UBC researchers announce public deliberation to provide input to COVID-19 public policy

Team will seek input from hundreds of citizens in an online deliberation series

UBC researchers are looking to bring the public’s voice to the next phase of COVID-19 public policy through an online deliberation series and ask for the public’s help by volunteering to share their thoughts.

“As governments begin easing restrictions on social distancing and business closures imposed as a result of the global pandemic, it’s critical that decision-makers understand public perception of COVID-19 policies. That’s why we launched our online deliberation Public Input into Pandemic Planning,” says Kim McGrail, professor of population and public health and director of research at UBC Health.

McGrail stresses that the results of their research will be openly available to decision-makers and the public in BC and across Canada and she hopes it can help shape COVID-19 policy going forward.

The first topic up for discussion, she says, is the potential benefits and drawbacks of contact tracing apps.

“Deliberation is foundational to our democratic process and public input into BC’s evolving COVID-19 response is essential,” says McGrail. “If governments are to make sound policy decisions that garner broad public support, they need public input. In this unprecedented era of global pandemic, public engagement in policy making is more important than ever.”

The multi-disciplinary, internationally-renowned deliberation team is led by McGrail in collaboration with Michael Burgess from UBC’s Okanagan campus, Stuart Peacock from Simon Fraser University and Kieran O’Doherty from the University of Guelph.

Over the past 15 years, they have conducted 25 public deliberations on crucial policy issues like cancer drug funding, biobanks and data protection. Their work is widely published and has informed policies and laws, changed professional practices, and transformed how research and clinical activities are governed.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has shifted their unique model of deliberative engagement online, embracing the necessity of video conferencing technology despite many challenges, says Burgess, professor of ethics and Associate Provost, Strategy at UBC Okanagan.

“We knew it was important to get public input on the next phase of the pandemic response in BC because it will have a profound impact on people’s lives, and we knew we needed to do it quickly,” explains Burgess. “But we also had to follow the physical distancing protocol recommended by the Public Health Officer. That meant rapidly adapting our deliberative method and moving online.”

He adds that incorporating technology into the deliberative process can bring challenges of accessibility and diversity.

“Some people might lack technical skill or comfort with expressing their view online or publicly; others might not have a device or an internet connection, which could exclude people based on age, income or ability,” says Burgess.

According to McGrail, the team has addressed those issues by reaching out to community groups and encouraging them to host their own deliberations, or assist their community members to participate.

“We carefully designed this deliberation so we can use it over and over again in different places and with different questions. We hope this will be the first of many deliberative public engagements that provide input to pandemic policy.”

People can volunteer to participate in an online deliberation until Friday, May 22 at: www.chspr.ubc.ca/covid

They can also host their own Community Conversation and contribute to the policy discussion. A Community Conversation Kit, with all the materials needed to run a deliberation from home, can be found at:www.chspr.ubc.ca/covid

About UBC’s Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC-ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities-the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

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