How to build the 'new normal' together? Eight do's and dont's from our researchers.

Social distancing in het park

The Netherlands is cautiously restarting after months of lockdown. Shaping our new society on the basis of social distancing will inevitably make great demands on our adaptability, patience, solidarity, resilience and understanding. What does it take to get things up and running again and minimise negative effects? How can we make sure that vulnerable groups aren't disproportionally affected by the Corona crisis? How can we work together to keep society functioning as smoothly as possible and at the same time prepare for the future, both socially and economically?

8 lessons for the post-pandemic society

This article provides some useful tools to help us address these challenges, based on recommendations from our researchers as shared in the media. How can we make sure the appropriate - and new - societal guidelines are effectively introduced and enforced?

Give people room to be creative; make things easier or more enjoyable.

Lesson 1: Involve people in decision-making on their own environment and minimise restrictions.

"We're developing our new social distancing-based society as we go along. Strict rules won't do us much good," as De Ridder explains in an interview with Sociale Vraagstukken. "People are only willing to permanently change their behaviour if those changes make things easier or more pleasant." As De Ridder emphasises, simply ramming rules down people's throats is counterproductive. "You need to focus on people's own creativity and input. We all know things are going to change, but we want to have a say in that process and help shape the world around us. We ultimately develop new social norms together, but that does require some nudging in the right direction. For example, personal stories that illustrate how we're dealing with the new normal can be inspiring."


Instead of appealing to people's sense of morality, try to come up with new rules for appropriate behaviour together.

Lesson 2: Moralising isn't very effective. It's better to set new rules together.

 As Ellemers explains in a BNR podcast: "If you hold someone accountable by telling them they're being amoral or antisocial, they'll go to any lengths to justify what they're doing. Unfortunately, that doesn't prime them for genuine change. It's best to hold people accountable for their actual behaviour right away." Since we're all in this together, the professor recommends turning the new rule-making process into an actual game with friends. "Agree on the new rules in advance, and maybe assign one of your friends the role of 'social distancing police officer."


Invest in prevention and make sure responsibilities in the area of care and diligence are evenly divided.

Lesson 3: Make sure tasks and responsibilities are evenly divided.

As De Graaf explains in an article in Trouw newspaper: "The media have never played such an important role before: we can keep track of every development as it happens, and share our opinions on everything. Still, it can be hard to stay vigilant, especially with all that input. We'll need to starting taking a practical approach to risks and learn to invest in prevention. We also need to find crisis management tools that reflect our open, democratic society: instruments that help us stay alert and allow us to delegate vigilance. We need to make sure that the burdens of vigilance and care are evenly divided. We'll have to learn how to practice caritas and solidaritas. Effectively adapting to this crisis will involve all sorts of day-to-day adjustments, which we'll need to get comfortable with."


We need to make sure we don't fall back into old patterns and keep dividing our tasks equally at home.'

Belle Derks
Professor of Social and organisational psychology
Lesson 4: Divide tasks equally at home.

"We always run the risk of falling back into old patterns during a crisis’" as Derks explained during a NPO Radio1 interview. "Men are expected to be the breadwinner, and women are expected to take care of the kids. Those sorts of patterns are deeply ingrained and tend to be reinforced when parents have to spend more time with their children during a crisis. As a result, women inevitably suffer both short- and long-term setbacks in terms of labour market participation. That means we need to make sure care duties at home are divided as fairly as possible." As Derks emphasises, employers also have a clear responsibility. 'Employers tend to give women more room to take on care duties at home, but don't do the same for men. It's important that we offer men the same opportunity. Furthermore, if women underperform at work during this exceptional situation due to a greater care burden at home, that doesn't mean they are less professionally capable or ambitious. In other words, employers shouldn't be drawing conclusions on the basis of this temporary situation."


'We should always leave ourselves room to improvise. We have to keep reassessing the structures that emerged during the earlier phases of this crisis, and adjust them where necessary.

Lesson 5: Facilitate improvisation in order to remain agile

"Crises lead to all sorts of improvisation and informal arrangements, which are then formalised once they prove effective. That's obviously very valuable, but it's still a good idea to periodically reassess the structures that emerged during earlier phases and adjust them where necessary", ’t Hart explains. "After all, the centre of gravity is bound to shift during a protracted cross-border crisis. This will inevitably necessitate different forms of expertise and new resources and consultative and decision-making structures. That's why it's so crucial that we facilitate and channel improvisation."


If you want behavioural interventions to be effective, you'll have to adjust your policy instruments to the situation. Nudging and testing are key in that regard.

Lesson 6: Encourage desired behaviour with a customised approach and nudging

As behavioural management expert Tummers explains, effective policy measures involve nudges (e.g the emphasising of social norms) as well as prohibitions and directives. "As recent studies have shown, this calls for a tailored approach. Social norms tend to vary depending on the relevant group and time period. However, testing is equally central to this crisis. I'm not necessarily talking about testing for coronavirus; we also need to assess the effectiveness of behavioural interventions. What worked well in previous crises won't necessarily be effective now, so don't make blind assumptions", he explains in this video for State of Science.


Make sure to issue regular reminders on the guidelines. The sharing of personal experiences can also help people cope with the current social dilemma.

Lesson 7: Regular reminders and personal stories are crucial.

As Van den Bos explains in Trouw newspaper, we are currently facing a classic social dilemma. "It's no big deal if one person doesn't stick to the guidelines. However, large groups of people ignoring the rules will cause serious problems." So how do you make sure people keep the greater good in mind? "The protracted nature of the measures is making that increasingly difficult. However, the ambiguity of the guidelines isn't exactly helping either. It isn't always clear what is and isn't allowed." Reminders are an important way of keeping us all focused on the guidelines: "For example, stick a 'keep 1.5 metres distance' sticker on your sweater, or draw a circle around yourself when you spread your blanket in the park. Another approach: tell each other what can happen if we don't keep enough distance, or share stories about the impact of coronavirus on people you know or have heard about. A good example would be the story of Edith Bosch, a former judoka who became severely ill from coronavirus despite being in peak physical condition", Van den Bos explains.


People need to have - and gain - the sense that they can make a real difference together.

Lesson 8: We are all in this together, so make sure to support and facilitate civic collectives.

Responsibility and solidarity have become widely admired qualities in a short space of time. All the more reason to devote more attention to civic collectives, as Eva Vriens, Ton Duffhues and Tine de Moor explain in De Groene Amsterdammer. "After all, these collectives have been working to reinvent civic solidarity and bridge gaps in our social safety net - in terms of care, wellbeing, mental health and community building - for a long time now." We'll have to rekindle a sense of solidarity between citizens if we want those initiatives to last. "Every future government policy should acknowledge, encourage and facilitate the short- and long-term resilience of our civic initiatives. These initiatives can help us build a new society together if we acknowledge their importance and take them seriously."


More advice from our researchers

Do you want to know more about the expertise from our researchers concerning the shaping of our new post-pandemic society? Than have a look at our research dossier on the impact of the Corona crisis or contact us. 

Dossier on the current crisis
Contact us