience of social prescribing and act as a test bed for new ways of working. The Commission also recommends developing a repository where case studies of effective change and learning can be shared.

Secondly, there needs to be a step change in the way in which people are involved in decisions which affect their lives. We need to put people at the heart of policymaking with a clear focus on what matters to you. This requires a broad-based approach to build the capacity and capability of citizens, policymakers, practitioners, and others, to enable that effective engagement.

But we need to have a clear vision of how citizens should be engaged. And the Commission recommends that third sector bodies and academic experts work together to develop a national participation strategy, setting out that vision for how people should be involved in the development and delivery of public policy and public services.

The commission also proposes the development of a national participation centre or program, to work across government and its agencies, as well as with communities and business leaders to build capacity and capability to support effective engagement. The Commission also calls for government to invest in mechanisms, skills and infrastructure that support effective participation.

Thirdly, we need to enhance the ability to access and engage with evidence and data. The pandemic has highlighted the fundamental importance of good quality objective information and to support decision-making and the potential to better harness the power of data and technology for public good. At the same time, it has illustrated the need to enhance scientific literacy and critical engagement with data and evidence.

The commission recommends that Education Scotland and science bodies explore the scope for pooling resources to support science education and outreach to school aged children, taking inspiration from initiatives such as Let’s Talk Science Canada. It also recommends that the RSE develop a science into practice series that supports understanding and among prominent practice groups, such as politicians and the media on key scientific issues or issues with a strong, scientific underpinning.

In addition, recognising the detrimental impact that misleading reporting and presentation of scientific information can have, the Commission also recommends establishing an independent fact checking service to review and challenge such practices. It also calls for a national conversation with the public on the use of personal data and data sharing for public good.

Fourthly and finally, we need to put the necessary infrastructure in place to support preparedness for future challenges. Key to that is better understanding foresighting, and the Commission recommends establishing a Foresighting Centre. Independent of both government and industry, the centre would be tasked with assessing future risks and importantly preparedness and advising government and its bodies on how to manage those risks.

Inevitably, unexpected challenges and future shocks will occur. And the Commission further recommends that the RSE, government and the university sector, work together to develop a rapid response service that enables the government and the public sector to rapidly access good quality, independent evidence and expertise from across the academic community in emergency situations. The Commission also suggests strengthening international connections to support sharing of learning between countries as well as collaboration between business groups and sector leaders. To identify the learning gained from adapting to Covid, including how to better hardwire resilience into physical structures and systems.

We believe that these four recommendations around delivering change, better engaging people in decisions that impact their lives. Enhancing the ability to access and use evidence and data and strengthening our preparedness for future challenges will help us reimagine and deliver a better Scotland for all of us.

In our report, the Commission seeks action from government, from business, the third sector, community groups, and indeed the RSE, as Scotland’s national academy. We hope that all these actors will lend serious consideration to the report and its recommendations and be enthusiastic, bold, and imaginative in working together to create a fair and more resilient future. Thank you.

Thank you very much, indeed. And for that wonderfully complete, uh, account of what the Commission has come up with. And what I’m going to do now is to invite Chairs or representatives of the four Working Groups to talk just for two or three minutes each on the work of the group and what has emerged. And I know already we’re getting some questions in, so already the discussion has begun.

Let me introduce, first of allProfessor Niamh Nic Daeid, who’s the Commissioner and Chair for the Data, Evidence and Science Working Group, Professor of forensic science and Director of the Leverhulme Research Centre for forensic science at the University of Dundee. Niamh.

Uh, Jim, thank you very much, indeed.

And it’s a real pleasure to be here. Um, I chaired the Working Group for Data, Evidence and Science, and we spent our time really engaging in quite a number of different collaborative activities with our various communities, both of practice- uh, for example we spoke, um, spent some time speaking with journalists, but also policy makers, but also speaking directly with the community.

And in particular, we had a number of round tables with, uh, with young people and with others to seek their views on what they really thought about the importance of data, how data is acquired, how it’s used, what that data is used for in terms of deriving evidence. And from that evidence, how the science was then exposed behind many of the decisions that were taken relating to Covid-19 and other things. And what emerged very clearly from the work that we did were really three or four specific themes. One was, there was a great need for transparency, for an understanding, if a person is going to provide their data, what that data is going to be used for, what the security relating to that data is and what the data is not going to be used for.

So there were some real, really interesting issues around privacy and around ethics relating to data. Um, secondly what came out very clearly was a real need for engagement. And engagement, um, not just in one direction, engagement needs to be a two-way street. That needs to be something that people feel part of, that the message that they give us is a message that is heard and is understood.

