Thorough knowledge of behavioural and social science processes and interventions during pandemics is vitally important to an effective response during any future outbreaks. However, the available knowledge of behavioural science was not utilised to optimal effect during the COVID-19 pandemic (see e.g. The organisation of behavioural sciences during the COVID-19 pandemic: lessons learned from an international comparative case study). For that reason, the RIVM Behavioural Unit has drafted an action plan for pandemic preparedness in the Netherlands. The aim is to make better use of behavioural science in future, in the context of pandemic prevention and control. Reinforcing and systematically structuring research on behavioural science is key here. 

The main components of the action plan are: 

1. Reinforcing cooperation and knowledge sharing between society, policy and science  

In order to make better use of behavioural science in the event of a future pandemic, it is important that key stakeholders in the areas of policy, practical implementation and scientific research can easily exchange knowledge, questions and experiences. In that context, RIVM acts a knowledge broker between the government, professionals working in the field, and behavioural science knowledge and expertise in the Netherlands and abroad. To support that, the RIVM Behavioural Unit will be working to expand and sustain a strong academic network – and a network that connects key stakeholders in society. This knowledge network will contribute to 1) promoting fast, effective knowledge sharing to transfer insights from social and behavioural science to stakeholders in policy society, and 2) identifying what knowledge is needed by those stakeholders in order to more effectively align research and knowledge development accordingly.

2. Structuring a solid and current knowledge base on human behaviour and infectious disease control 

Policymakers and community professionals benefit from access to current knowledge and actionable perspective for practical application, in support of an effective response. This includes knowledge about compliance with and public support for current and future policy, effective communication about and implementation of behavioural recommendations, and monitoring potential secondary impacts of policy on aspects like mental health. To meet those needs, RIVM provides a well-structured knowledge base, which includes periodic research on behaviour and influencing factors. This includes a specific focus on specific groups that are particularly impacted by policy, or groups that are more difficult to reach through the usual communication channels during a crisis. See Gedrag, Welzijn en Vertrouwen tijdens de COVID-19 Pandemie: Trends, verklaringen en geleerde lessen (in Dutch) for an overview of lessons learned about these topics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To ensure that RIVM will be able to contribute its research on social and behavioural science in the future, with the aim of preventing and/or controlling a possible future pandemic, our researchers are working to strengthen and secure the knowledge and expertise amassed during COVID-19. We are also preparing research protocols and assessment tools and regularly updating these behavioural science resources to enable rapid scale-up in case of an outbreak.