Communication, risk and uncertainty
Law and governance
Socioeconomic inequalities in health
Healthcare system efficiency
Polarisation and populism
The Czech Republic has launched a new institute unique in the European area to address the socioeconomic impact of risk situations. The global challenge instrumental in the founding of the institute was the Covid-19 pandemic, which has created conditions for research processes that would otherwise not have occurred. An example of such conditions is school closure and the need to provide distance education for pupils and students. Also new in its scope is the experience of misinformation and disinformation in the media and on social media. The National Institute for Research on the Socioeconomic Impacts of Diseases and Systemic Risks (SYRI) will address these issues and many others besides. It will bring together under one roof 150 scientists from Masaryk University, Charles University and the Czech Academy of Sciences. The Institute will collect data on the social processes that accompany crisis and risk situations such as pandemics. Based on this data, researchers will formulate recommendations on how to solve particular problems.
„The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that sudden unexpected events like pandemics place serious demands on societal defence mechanisms and require effective and rapid responses from policymakers,” said Klára Šeďová, SYRI’s Scientific Director.“Medical research alone will not solve these challenges. Social scientists need to get involved and start to contribute to decision-making, on, for instance, how to credibly disseminate information about health risks and protection from them, how to ensure the quality of education when schools are forced to close, and how to prevent different groups of people from falling into poverty.“
As well as giving rise to a number of new phenomena, the Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced trends that were already present in society but whose impact has been magnified by the pandemic. “Covid-19 has exacerbated pre-existing wage, earnings and wealth inequalities, labour market inequalities, and inequalities in access to health care, quality education and many other areas,”Šeďová added. “We have also been able to observe how various forms of civil unrest manifest themselves in the crisis and what their impact is.”
The new national institute is divided into nine research groups: communication, law, social resilience, socioeconomic inequalities, populism, healthcare system effectiveness, education, economics, and the labour market. SYRI’s research staff comprises sociologists, economists, psychologists, educators, philosophers, demographers, political scientists, and lawyers. “Our time is prone to risk situations, and social risks are ever relevant to the current situation,” said Šeďová. “Currently, there is another wave of Covid, waves of refugees, and a war in Ukraine. We are facing unprecedented price increases. Climate change, too, is a risk. These situations are very burdensome for the state. Moreover, socioeconomic inequalities deepen in the course of these situations. Therefore, one of our goals is to provide data and recommendations in real time so that politicians can make the right decisions.”
How do we ensure the quality of education when schools are closed? How do we ensure the functioning of the labour market when interpersonal contact must be reduced? How do we ensure that people are not subject to disinformation and consequent erosion of democracy? These are examples of questions that SYRI researchers will address. “Although the Institute brings together top Czech scientists, we aim not only to ensure scientific excellence but also to provide social utility,” Šeďová explained. “Our outputs and findings will be addressed to ministries and public policy actors. Based on scientific data, we will formulate recommendations applicable in extreme situations, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the new wave of Covid, and other crisis situations and growing challenges that society will face.”
Each of the research groups will run a long-term research programme aimed at mapping the impact of social risks and mitigation options to reduce such risks in different areas. In addition, researchers will be prepared to collect and analyse data as soon as a problem becomes urgent and to formulate conclusions and recommendations based on these data in real time, an approach that has been lacking in the Czech Republic. “During the Covid-19 pandemic, many political decisions were made under stress, which is difficult to criticise – the whole situation has been very hectic,” said Šeďová. “On the other hand, many of these decisions were sub-optimal because there was no database present, and it was not clear how to respond adequately in a given situation. Social scientists did not have much say in the situation, yet their expertise would have been useful. This will now change.”
In all of these areas, researchers at the Institute have been developing their research activities for some time, but the SYRI project is the first to focus on new systemic risks related to health and other societal threats such as pandemics.