So that engagement was really important in terms of, um, people buying into, again, the aspect of providing data so that decisions could be made. And then the third area that again, came across very clearly, and these were all interlinked with each other is the need to be able to communicate. Um, and again, that’s communication around delivering messages for individuals and for groups, but also communication in a way that was clear, that was often interdisciplinary,

so it’s not just one voice, it’s multiple voices, um, and where that communication needs to be directed in appropriate ways to multiple audiences. So the whole aspect of our… Delivering data to people who can then use that data to create evidence and make decisions both with us and on our behalf, became a real clear theme as we were speaking to the people that we spoke with.

Um, important in that, as I said, is the robustness of the data, that’s used to generate the evidence, that then enables us to make decisions that are underpinned by robust science. So all of those things just came out really clearly in the conversations that we had.

Niamh, thank

you very much for that comprehensive account of what that Working Group did and how it went about its business. And uh, I’m sure that will prompt some question from those who were watching. Don’t forget you can use the Q and A tab on your screen to send in questions as the discussion goes on. I’m going to turn now to Sir Ian Boyd, who chaired the Working Group, uh, in the Commission on Building National Resilience, uh, to ask him for key learnings. Ian Boyd is Commissioner and Chair for that group as I’ve said, Professor at University of St Andrews, and Chair of the UK Research Integrity Office, a former Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government on food and the environment, by background a marine and polar scientist, and was Director at one stage of the Scottish Oceans Institute at St. Andrews, the very first to hold that post. Ian, give us an account of what the Building National Resilience group came up with and how it went about its job.

Thank you, Jim. Well we went through a consultation process, uh, in the same way as the, uh, the group have looked at science and evidence. We came up with a number of conclusions based on, on that.

Um, first of all, we, we really asked a big question, which was what does a resilient nation look like? Um, and actually we came to the conclusion that it doesn’t look terribly like what we’ve got at the moment and we need to do a lot of things to make ourselves lot more resilient. Uh, first of all, we need to understand resilience at all scales of society, and that’s everything from us as individuals through to households, through to local businesses, local government and national government and national institutional scales.

Uh, that isn’t really as an embedded as it probably could be. Resilience is often also seen as somebody else’sproblem. I think that we often understand what resilience is, but we talk about it in terms of somebody else having to do something about it rather than ourselves. There is a significant, uh, misunderstanding of what we can all do about, about resilience.

Resilience needs to be built into the physical and administrative infrastructures of a nation. We are used to resilience with respect to safety critical things like bridges and things like that, but also needs to be built into, um, a lot of the other things that we take for granted – the food supply for example, but also obviously the NHS is, is really important.

That needs to be resilient, and that requires connectivity, but it also requires spare capacity within the system. And there comes another problem in that, um, what we’ve done through – perhaps done through, um, drive economic efficiency into our system, is that we may have driven resilience out. So there may be a trade-off sitting there and we need to think about that because sometimes resilience means actually short supply chains on those sorts of things, not having the spare capacity there, which actually costs money to create.

We need to understand risk as well. At a national level, governments do tend to understand their risks, but we also need to do that at the individual and institutional levels. And we need to communicate those risks. Covid-19 was a risk that was known about – not specifically, but we knew that there was something like that sort of in the offing, but it wasn’t properly communicated.

So it wasn’t fully embedded within, within society. So that’s a really important element of what a resilient nation should look like. We should also be inclusive and collaborative in how we actually tackle these risks as well. And make sure that decision making is distributed right throughout society as much as possible.

And that actually will help us to, to counter one of the other things that we learned was that, you know, we can create, uh, significant injustice if we don’t do that properly – injustice and inequality. Finally as humans, we really need to understand what the natural constraints are on us. I think we haven’t really begun to understand that properly.

And if we do that, we can actually get into a situation where we can better measure our resilience. We can better understand where we are in terms of our resilience. And we can get a lot, lot further along to being a resilient nation than we are at the moment if we take all these things into consideration.

Thank you, Jim.

Uh, Ian, thank you very much indeed. The fascinating explanation of how we might become a more resilient nation, which clearly we aren’t at the moment in the sense that we’d all like to be, uh, from that Working Group. And I’m sure that will prompt some questions. I’m going to move no straight to the Inclusive Public Service group.

Now that was chaired by Caroline Gardner who sadly can’t be with us today. But Theresa Shearer is here. She was a member of the group and will give us an account of its deliberations. Uh, Caroline Gardner, I should say, you know, is very sad she can’t be here, but Theresa is a very able spokesperson for the group. She’s CEO of the ENABLE group, which supports over 6,000 people who’ve got learning disabilities and their families, and is clearly deeply involved in some of the questions that must’ve come up in your discussions as a group. Just give us an account of where you got to.

