Margarida Matos is the Face of Science leading the Behavioural Science Task Force. The Task Force is a voluntary multidisciplinary team, putting behavioural sciences at the service of public policy, in order to improve the management of the pandemic.
The Behavioural Science Task Force is an initiative by the Ministry of Health the Prime-Minister’s Cabinet and the Portuguese Psychologists Association. The project was created with the aim of making the best knowledge about Behavioural Sciences available to authorities at a time when we are looking for the best way to manage the pandemic.
The team, consisting of five psychologists, an anthropologist and a doctor, was appointed in March and has been working on several fronts since then to help the Prime Minister’s Office take the best health protection measures.
Learn more about the Behavioural Science Task Force through the words of Margarida Gaspar de Matos, the “Face of Science” of the School of Human Kinetics in Oeiras who aims to put behavioural sciences at the service of the country and the management of the pandemic.
When and in what context did the idea of creating the Behavioural Science Task Force come about?
The relevance of behavioural sciences in public policy has been evident for years. The Portuguese Psychologists’ Association (OPP) started a working group which I was a part of and which pioneered this idea and this discourse between Science and Public Policies in Portugal.
The Behavioural Science Task Force is an initiative by the Ministry of Health, the Prime Minister’s Office (GPM) and the OPP.
The urgency of finding a better way of managing the pandemic, combined with the fact that there are collaborations between Behavioural Sciences and Public Policies in other countries, triggered the possibility of proposing the project to Portugal. We were appointed in March and will hold office until the end of the year.
What are the purposes and benefits of the Behavioural Science Task Force?
The Task Force advises the GPM based on Behavioural Sciences. It has neither a deliberative nor an executive mission. The basic idea is to make the findings of Behavioural Sciences available to Public Policies, in this case, to improve the management of the pandemic.
Firstly, we identify, monitor and manage individual and collective risk and protective behaviours in relation to the pandemic. We make recommendations in order to help citizens make decisions that best promote their health and the health of others.
Alongside this, we identify and manage living contexts (home, employment, schools, street, events, catering) to make them more “friendly”, seeking to facilitate health protection decisions.
Then, we seek to optimise the way messages are communicated to the population, in order to maximise their clarity, simplicity, friendliness and pleasantness, so as to encourage citizens to comply with them.
We also make a systematic study of national and international literature. This study produces Factsheets and Policy briefs which address the various relevant topics, allowing us to anticipate some issues and make recommendations. As with the previous tasks, there is a study of compilation, observation and listening and, where possible, the use of empirical research.
Finally, we identify good practices in behaviour management, contexts and health communication.
What are the main initiatives of the Behavioural Science Task Force?
We are five psychologists, an anthropologist and a doctor. The mission that we have agreed to carry out, under my coordination, operates on a voluntary basis. This is one of the situations that would not be sustainable in a future Behavioural Sciences Observatory, due to the effort it involves and the logistical difficulty of some basic procedures and consequent effectiveness.
We began four months ago, and since then we have tried two different approaches. One of them: acting very quickly. Trying to establish synergies with all relevant agencies and personalities in this sector in order to reduce noise, waste and maximise efficiency.
We involve our own teams, from our Faculties, in support of this mission. On a weekly basis, we prepare a document for each line of work, which we forward to the GPM. Our aim is to have immediate and practical use, to optimise the management of the pandemic.
The second approach: the medium term. We try to be up to date on all the research that is going on and make brief synopses of scientific evidence, to regularly provide the GPM with the best that current Science has to offer. Besides the GPM, we also collaborate with several government departments, universities, IPSS, media, among others.
What are the expectations created by citizens regarding the Behavioural Science Task Force?
Our work is what I usually call “a huge invisible job”, because much of what we do is not communicated directly to society, but through GPM decisions.
I think that in the coming years, as is already happening in other countries, an organisation based on Behavioural Sciences will be favoured by Public Policies.
Not only for Pandemic management, but in other equally important situations, such as in Education, Health or Work, to give some examples. On that day, a structure like this will undoubtedly have more visibility.
What have you taken away from the work of the Behavioural Science Task Force since its creation and how do you see its future?
With five months to go before the end of the term, we have everything in place to continue. It has been a huge challenge, and one which we have prepared ourselves for throughout a lifetime of study and research, and the Country needs all of us.
We haven’t even had time to put everything in order, since the health emergency called for a quick response, but we have been carrying it out to the best of our knowledge and with all our dedication.