Using an insight-led approach to tackle COVID- 19


In March 2020, Covid-19 posed the greatest single threat to health, to society and to the UK economy. In the absence of pharmaceutical solutions, UK Government was reliant on legislative, behavioural, and economic interventions to change contact patterns in the population.

By early July 2021 (the outset of So-Mo’s commission), the UK was still in lockdown and public compliance with Covid-safe behaviours was beginning to fall.

Key challenges included:

  • Plateauing vaccination uptake,
  • Reducing adherence to self isolation amongst infected individuals,
  • Reducing compliance with covid safe guidelines (seen by the public as lacking in coherence).

The Problem

For CEC, it was becoming increasingly apparent that a ‘one size fits all approach’ was not going to to keep their communities safe. Dr Matt Tyrer, Director of Public Health, and Lucie Robinson, Test Trace Contain Enable (TTCE) Programme Manager, persuaded Cheshire East Council to consider a more nuanced, agile and localised approach to managing Covid-19.

This was not without risk, to move from being reactive to proactive would require high quality insight and rapid identification of the most promising ways to influence choice and behaviour.

The Approach

So-Mo merged positive and negative test cases across Cheshire East (CE) with consumer data available data and the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), to profile the pattern of infection and transmission amongst the Cheshire East population.

It rapidly became apparent that we were facing a significant problem. The data that CEC and other local authorities were using to identify outbreaks and to target resources was biased. Looking at reported test data alone, it would have been easy to conclude that the people in CE most likely to catch Covid-19 were those from the most affluent and educated segments of the population. This was clearly not true. CEC needed a more nuanced and accurate picture of infection and transmission.

The Solution

So-Mo’s solution was to overlay multiple sources of hard data and behavioural data in order to increase reliability and provide meaningful insight on a fast changing situation.

Example data sets included:

  • Vaccination data
  • Data from the contact tracing survey (CTAS)
  • Consumer data and deprivation data
  • Behavioural data (what people actually did rather than what they reported doing)
  • A pandemic timeline that allowed us to contextualise these accounts with social, environmental, and policy levers that would have been present at the time, in this way determining the different factors which may have influenced choice and behaviour.

Rapid synthesis of multiple sources of data allowed us to provide CE TTCE:

  • A new profile of risk and vulnerability in Cheshire East.
  • A way to segment the CE population in order to deliver more tailored and targeted communications and interventions.
  • A method to determine levels of resistance to engagement and the behavioural approach for each level.
  • A set of behavioural opportunities, assessed against weighted criteria which allowed Lucie, Matt and their teams to identify which strategies they should focus on in Autumn/Winter 2021.

The Result

When CEC acted on the insights from the Behavioural Insight report, they experienced a significant uplift in testing across the county.

A behaviourally optimised approach saw testing shift from double to triple figures (42 to 553 LFT tests and 23 to 189 PCR tests).

The results were as dramatic within their schools testing programme, where on-site testing changed from the 100s from May to August to the 1000s in September and October. In addition, 1000s rather than 100s of home test kits were successfully administered.

Whilst we cannot causally link the increase in testing solely to our insights, the marked increases, particularly in communities who never came forward to test, indicate the change in approach yielded results.

The Behavioural Insight report So-Mo produced was shared with central government and used as a Covid planning tool within the Department of Health, helping to cement Cheshire East’ Council’s growing reputation as innovator and trailblazer.

Next Steps

So-Mo continue to support Cheshire East in their work to tackle direct and indirect impact of Covid.

They are leading on a trailblazing project that uses live analysis of Wastewater merged with multiple data sets to profile population level risk and vulnerability.

So-Mo have produced a geo mapping tool that shows population vulnerability to Covid ranked by small geographic areas (LSOAs).

The output, a ‘decision making tool’ facilitates intelligent decision making at the local level.

The Innovation Continues

Independent of this commission, So-Mo have continued to innovate in modelling health and behavioural data. We are now able to forecast the amount of variation in hospital bed occupancy due to Covid with 80-98% certainty (10-15 day forecast). There is no doubt that other areas would benefit from this.