Okay, thanks, Jim. Um, as you can imagine, the Inclusive Working Group was first and foremost, very focused on being inclusive and ensuring that we were engaging, not just with the usual suspects across Scottish society, but actually reaching out much further into small organisations, to individuals and to really go deep into communities and find out their views on inclusive public services.

There is so much theory and rhetoric around inclusive public services and public service transformation that has been around for some time. Um, one of the key achievements of the group I think, was not just its Key Learnings, but how it went about its business. And I think that’s very important. So as we went about said business and, and really talked to people about what does inclusive public services mean in Scotland today, in 2021, post-pandemic? Five key themes emerged, many of which have been touched on byDame Anne Glover and by others today.

But from our perspective, five key themes that we would like to be embedded in our thinking, as we move forward: first and foremostly for inclusive public services, to be a reality in Scotland today, we need change. Not just superficial change, and not simply policy change, but actually change at the deepest level within our communities.

We know that public services were under strain pre-Covid. We understand the job of work to be done post-Covid. But actually, to make that move, that paradigm shift into making services very inclusive to the people who are involved, then we have to actually recognise we weren’t getting it right before Covid, in order to ensure that we do much better going forward.

And I think both our NHS and our social care systems are good examples of that. And that’s before we even talk about demographics. So the change that is required is deep and it must be rooted in our communities. The second key theme from our Inclusive Working Group was around people themselves. 📍 We often talk about the role of people and participatory democracies and citizens in Scotland, but actually our group found and it would be a surprise to many of our Chairs here today, that those people who utilise public services the most, are often the people who feel farthest away from what is happening with public services.

Ian talked about efficiency and effectiveness, and actually one of the themes that kept recurring, was for public services to be inclusive and effective and therefore efficient. Actually, those people who need to use and access those services are the best people to design and often deliver. The design and delivery of inclusive public services should not be at state level necessarily, but actually we need to move more of the resources into the community level.

So people-led, self-directed change was a huge part of it. The third theme, which I think was certainly a little frustrating for a Chief Exec of one of Scotland’s largest social care organisations was around the theme of prevention. Christie was brilliant in his day and has stood the test of time in terms of policy and the recommendations, but we talk about prevention a lot.

And one of the things that the Inclusive Working Group heard time and time again, was all too often our limited resources are focused at the sharp end when something goes wrong. And small amounts of money in the system delivered by people, designed by people can really help us move prevention from rhetoric to reality.

So the idea that we talked about in terms of how do we do things better is also how do we stop our requirement to do things? How do we stop the state, the government, the NHS impacting people’s lives when actually communities can deliver some of that support? So, so prevention was, was a key learning for us.

Fourthly and penultimately 📍 … the thing that I think was a surprise to many people within the group was this sense of the cultural importance of demonstrating by doing. And often we talk about science and data and evidence and rightly so in the RSE, hugely important. But we should never forget the power of demonstrating by doing, by allowing communities to find their own demonstrations, test sites, pilots, and to actually move forward.

And then the role of local and national government is to both scale up that learning of what works, but also replicate things. So the recommendation around a repository in Scotland is actually one of the strongest in my view, because we have excellent examples of great work in inclusive services, but we have to replicate and scale.

And finally, the the idea of all three sectors. And again, that’s been touched on already. I won’t go over old ground, but this is not the role of either the public, the private or the third sector, this is the role of Scottish society. So those were the key learnings from the Inclusive Public Services Working Group.

Well, Theresa,

thank you very much for that extremely interesting account of your deliberations. And it’s clear from the three groups that we’ve touched on up to now, the, um, the first one on Data, Evidence and Science, the second on Building National Resilience and the one of which you were a part on Inclusive Public Services. There is a sense of, of big changes, kind of appearing out of the midst of the crisis we’ve been in the last couple of years and needing to be addressed and explored. And if possible, brought into being, we move now to the fourth group, which had two Co-Chairs. Talat Yaqoob and Louise Macdonald co-chaired the Public Debate and Participation Working Group. And I’d like to ask them both to say something, each of them to say something rather. Louise is National Director at the Institute of Directors Scotland, and formerly Chief Executive of Young Scot.

And I think Louise, you’re going to start.

Thank you. Thanks Jim. Thank you and hi to everybody that’s watching. I have to say it’s been a real privilege to be part of this Commission, and not just because of the work that we’ve done, but also the engagement that’s happened and how we’ve spoken to people in communities across Scotland who very clearly said that they want to be part of this thinking.

They want to be part of thinking about what happens in a post-Covid world. And it reflects that outward focus that Rebekah mentioned earlier about how we really wanted this Commission to try to hear from as many people as possible. And that also informed how we went about our work in this particular group.

