In late March 2020, RIVM founded the Corona Behavioural Unit. The Netherlands had entered the first phase of the pandemic and a lockdown seemed inevitable. There was a growing awareness that behavioural change was an important key to limiting the spread of the virus. However, expertise from the behavioural sciences had not yet been incorporated into the national crisis structure.  

The National Core Team for Crisis Communication (NKC) and RIVM gathered experts who managed to set up a new team within a single week: the RIVM Corona Behavioural Unit. The unit had a research programme, initial funding, an independent Scientific Advisory Council (WAR) and collaborative ties with the various Municipal Public Health Services (GGDs) in the Netherlands.  

But how to tackle a huge issue such as the pandemic if nobody has ever experienced anything like it? While it is true that the behavioural sciences provide a solid foundation for monitoring and supporting behaviour, well-being and public confidence, both the scope and dynamics of the crisis and the required decision-making were unprecedented. Designing a strategy while no behavioural science unit even existed within RIVM proved a phenomenal challenge.  

Efficient working methods have been developed and a lot of research has been conducted since then. The behavioural insights yielded by that research have been translated into key areas of focus for communication and policy. In this way, the Behavioural Unit has provided and explained reliable national and regional figures on developments in level of support, well-being, confidence in policy measures among citizens and organisations, and vaccination readiness – and has done so with great regularity. The results have been used to answer questions from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS), the government, the National Core Team for Crisis Communication (NKC), the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), Municipal Public Health Services (GGDs), municipal authorities, the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) and the national media.