The world is still in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and many uncertainties remain. In the short-term, governments should continue their support for science and innovation activities that aim to develop solutions to the pandemic and mitigate its negative impacts, while paying attention to its uneven distributional effects. Science for policy will remain in the spotlight as governments seek to strike the right balance in their responses to COVID-19. This will affect public perceptions of science that could have long-term implications for science-society relations.
At the same time, many governments view the pandemic as a stark reminder of the need to transition to more sustainable, equitable and resilient societies. This is highlighted in many countries’ recovery packages, which include expenditures for R&D. Science and innovation will be essential to promote and deliver such transitions, but the pandemic has exposed limits in research and innovation systems that, if not addressed, will prevent this potential from being realised.
There is therefore a need to rethink STI policies. Governments should be better equipped with the instruments and capabilities they need to orient science and innovation efforts towards the goals of sustainability, inclusivity and resiliency (see figure). Research systems will need to be reformed to promote the transdisciplinary approaches needed to deal with complex, multifaceted problems. Improving the ability of societies to react to crises like COVID-19 will also require the reform of PhD and post-doctoral training to support a diversity of career paths.
The global nature of many societal challenges suggests that solutions will require international co-operation. The momentum created by the pandemic offers opportunities to establish effective and sustainable global mechanisms to support the range and scope of R&D necessary to confront a wider range of global challenges. Many key uncertainties will remain over the next few months and years, and governments will need to develop dynamic capabilities to adapt and learn in the face of rapidly changing conditions .