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Gravitation for scientists to investigate adaptability of societies in crises

25 March 2024
The 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 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 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-theologian Rik Peels (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) state.

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.

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.”

About Gravitation
With Gravitation, the Dutch government encourages excellent research in the Netherlands. The programme is for scientific consortia that have the potential to rank among the world’s best in their field. The programme is a form of direct government research funding. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has asked NWO to realise a selection procedure for Gravitation. Gravitation is intended for consortia of scholars who conduct innovative and influential research within their professional discipline. The purpose is to encourage research programmes to achieve international breakthroughs. The consortia also make a substantial contribution to the training of talented researchers.

Contact the VU Press Office