I’m also reflecting as I’m listening to my colleagues on the panel here about the interconnectedness of each of these themes, because obviously you’ll have heard from everyone that the role of people, and actually about engagement with people and inclusive engagement, is such a key part of a resilience response.

And reflecting, that’s what struck me was just how much people wanted to be part of that response. How they didn’t just want to be the receivers of information and told what to do, but actually what they wanted to do was to help their communities, to help their families and be part of generating a response. So in some ways it is about harnessing the energy of communities in terms of in that participation space.

But it’s also about unleashing that energy and not just trying to kind of control that. I think there’s a couple of kinds of things I’d maybe just want to highlight in terms of some of our findings that made me kind of really thoughtful: one is about the importance of accessible and public health information, engaging with people where they are and being really thoughtful about both the message, but also who’s delivering the message and how we’re, how we’re engaging people.

But also in terms of that language piece, being really thoughtful about our language, we heard a number of stories where people were affected by the language that was used in talking about the pandemic and that affected people from kind of different communities across Scotland. Um, and also young people.

We held out a really powerful session with young people who talked about Covid and blame. And it was incredibly shocking to hear the stories directly from those young people of how people in their community, were blaming them for the pandemic. And it just really emphasised that need to listen to people and to really think about our language. But I’ll hand over to Talat as well.

Yes, as I say, Talat co-chaired the Working Group with you, an experienced independent consultant and researcher, a director and senior manager in the third sector for a long time. A Founder for example of the Women 50 50 initiative. Now Talat, give us another take on exactly what happened in the group.

Course. Um, one of the things that has come out from the Public Debate and Participation Working Group is how intrinsically linked to is to everything we’re discussing. Whilst it was a separate Working Group in its own right,

it is linked to absolutely everything that has been discussed so far because without public participation, the public health messaging is less fit for purpose, without that buy-in from the public, without that co-production and ownership, there’s less adherence to public health messaging. So the trust of those who are giving us the messages, the trust of the message itself, the trust of science, all that leads back to public participation.

And I think it’s really important that we talk about how often the systemic inequalities, the deeply entrenched inequalities in our society came up in every conversation we had. In our Working Group we tried very hard to have conversations in a different way, whether it was through a Hack, whether it was through the young people’s group, whether it was online public forums and having an opportunity for people to write to us and for us on the microsite, trying to find inclusive ways of engaging. And in all of that, the reality of systemic inequality and really how superficial our efforts to tackle inequality had been, were starkly recognised during Covid. Interventions we have created to try and tackle some of those inequalities were sidelined during a crisis, when in actual fact they should have been stepped up during a crisis because we know those who are… people who are disabled people, Black, Asian, minority ethnic communities, migrants, women, the LGBT community and more, were more likely to be negatively impacted by the pandemic. So if we are to be ready and resilient as has been said for future crisis, tackling inequality and poverty is the key step to that resilience and ensuring that all levels of government, local governments, third sector and private sector, actually play our role in tackling that inequality and poverty.

We heard a lot about public participation and how participation needs to be embedded deeply into the decisions that are made, not something that is done when it’s just easy to do, not something that is done when it’s explicitly about equalities, because there’s no issue, any policy area that doesn’t impact, um, or has a consequence on inequality. And is not impacted or has a consequence for the public.

So we need to better embed public participation methods that are genuine. Not one-way consultation, but two-way engagement, feedback, co-design and co-delivery. Only by doing that, do we create fit for purpose services, systems and policy. Finally, one of the things that was critical and I particularly enjoyed was a global round table that I had the opportunity to chair, which had a number of stakeholders from across nations including, um, Taiwan, New Zealand, Brazil, and Zambia and whilst talking to those experts public health experts from those areas, it was clear whilst we were all going through a global pandemic, there was not the global solidarity, connectedness, engagement and learning from each other that could have helped us through Covid and could help us now as we attempt to recover from Covid.

So global solidarities, data-sharing, learning without borders was a very key and stark message. And I think one that is crucial for any crisis that we encounter, and the crisis we will see in the future. Global solidarity is one of the key ways in which we will recover.

Talat, thank you very much for that.

Well, those are the accounts, um, from the four Working Groups and I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone listening to that, that this hasn’t been an exercise in sort of arm waving and head shaking, it’s been a very specific investigation of things that could be done better of challenges that we’ve all got and the ways in which not just government, but government, third sector and people in communities with the power to do it should be able to change things for the better in the Scotland we want to see. Talking of government, I should say that the Deputy First Minister, um, who is also Cabinet Secretary for Covid recovery, John Swinney has given us the following words, welcoming the publication of this report for which we’re very grateful.

