Putting People at the Centre: Why investing in social research will set Asia on the path towards sustainable development post COVID-19

Webinar – 28 April 2022       

Some of Asia’s top social scientists discuss ways to build an alliance with the region’s policy infrastructure for post-COVID-19 times.

4:30-6pm India, Sri Lanka  /  6-7:30pm Bangkok, Jakarta, Hanoi  / 7-8:30pm Beijing, Manila, Kuala Lumpur  /  8-9:30pm Seoul, Tokyo

Social scientists across Asia constantly generate knowledge on how we live, make choices, develop shared concerns and decide to act. This knowledge is based on rigorous evidence, vetted and debated across countries and continents. Yet, social sciences often remain on the margin of policy debates and decisions; their evidence undervalued in public deliberations.; and their questions too isolated from the needs of policy.

Social sciences illuminate context, drivers and processes that define change and its impact on Asia’s diverse societies. For example, in the context of COVID-19 responses, it can inform vaccination rollout strategies or examine the reasons for and impacts of population clustering. In the context of climate change adaptation, social science research can evaluate farmers’ willingness to adopt new practices or abandon old ones. And in the context of labour markets, it can explain people’s growing fear of losing jobs to algorithms and automation.

Every policy discussion that does not tap into social research is a missed opportunity to build effective policy on what we know about our past and present, as Asia’s policy community shapes an ambitious vision for the future. And so is every effort at applied social research that does not draw on interactions with policy actors, be they policy makers or civil society actors.

Policy responses to the pandemic could have used more evidence on living conditions of migrants and their needs, or greater insights about social norms and attitudes towards the use of masks or vaccines. Similarly, solutions for the environment, ranging from use of alternative fuel sources, the choice of agricultural technologies, or even potential attitudes towards recycling by urban dwellers, could impact post-pandemic green policies. It is not enough to provide access to technologies without understanding their use for marginalized groups who can seldom participate in public services. In short, social science research can provide an understanding of individual and societal behaviours that can feed into policy-making.

What will enable a closer integration of social scientists in debates on public policies and economic strategies? What levers and formats of collaboration will allow policy to draw on evidence about our societies? What channels and modalities of consultation work better, and what can we learn from the experience of countries in the Asian region to engage better with the next generation of social scientists?

Asia will need to mobilize its universities and think tanks to spark high-quality evidence and debates stemming from social research to feed, inform and guide the socio-ecological, economic, cultural and political transitions ahead. This requires a new alliance with the next generation of Asia’s social scientists. Social research becomes a strategy and a goal for governments as they steer towards a major social transformation of Asian societies.

This seminar brings together different angles from some of the most prominent Asian social scientists, active in academia and policy, to discuss options for strategic investments in an alliance between Asia’s social scientists and the region’s policy infrastructure, with a view to accelerating COVID-19 recovery and a regional transition towards a more sustainable and inclusive region. The panel will explore issues such as:

Can social scientists play a larger role in government task forces and advisory bodies?

What could social scientists contribute to more effective public communication efforts on community health and environmental protection?

What role could governments shape for national research policies and councils in fostering research/policy links on social reforms, climate and environmental transitions, or green economic policies?

How can regional research networks spark public debate and regional integration around common regional policy challenges, in close collaboration with regional governance institutions?

The seminar is a collaboration between the Global Development Network (GDN), the Asia Research Centre (ARC) at the University of Indonesia, the Association of Asian Social Science Research Councils (AASSREC), Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Asia Research News.

Webinar Agenda

Welcome: Anindya Chatterjee, Director, Asia Regional Office, IDRC

Moderated discussion with:

Shanta Devarajan (moderator)

Shanta Devarajan is Professor of Practice, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. Devarajan was the Senior Director for Development Economics and Acting Chief Economist at the World Bank, a role that placed him at the core of debates about the use of evidence in decision-making around development issues. Since joining the World Bank in 1991, he has been a principal economist and research manager for public economics in the Development Research Group, and the Chief Economist of the Human Development Network for the South Asia and Africa regions. He was a Director of the World Development Report 2004, Making Services Work for Poor People.

Justin Yifu Lin

Justin Tifu Lin is Dean of the Institute of New Structural Economics in Beijing, China. He is also Dean of the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development, Honorary Dean of the National School of Development at Peking University, and Counsellor of China’s State Council. He was the Vice-Chairman of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce from 2013 to 2017, and the Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank from 2008 to 2012. Prior to this, Lin served for 15 years as a Professor and Founding Director of the China Centre for Economic Research (CCER) at Peking University. Lin brings a wealth of experience working at the intersection of industry, academia and policy at the highest level.

Nina T. Castillo-Carandang

Nina T. Castillo-Carandang is an experienced health sociologist based at the University of the Philippines, Manila, and advocate for transdisciplinary teaching, research and policy work. She believes that achieving good health outcomes is only possible through multi-stakeholder collaboration. She has been a member of the World Health Organization’s Social Science Working Group on COVID-19 and the only sociologist/social scientists in the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) on COVID-19 in the Philippines.

Yanuar Nugroho

Yanuar Nugroho is both an academic and public policy practitioner. He was the former Deputy Chief of Staff to the President of Indonesia (2015-19) and is recently appointed the Expert Coordinator at the National Secretariat of SDGs Implementation at the Ministry of National Development Planning. He is also a Lecturer at Driyarkara School of Philosophy, Jakarta; Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute; Honorary Fellow at the University of Manchester, UK; and Senior Advisor at the Centre for Innovation Policy and Governance (CIPG) Indonesia. He is also an honorary member of the Indonesian Young Academy of Sciences. His research and and publications revolve around the areas of innovation, development, sustainability, and knowledge dynamics. He is a strong supporter for evidence-based policy.

Helani Galpaya

Helani Galpaya is the CEO of LIRNE Asia, based in Sri Lanka, working across Asia on issues related to internet policy, how knowledge via communication technologies and social media can improve inclusiveness for Asian workers and entrepreneurs, and how internet harassment and surveillance impact men and women’s digital and political participation. She serves on the board of editors of the Information Technology and International Development journal, the board of directors of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, and is a member of the working group on Innovation and Commercialization of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence. She holds an MSc in Technology & Policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA.


GDN’s work on social sciences and sustainable development in Asia and globally

Report: Social Science and COVID-19 | The Southeast Asia Response

Listen to a brand new Asia Research News podcast on the topic here

Read an Asia Research News article on the topic here (p. 6-7)