On 30 September 2021, the Austrian and Belgian National Public Health Institutes Gesundheit Österreich GmbH (GÖG) and Sciensano organised a session at the European Health Forum Gastein with the title ‘Datademic, Data-decision-behaviour: A consolidated approach?’. The topic was chosen to highlight the process from data to decision to behaviour and is linked to the EU project PHIRI (Population Health Information Research Infrastructure).
The discussion on the complex relationship between health data/ information, policy and behaviour, and how better data can ultimately lead to better decisions was moderated by Josep Figueras, Director of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies and facilitated by Claudia Habl, Head of International Affairs and Consultancy Department at GÖG. Josep Figueras pointed out that during the COVID pandemic, the aligned processes from data-decision-behaviour are more streamlined and ‘evidence, policy and politics becomes one’. And while evidence takes time to become solid, in an uncertain environment such as during this pandemic, decisions may have to be taken more quickly than evidence is available.
David Novillo Ortiz, Regional Adviser on Data, Metrics and Analytics, WHO Regional Office for Europe, focused in his keynote on the complexity of data in decision making processes. He pointed out that ‘it is not about having a lot of data; it is about having good quality data obtained with robust health data systems’. And, instead of – as it is the trend - digitalising ‘broken data systems’, the focus should rather be on fixing these systems first.
Four speakers gave short inputs to their views on ‘datademic’ representing each one of the main actors in the process.
- For the Researchers’ Perspective Christina Pagel, Professor of Operational Research at the University College London elaborated on the researcher’s role in times of uncertainty and diverging expert opinions. She sees the problem ‘isn’t so much disagreement under uncertainty, but that for some, positions become entrenched and do not change when more certainty emerges’.
- For the Decision makers’ perspective Daniels Pavluts, Minister of Health of the Republic of Latvia stressed the importance to protect and promote those experts that are trusted by the population. ‘Political decisions should follow expert advice’. To restore trust in decision making processes, which can be done by full transparency and acknowledgement of failure and learning, is crucial to really get in touch with the population.
- From a communication perspective, Melanie Carr, Head of Stakeholders & Communication Division at the European Medicines Agency showed that “evidence takes time” and stories change. The contact with the people, thus, is most important to her. That is why EMA is listening to people’s concerns in specific meetings and lets users test public information issued.
- For the behavioural perspective, Marijn de Bruin, Chief scientist at the Corona Behavioural Unit of the Dutch National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) gave insights to the importance of behavioural research to understand how the process from data to behaviour works. He highlighted the crucial role of monitoring behaviour and its determinants. Yet, ‘there is still a long way to go’ in integrating behavioural aspects in research.
A discussion around how to restore trust in data and decisions evolved at the end of the session. Herwig Ostermann, Executive Director at GÖG stressed the necessity to have mutual acceptance for the different roles of experts and politicians. ‘Scientific advise should not be mistaken by policy makers as decision-making and researchers have to respect that political trade-offs are sometimes necessary’. By being ‘transparent on data sharing, on uncertainties and on our own misjudgement and errors’ and by being more European again, he is convinced that more trust in the decisions made can be achieved, finally resulting in behavioural changes by the population recreating solidarity.
The recording of the session will be made available soon on the EHFG's website. Stay tuned!