The Scottish government, he says, values the work of the RSE as Scotland’s national academy and its commitment to advancing learning and useful knowledge, a commitment that has been particularly evident in the last 18 months, with Fellows of the RSE being at the forefront of supporting people in their understanding of the pandemic.

I think that’s a phrase which all the Chairs of the Working Groups will really appreciate because I think it was an exercise in understanding. And John Swinney said: we welcome the Post-Covid Futures Commission report, and we will consider its recommendations closely. Well the RSE will be watching you John Swinney.

Anyway, the Scottish Government’s recently published Covid Recovery Strategy he goes on, sets out the need to work collaboratively and build on the urgency, flexibility, and creativity its seen in the pandemic, to tackle the inequalities that were exposed and exacerbated. We look forward to further engagement with the RSE as we work to support Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic and to bring about a fairer future for everyone.

Well, those are very welcome words I think, to everybody who worked on the Commission and indeed across the RSE, because as I was saying a moment ago, I think this has been an exercise in trying to come up with rather specific observations about things we discovered about ourselves and about our society as a consequence of the pandemic and things which we feel could be done better and could be initiated with the help of government and sometimes with the direct involvement of government. And sometimes simply with the government’s helping hand to allow things to happen in the community. Now, I know you’ve been sending in questions. Remember you can do this by the Q and A on your screen, I’ve got some here there are one or two here and I think there is one first of all, to Ian Boyd. This is on the question of national resilience. And the question is very simple. How can we become more resilient as a consequence of the experience? Now, you, you went through some of the observations that the group made and some of the ideas that you’ve got.

And I think the common theme that we’ve heard from all the groups is that everyone recognises as a consequence of the kind of investigations you made, the round tables you had and so on, that this does require big thinking and real action. I mean, not, not just, you know, um, let’s have another think tank for another three years, but things that can be done. If you want to try to answer that question, what sort of practical steps could now be taken or embarked upon in the post-pandemic world, which we hope we’re moving into, what would they be?

Well, I think that, um, I think the report has actually contained quite a number of those practical steps, but what I would say is that I think resilience and I think it’s come out in, in all the Working Groups, starts at the individual. You know, it starts at that individual level. And it’s about the individual understanding what their risks are and that’s personal risk, but it’s also at the national level, to an extent it’s about government communicating those risks at that individual level as well.

And then communicating how people might respond to that. Now then it’s up to them. Uh, there can be, you know, a structured consultation process, but the point is, this is bottom up. This is about how society wants to respond to those sorts of risks in future, and that should lead how government policy might develop, but it’s not just national government, it’s local government as well.

And I think right at the centre of this is local government and local government needs to be an –

It’s an interesting point because we haven’t really touched –

It’s a very important point. I think there’s, there’s quite a lot of understanding at national government level about resilience. There’s actually an immense amount of understanding at local level and in individuals, but many individuals just don’t have the information to be able to make that connection between the two.

And in-between that sits local government. And my feeling is, and I don’t want to point any fingers here, but I think that we need to become much better at that intermediate level about communicating what the risks are, but also in a very practical way saying to people in their normal everyday lives:

this is how you respond to that. Now I’ll point to the, the example of New Zealand that is I think a really good case in point, where if you go on the New Zealand website, they say, if there’s a national emergency, don’t expect any help from the government for three days at least. And now there are good reasons for that, because actually the government itself is filled with individuals who are all trying to keep their lives together.

But I think if we were resilient in that sort of way, we would build resilience, not just to acute problems, but we’d build resilience to a lot of the chronic problems that we have as well, around sustainability and you know, health and all those sorts of things that we have to. So that, I mean, I don’t know if that’s a practical, practical enough…,

It’s a very interesting point about understanding

the chronic nature of some of the problems, leave aside the, you know, the catastropheand the black swan or whatever, but things that are with us and can get much worse very quickly, and we’ve got to prepare for, and that, and that involves a kind of awareness that is maybe not there.

Absolutely. And if we build that awareness within households in particular I think at a household level is really, really important. I mean I have an emergency food supply in my house and I will keep it turned over and those sorts of things, because I think it’s important. I also have a first aid kit and I make sure that my first aid’s up to date.

So, you know, those are, those are really important things about building national resilience.

Well, we all know they should be first aid in school, I did a first aid course, a BBC thing for being sent to dangerous places. I realised I hadn’t done one since I’d been in the Scouts, which I have to tell you is a very long time ago. Anyway, first aid should be in schools.

Niamh, there’s a question for you that follows exactly on what Ian’s talking about in many ways, what are the important aspects that are going to be needed if there is going to be greater public awareness, and this was the subject of your discussions in the group of course, and involvement with data, evidence, and science.

