Universiteit Leiden

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Towards a crisis resilient society

Pandemics, terrorist attacks, environmental disasters... These are real threats, which we cannot ignore. In fact: we need to prepare better for the large-scale crises of the future. Preferably in a way that suits our lifestyle and respects our social values. Over the next ten years, an interdisciplinary team of researchers at five Dutch universities, with the help of a Gravitation grant from the Dutch Research Council, will be examining how we can make our society more crisis-proof. On behalf of the Institute of Political Science at Leiden University, Arjen Boin and Paul Nieuwenburg provide input and expertise.

Lesson from the COVID pandemic

‘An important lesson learned from the COVID pandemic,’ says crisis expert Arjen Boin, 'is that even a prosperous and well-organised society like ours can be ambushed and overwhelmed by a destructive force that seems to come out of nowhere.’ Political philosopher Paul Nieuwenburg adds: ‘Open societies must learn to deal with serious crises and take drastic measures without sacrificing their openness.’

Freedom, equality and solidarity

The researchers involved found each other in the challenge of effectively coping with crises while maintaining our freedom, equality and solidarity. ‘Coping with crises,’ explains Nieuwenburg, ‘is not only about economic, technological and medical capabilities; we must also draw on our cultural, social and governance resources.’

What fits? What works?

First, the researchers want to gain a better understanding of what works, in times of crisis. ‘We are going to look back at how societies have dealt with crises over the past two centuries and what lessons we can learn from this’, says Boin. ‘History offers numerous clues of how individuals, groups and societies have dealt with serious setbacks. And we also want to work intensively with citizens, professionals and policy makers to see what fits and what works.’

International interdisciplinary network

The second objective is to establish a lasting, international and interdisciplinary network for the study, design and application of crisis strategies. Research, education and practice will converge here. And future researchers from around the world will also find a home here.

With these objectives, Adapt! was created. This is an interdisciplinary team of researchers from five Dutch universities. The driving force is historian and terrorism expert Beatrice de Graaf (Utrecht University). Besides historians, political scientists, public administration experts, psychologists, philosophers and lawyers are also associated with Adapt! For Boin, the multidisciplinary nature of Adapt! is an important motivation: ‘By combining disciplines, we arrive at new insights.’

NWO Gravitation grant

Adapt! is facilitated by a Gravitation grant from the Netherlands Research Council (NWO). Gravity is intended to stimulate collaboration between scientists doing 'innovative and influential' research. It involves projects with a longer lead time (10 years), which are expected to 'rank among the world's best'.

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