Gravitation grant for multidisciplinary team to investigate adaptability of societies in crises

He open society is increasingly threatened by crises such as pandemics, terrorism, floods, and earthquakes. The future of the open society depends on its adaptability to prepare for these crises. Under the name Adapt!, a team of researchers from five universities including the University of Twente will spend the next few years researching the cultural, social and policy capacities needed to deal with such crises.

During a pandemic, core values of open societies are challenged

Some communities drifted apart during the COVID-19 pandemic, while other communities remained stable throughout the crisis. What causes this? The Adapt! team will research that, as a result of obtaining the prestigious Gravitation grant worth 23 million euros from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). "During the pandemic, it became clear that the core values of open societies, such as freedom, equality, and solidarity, can become eroded," argues Adapt! leader and historian  Beatrice de Graaf  (Utrecht University). "We want to know how to prevent that and how to better respond to a crisis as a society."

Drawing lessons from the past

The Adapt! consortium consists of scholars from Utrecht University, Leiden University, Radboud University, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and the University of Twente. Together, they combine insights from psychology, history, and public administration science to find out what the determinants of successful societal crisis responses are and how communities can better adapt to future crises. Together with citizens and frontline professionals, the Adapt! consortium will translate research findings into tools and strategies that help societies navigate through crises.

Specifically, scholars from the Adapt! programme are examining how communities can find meaning in adversity, how they maintain mutual connection and solidarity, and how governments can encourage this. "By combining disciplines, we gain new insights," public administration expert  Arjen Boin  (Leiden University), psychologist  Paul van Lange , and philosopher  Rik Peels  (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) state. Social psychologist and legal scholar  Kees van den Bos  (Utrecht University) adds: "I hope the project will contribute to fairer interactions after crises."

The Gravitation Grant enables scholars to draw worldwide lessons, but also to look back at how societies have managed to navigate crises over the past 200 years. "It is history and international comparisons that provide inspiration for the present", cultural historian  Lotte Jensen  (Radboud University) and psychologist  Ellen Giebels  (University of Twente) add.

Giebels will particularly bring her psychological expertise in crisis perception and conflict management into the team. Together with Lotte Jensen, for example, she will investigate how historical knowledge and psychology reinforce each other in understanding how people respond to disruption. Other issues Giebels is involved in focus on how to turn the tide in (derailing) social conflicts and on crisis decision-making at the strategic level. Giebels: "I am very much looking forward to the direct translation of lessons learned into practice using realistic simulations."

Research begins and ends with people in the frontline

Adapt! opts for the direct involvement of experts by experience and people in the field. Public governance scholar  Scott Douglas  (Utrecht University) states: "Our work begins and ends with the professionals in the field: teachers, community policemen, mayors, and other front-line workers in times of crises. We work with them to formulate research questions based on their valuable practical knowledge and these will be used to determine together what strategies work."

Crucial to the success of Adapt! is that the programme will run longer and have a lasting impact. "We are establishing an Adapt! Academy, combining research, education, and practice," says  Myrthe van Groningen , Adapt! project manager. "In the Adapt! Academy,  we bring people together, translate knowledge into action, and train a new generation of scholars that can continue this line of research in the future."

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