In other words, you know, understanding the need for resilience is tied up with the idea of understanding what the problems are and getting them in a way, which doesn’t lead to misunderstanding and conspiracies and ignorance and so on, but is factual to use a simple word.

Absolutely. And I think the key to all of that is actually understanding what science is, what it can do and what it can’t do.

Um, and I think that’s been, you know, we’ve heard all the way through the pandemic that the response is to follow the science. And that’s a very nice phrase but what does it really mean?

But we have learned something haven’t we, and this is obviously, you know, pan UK as well as in Scotland, we’ve had a discussion about the science. Now some people, you know, don’t want to go down that road and have got very huffy and puffy about it, but there’s been a public discussion about, you know, the ‘R’ number for example. Unheard of two years ago.

Absolutely. I think part of the discussion of how science can be useful in all of this is about communication.

It’s such a critical aspect of being able to explain, for example, things like the, our number, um, and also to be able to explain the importance of some of the things that we’re hearing about, for example, mask wearing, or other types of activities that all of us can undertake in order to try to, um, contain the pandemic in some way, contain the spread of it.

And so on. The importance, I think of people understanding what we’re actually talking about, um, is critical to then building the trust that they will, that is so required and so needed in order for us to, to gain their confidence, that the information they give to us, can be critically used to make decisions that can affect everybody’s life.

Just on the point that in a different way, you’ve both been talking about – Ian if I can ask you this? I was listening to a discussion the other day in which somebody was talking about the importance of building into policy-making a greater amount of, you know, pure science in the sense of the scientific method, rather than just getting a bunch of clever people who, you know, maybe have a very good classics degree, but you know, look at it in a different way, but actually bring it in some gritty scientific thinking. Is that something that as a former UK scientific advisor for the UK government on some aspects of policy, that you feel strongly about and think might happen after the pandemic?

Uh, well,

yes obviously, yes, I do feel that strongly.

There’s a surprising answer!

And it isn’t, it isn’t prominent enough in a lot of the thinking in government. Um, I think actually it goes further than that and you, you touched on it in that I think policy making itself is an experimental approach. Because you try things, you learn from the experience, you modify them and then you try again and that’s, that’s actually just exploring the unknown and that’s what scientists do.

And actually so policymaking can actually be a science in itself if you want it to be. And if you design it that way, and I think we need to get much, much more aware that that’s a, that’s something that can be done.

What you hear a lot of talk about I think after the, you know, the public discussion of these matters in the last 18 months or two years, is the idea of a more rigorously scientific method if you like on policy formulation, than we’ve tended to have in many areas of policy. I mean, not the whole way through, but quite often it’s quite evident that things have come to pass that haven’t been subjected to the kind of scrutiny and analysis that, you know, a proper scientific method would produce.

I think that, I think that’s, you know, self-evident actually, but it is going to take quite a cultural change –

It’s a cultural shift

inside government to, to make that much more explicit. And, uh, you know, I think that it, it is, it comes back to something that was talked about earlier on, it’s about education.

It’s about, it’s about doing this in schools. It’s about making those things actually so embedded in the way that we work, we think, that when people eventually become, uh, civil servants or government ministers or politicians, they’re already thinking in that sort of way.

Well, it’s interesting. We’ve had words from John Swinney saying that the Scottish Government’s going to look at the outcome of the Commission and take seriously what it says. And then I take it from what you say, that one of the things you would want governments in Edinburgh to look at specifically is exactly this point about science and policy formulation, science in the broadest sense?

Absolutely. And Niamh may have some views about this as well. Definitely. I think that there’s a short term response and there’s a long-term response. The long-term response is the one of trying to embed this culturally, the short-term response, however, is, um, is explained in a lot of the recommendations.

For example foresight, is a really important thing. I think we ought to be looking into the future as, as best we can with the information we have trying to, um, uh, sort of, not quite predict, but understand how the future might unfold and then trying to build our policies around that. We don’t do enough of that.

We look maybe a year to 18 months ahead a lot of the time, but we’re not tending to look 10, 20 years ahead. And that’s why we’re partly in this kind of sustainability problem.

And if you’re looking for a positive outcome from the horrors of last two years, thinking in those terms, maybe one of them… a quick word Niamh from you. And then I want to go to Louise.

I think

also we’re talking here about science that is impactful, and that means that in the circumstances of this debate, it’s participatory and in order for people to participate, they need to understand the need to be communicated with. They need to be empowered to, to get involved in that participation.

And that means that they need knowledge training, education, um, et cetera, and what we do needs to be done in a way where with an absolute key focus on equality.

