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Dutch citizen needs to have a say in approach to outbreak control

17 June 2024
Biomedical scientist Sophie Kemper studied citizen involvement in making policy on outbreak control. Her research shows that opinions and needs of Dutch citizens about their involvement in COVID-19 control differ. Some would like to be actively involved in important decisions about how we deal with outbreaks such as COVID-19. They think citizens can offer new ideas and perspectives that improve the quality of policy.

No fixed structures
Others have no desire to be more involved, and mainly want proper information about the outbreak. In general, citizens feel that the ultimate responsibility for decisions should still lie with experts. On a global scale, Kemper sees that almost no established structures have been set up to involve citizens directly in making policy on outbreak control. This could be more focused on in the future.

Outbreak control is complex
In infectious disease outbreak control, many important decisions are needed to respond fast and appropriately. Consider, for example, policies on restrictive measures. The different needs, interests and opinions involved make outbreak control a complex process. There is also often time pressure and social unrest. Despite the impact of the consequences of such an outbreak on the population, almost all decisions in the Netherlands are now made by experts and policymakers. The Dutch population mainly plays a role in the implementation of measures, but is partly of the opinion that they could be involved in policy-making.

Involving citizens
Kemper's research is a first step in involving citizens in outbreak control. In practice, this means several more steps. "So far, we have mainly focused on the needs and opinions of citizens in the Netherlands itself, but we need to sit down with other stakeholders within outbreak control, for example. Together, we can further determine how civic engagement can be shaped. In addition, it is very important for researchers on this topic, to clearly describe exactly how they approached their research: Who did they involve? How exactly? What could citizens have a say in? If this is clearly described, other researchers can learn from this."

Kemper will receive her PhD from VU Amsterdam on 1 July 2024.

Contact the VU Press Office