Decision-making in a crisis

by Kelly Beaver

Britons want Government to act fast but transparently

At the end 2020, after a second nationwide lockdown and the introduction of a regional tier system, there’s a lot of focus on what comes next and how those decisions will be made. For the British public, knowing exactly how these decisions are being reached is almost as important as making them in a timely fashion.

Just 15% of Britons trust politicians to tell the truth. With that in mind and the current global context of governments and politicians around the world scrabbling to make decisions quickly to save lives and get ahead of the pandemic, the importance of the public’s beliefs and perceptions about the political use of evidence is critical.

That context is essential. The public knows that this is not a normal time. While 42% of Britons believe that it’s better to act quickly in a crisis than wait for all of the evidence, the transparency of the evidence that is available is key. Two-thirds (67%) of Britons believe it’s important that the Government shows us all the evidence used to determine their actions in a time of emergency. Additionally, just under a third of Britons say that when the Government changes its course of action, it actually gives them more confidence in the way they use evidence – a stat to remember the next time there’s talk of U-turns…

The importance of the public’s beliefs and perceptions about the political use of evidence is critical

In a time of crisis, speed trumps having a complete evidence base, but only if the government is transparent about its decisions

Please read each pair of statements and decide which comes closest to your own opinion

Ipsos MORI

1,085 British adults online aged 18-75, 13 – 16 November 2020

house of parliament lit at night

The public want openness about the speed and efficacy of decision-making to be met with transparency

So, the public get it. They recognise that the current state of affairs is not ‘normal’, but they also want openness about the speed and efficacy of decision-making to be met with transparency.

That desire goes beyond just medical evidence, too. Two-fifths (41%) believe that evidence from people researching the broader social impacts of COVID-19 haven’t been listened to enough when decisions are being made. We know that the pandemic, coupled with the actions of governments worldwide to save lives, has led to a global recession. The impact that such a recession will have in the long term is clear because we have witnessed a similar, less severe recession stemming from 2008. We know that those broader impacts are hugely important, particularly to the least well-off in society.

The unprecedented events of this year have, perhaps unsurprisingly, had an impact on the public’s perception of how much the Government uses the evidence presented to it. In a year where we’ve seen and heard more from the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser than most of us ever have before, the belief that the Government pays enough attention to evidence is up eight percentage points from 2019. 

Britons have made significant sacrifices in the name of getting through this pandemic and have overwhelmingly met the restrictions placed on them by the Government. In turn, they expect their leaders to be not only decisive, but open and transparent about the plans so they can understand them. With news about potential vaccine breakthroughs, there is a faint glimmer at the end of the tunnel – but we are not there yet. There will be many complicated decisions to be made. But one thing is clear, we want them made openly.

Kelly Beaver

Kelly Beaver

Managing Director, Public Affairs