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This report examines how governments — and the societies around them — mobilised intelligence to handle the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. It also makes recommendations as to how they could improve their ability to organise intelligence for future challenges of all kinds, from pandemics to climate change.

The study draws on dozens of interviews with senior officials and others in many countries including Estonia, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Finland, USA, Chile, Canada, Portugal, Taiwan, Singapore, India, Bangladesh, UAE, South Korea and the UK, as well as the European Commission and UN agencies — along with roundtables and literature analysis.

There was extraordinary innovation globally around the gathering of data, from mass serological testing to analysis of sewage, from mobilising mobile phone data to citizen generated data on symptoms. There was an equally impressive explosion of research and evidence; and innovative approaches to problem solving and creativity, from vaccine development to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). However, the authors also point to problems:

  • Imbalances in terms of what was attended to — with physical health given much more attention than mental health or educational impacts in models and data, which was understandable in the early phases of the crisis but more problematic later on as trade-offs had to be managed.
  • Imbalances in different kinds of expertise in scientific advice and influence, for instance in who got to sit on and be heard in expert advisory committees.
  • Very varied ability of countries to share information and data between tiers of government.
  • Very varied ability to mobilise key sources, such as commercial data, and varied use of intelligence from outside sources, such as from other countries or from civic groups.
  • Even when there were strong sources of advice and evidence, weak capacities to synthesise multiple kinds of intelligence at the core of governments.
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