I’m going

to come to the others now, and that there’s sort of linked questions. Theresa, there’s a question for you. Why do you think that, um, the outcomes, this is in the course of the pandemic, I take it this is what the question means, for older people and those with disabilities who were supported to live in their own homes in the community during this difficult time. And what, what can we learn from that in terms of making, you know, community-based social care, a realistic option for more people? I mean, does that strike you as an observation that is accurate about what’s happened?

Absolutely. And I think what the question is getting to, some of the data and evidence, which is around older people and people with learning disabilities, much more more likely to contract Covid in the first place, but then much more likely to die of Covid, much more than the general population. That’s why might that be? We should probably start by saying those people who worked in care homes and complicated settings, without a doubt did the best job they could, often without the science, often without the policy, often without the resources to improve outcomes for people.

But there is no doubt in my mind Jim, from experience and data and evidence, that people who live in their own communities being supported by their own communities in a self-directed way, have much better life outcomes than those who potentially are pushed, forced or nudged into congregate settings. That might be the social policy of the day, but actually it does not give better outcomes for citizens or indeed in terms of economic outcomes.

So I think the question is a good one and I would be optimistic. One of the things that has come from the pandemic is a real push for health and social care to be looked at as preventative, self directed and focused first in the community, which is why the recommendation around social prescribing is so important in the report and, and my hope would be in the midst of the discussions around the science, which of course is important, social prescribing and the judgment of communities to sometimes think about what might be best in their local circumstance.

And that’s a challenge

to government.

Is important,

the science and the judgment of individuals and communities in those situations.

We’re talking here, across the board really about what we’ve learned from the pandemic and the whole idea of what the RSE did in setting up this Commission was to say, look, um, you know, it’s an awful time. Uh, people have had great difficulties, families have put through, you know appalling times in many ways, whether it’s education, whether it’s their own health, whether it’s social distancing inside a family, all the rest of it.

But is there something that can come out of it, we can , that will be good in that we can apply? One of the questioners Louise says to you that it looks as if the key element of the work was hearing directly from those who are not usually involved in decision-making. And I think the questioner found what you said very encouraging, the sense that you learned things.

In a sense more directly, you know, at firsthand that in the normal course of things you wouldn’t, and that that’s a plus from this process. And indeed what, what we’ve got in this report is, is in many ways the fruit of that kind of discussion.

Absolutely. And that’s why that recommendation about the national participation strategy and a program that we’ve talked about is so important because, um, in terms of, uh, in terms of thinking about resilience or data, or community-based approaches it’s about people.

Um, but we still have a power imbalance. It’s still too difficult for, for people to participate in decision-making we still have too many people spending all their energy hammering on the door, trying to get to the table than actually bringing all the talents, the skills, their insight and their ideas to the process..

And it was, it was incredibly powerful that it was through the Hack that Talat mentioned, or whether the conversation with young people that I mentioned – that lived experience and the power of that lived experience and, and it wasn’t done in a way that was, that was kind of people saying we’ve come just to kind of… you know, to, to kind of bash the table. It’s actually, we want learning to come from this. We want others to hear this so that we can make things better.

There are link

questions. I mean, somebody asked a very simple question to you, Louise. Why does public debate and participation matter in a pandemic anyway? Well, I mean, I think we’ve kind of answered that in a sense of what everybody’s been talking about, I can imagine what you say in answer to that, but there’s a specific one on this lived experience, inclusion Talat, to you directed to you.

Why does, what does that give us in terms of improving the public debate in your view? Why does it matter?

Well, firstly, it matters because it means that – government, local authorities, wherever the decision is being made, the decision is more fit for purpose and is better because those people who are at the sharpest end of policymaking, who are going to feel the effects of bad policy the most, have a say in how something is designed.

So lived expedience is too often – and we talk about this in the report – has too often been co-opted as a word where another word for consultation. Where somebody comes along and says, well, here’s, here’s the trauma that I’ve experienced in life. Lived experience is not about that, it’s about co-production.

It’s about coming along and saying, well, this is, this is my experience of social security, of housing, of, uh, healthcare. And here’s how I need it to be improved for it to work in my life, and for people like me. And then working with them to design that, what that means is a number of things: firstly, it’s about creating better decisions.

And secondly, if we pull back to what Ian was talking about in terms of resilience, the more ownership you have of what is around you, the more stake you have in what is affecting you, the higher your resilience, because you have trust in that system and you’ve designed it to work for you. So lived experience is critical to that.

But what I would say is one of the things that we talk about in the report is the reality of systemic inequality and poverty. We can’t be a resilient nation with poverty in our society. We can’t access data, science and knowledge when we don’t all have equal access to high quality education. And there’s a postcode lottery in what’s, depending on the working class community you might be in and what access to science and extracurricular activities you have at your school.

