5. Uneasy relationship made uneasier? Research, innovation and Covid-19

Convenors: Maria Karaulova, Henning Kroll, Trust Saidi and Richard Woolley.

Session type: Full paper and speed talks sessions.

Understanding the processes, the effects and the long-term consequences of Covid-19 will be in the focus of STI research in the next years. This track invites contributions that inspect the interfaces between research, innovation, and the pandemic. We welcome a wide thematic range of submissions, in particular, contributions related to policy and governance. The studies could address, but are not limited to the following questions:

How has Covid-19 pandemic exposed and aggrevated the dysfunctions in and between research and innovation?

Market failures, tensions, barriers and conflicting incentives between science, industry, government, and civil society have long been in the focus of STI policies. The urgency of the pandemic highlighted that too many of these problems are not only deeply entrenched, but also adversely affect our ability to address the challenge of Covid-19 

For example, in response to the increased demand for scientific knowledge, some journal publishers (temporarily and partially) lifted paywalls and sped up peer review, only this to result in political decisions being made based on papers that were published, but quickly retracted (Soltani and Patini, 2020)There is no lack of examples from the innovation side. One is the mRNA technology, which was developed back in 1978, but has only attracted enough investment to be brought to market for the first time in the new Covid-19 vaccine (Hajj and Whitehead, 2017; Garde and Saltzman, 2020). The pandemic crisis has therefore opened up new avenues to analyse some of the persisting failures of e.g. current scientific publishing and technology transfer institutions and the adverse societal effects they are causing 

How should tensions between short-term crises and long-term challenges be resolved?

The pandemic has already caused the biggest global economic shock in a century. When planning for the recovery, discussions are unfolding about the influence of the pandemic on the ability of the countries and regions to address major societal challenges. On the one hand, pandemic conditions have led to stark accumulation of plastic waste (Adyel, 2020), and the initial reduction in carbon emissions is likely to rebound as well (OECD, 2020a). Although policy responses to economic shocks usually try to stabilise incumbent industries, some governments have used Covid-19 recovery measures to advance the sustainability agenda (Rosenbloom and Markard, 2020). The STI community is in the position to suggest how post-pandemic recovery could be reconciled with the need to maintain focus on key societal challenges and missions.  

How can pandemic-related phenomena be investigated from the STI perspective?

There is also an urgent need to understand the R&I-relevant empirical processes accompanying the pandemic: how is the body of research related to Covid-19 growing? What is the role of citizen science and bottom-up initiatives in the production, transfer and impact of useful knowledge about the pandemic? What are the stories of success and failure of innovations in e.g. biomedical sectors? What are the effects of the pandemic on technology adoption and digitalisationWhich factors influence government responses to the pandemic? What are the lessons from the ‘vaccine race’? 


Invited submission formats  

We invite submissions relevant to the themes above in the following formats:  

  • Traditional academic presentations – session and individual paper submissions. The submissions should either study Covid-19 pandemic or phenomena where Covid-19 is a very significant factor in the research design. 
  • Speed talk papers for the works in progress.



Adyel, T.M. (2020), “Accumulation of plastic waste during COVID-19”, Science, Vol. 369 No. 6509, pp. 1314–1315.

Garde, D. and Saltzman, J. (2020), “The story of mRNA: How a once-dismissed idea became a leading technology in the Covid vaccine race”, Stat News, 10 November, available at: https://www.statnews.com/2020/11/10/the-story-of-mrna-how-a-once-dismissed-idea-became-a-leading-technology-in-the-covid-vaccine-race/ (accessed 10 December 2020).

Hajj, K.A. and Whitehead, K.A. (2017), “Tools for translation: non-viral materials for therapeutic mRNA delivery”, Nature Reviews Materials, Vol. 2 No. 10, p. 15.

OECD (2020a), COVID-19 and the low-carbon transition: Impacts and possible policy responses, available at: http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/covid-19-and-the-low-carbon-transition-impacts-and-possible-policy-responses-749738fc/.

Rosenbloom, D. and Markard, J. (2020), “A COVID-19 recovery for climate”, Science, Vol. 368 No. 6490, p. 447.

Soltani, P. and Patini, R. (2020), “Retracted COVID-19 articles: a side-effect of the hot race to publication”, Scientometrics, pp. 1–4.