You also can’t and have access to participation if you are working two jobs to try and get through your working life. So poverty and participation of lived experience are essential.

Well, it’s

interesting just as, as we move towards the conclusion and Rebekah is going to give us a few thoughts as we finish, I just want to ask all of you very briefly, if you can.

The whole point of this Commission really, was to produce a series of recommendations that, um, appear to make sense that sprung from real investigation into what had happened during the pandemic and, and conversations with people at the sharp end in whatever field we’re talking about. And the whole point was that something should come out of it, which is specific, which is a kind of call to action, which can lead to, to change whether it’s setting up new bodies and linking different parts of the societies together, whether it’s a challenge to government, whether it’s about education.

And I just want to ask each of you very very briefly, if you think that you’ve got something here, which can be specific and in which you know, respect, would you want government to act? I mean, John Swinney said very welcome to us that he’s going to take this seriously. What are next steps? I don’t mean in a specific policy, but what needs to happen now?


I think what

needs to happen now is a significant conversation about how we’re going to action these things. I think it’s very welcomed the words that John Swinney has said, but now we need to stop talking about it and find a way of all of us collectively working together to actually put some action on what it


Ian – a practical conversation.

So, so I would like to see the government setting up that independent foresighting body. I think that would make a massive difference because it would drive the system to think very hard about what is, what the future is like.


would make change happen.

The recommendation on social prescribing, which I think might be policy specific is so important.

It’s the one thing from the report that I would like to see happen now. We don’t have to wait for further evidence. We can move to that today, tomorrow.

And it’s

obvious what change it would make. And finally Louise and Talat, one after the other again.

I would say that policymakers need to start recognising tackling poverty as part of tackling resilience.

Following on

what Talat said finally.

Finally, I would just say that there are no shortages of report recommendations and Working Groups. I don’t want to see another Working Group to find out how this can be implemented. The message is there, resource it and do it.

Pick it up and run with it. Yeah. Don’t let this be a report that in 10 years time people are saying, well, that was a very good report. We didn’t really do enough after it, but we want to now. And Rebekah, you will have some inspiring words as we come to a close and then I’ll just wind things up.

Thanks. Thanks so much Jim. And thanks to everyone within the working groups and Dame Professor Anne who chaired the Commission. I mean, the report today is the combination of the Commission’s work and thinking over the last 18 months, but it isn’t the combination of the thinking and the dialogue and debate about how we use some of the learnings that we’ve generated from Covid to create positive, positive change.

It’s obviously the Commissioner’s report, but it does have recommendations for a number of bodies. And I think just to reinforce that, that point that this requires everybody to take action. Covid was a societal challenge and it requires a societal response. So yes, there’s a role for government, but there’s a role for all of us as individuals, as communities, as organisations.

Um, so I think we would like to see the Commission report and the Commission would like to see the report as a basis for further conversation and continuing approaches that does lead to that dialogue on the ground. And that change on the ground. The Commission obviously puts forth some specific propositions for how change might be generated and taken forward, but there’ll be others as well.

So we hope that as we move forward, that the Commission’s report, won’t be just something that sits on a shelf but that will be a document around which people can coalesce and continue to have discussions and collaborate to support a better future.

Well thank you Professor Dame Anne Glover for chairing the Commission, uh, which has come up with very specific recommendations as the Chairs and Working Group representatives and Working Groups have been saying for the last half hour or so. Um, it’s been a massive effort and it’s the hope of everybody who was involved, was involved with the RSE and who had contact with the Working Groups from outside – that not just government, but bodies across Scotland at every level of society and in all the different parts of our society actually take this conversation on to a practical level and do things which will make us more resilient, safer, possibly even give us a better sense of wellbeing.

And after the last two years, that above all is what we want. Let me remind you that the final report, in full, and it’s a wonderful document in the sense that it’s not too long, it is actually readable, it’s specific, and it can be found at rsecovidcommission – that’s one word –

And on the RSE YouTube site, you can be, you will be able to watch this again, and you can see the answers to questions, which are all going to be themed and to which you will have splendid answers. And we hope that everybody, wherever they sit in the Scotland we know and want to be better, whether it’s in government, whether it’s in the third sector, whether it’s in local government as Ian mentioned very importantly, that they read this and take some action.

My thanks to the Chairs and representatives of the Working Groups, particularly to Professor Dame Anne Glover for chairing the whole thing, to Rebekah as Chief Executive of the RSE and our thanks to you all for watching, spread the word. And we hope that this is not a report that lies on the shelf.

Thank you all very much, indeed for joining us goodbye.

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