People need behavioural support strategies to resume activities amid COVID-19

Governments need to facilitate re-engagement while also protecting the population from infection.

The author(s)
  • Colin Strong Global Lead of Behavioural Science, Global Science Organisation, UK
Get in touch

Two in five people across 27 countries are comfortable resuming normal activities amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest Ipsos survey, but governments need to understand how to facilitate the behaviour change needed for re-engagement.

Governments globally have been highly effective in encouraging people to protect themselves and mitigate against COVID-19, with an average of four in five people (82%) polled saying they are comfortable following protective guidelines.

While this has been essential in preventing the spread of the virus, the key challenge now as countries start to relax protective measures, is how to encourage people to resume normal activities.

What can drive re-engagement?

The most important characteristics for driving comfort with re-engagement are:

  • Management of outcome expectations (help people consider the risk when they are out is low)
  • Self-efficacy (help people feel confident managing risk)
  • Routines (help people develop new patterns of behaviour)

While these were found to be important drivers, the level agreement with these characteristics indicate that governments need to work on developing them to drive comfort with re-engagement:

Key dimensions for encouraging re-engagement

% agree

Outcome expectations: Resuming normal activities after the pandemic will likely be safe


Self-efficacy: I feel confident about how to resume normal activities after the pandemic


Routines: I will be able to resume normal activities after the pandemic the same way I did before


Colin Strong, Global Lead for Behavioural Science at Ipsos, said governments need to ensure that behavioural strategies are in place that help people functionally navigate their environments, so they feel they are managing risk effectively.

“Giving people measures such as an app that provides current risk assessment based on location and activity will help,” said Strong. “People need to feel confident about their ability to navigate, including providing opportunities for people to try different protective equipment to learn how they feel and work.”

The government also needs to help people to develop effective routines such as providing mnemonics for people to remember simple guidance when they are out, he said.

What drives mitigation?

Even while there is a need to support people in their re-engagement with the economy, there remains a need to continue to encourage adherence to protective guidelines. This is the other side of the decision dilemma which requires a different approach. The key dimensions for supporting this are:

  • Emotion (feeling happy about following protective guidelines)
  • Internalisation (having personal satisfaction to follow guidelines rather than simply doing it because it is required)

The level of agreement with these dimensions indicates that governments need to work to reinforce these feelings:

Key dimensions for encouraging mitigation

% agree

Emotion: I feel happy about following these protective guidelines


Internalisation: It gives me personal satisfaction to follow these protective guidelines


In order to ensure that people continue to adhere to guidelines, behavioural strategies need to be in place that support positive emotions such as sending “well-done” emails to people who have been in lockdown.

Strong said governments also need to facilitate internalised motivation such as introducing online groups that connect people of similar risk profile to allow them to share strategies for managing lockdowns, and this differs by country.

“There is broad consistency across countries in the actions needed for people to re-engage, but there are some country differences,” said Strong “For example in France, the establishment of new routines is critical, while in South Korea it is more important for the physical environment to be set up in a way that facilitates their behaviour.”

Overall, governments have a challenging balancing act in terms of managing the need for re-engagement versus the requirement to protect the population.

It has become very clear in the course of COVID-19 that any activity to encourage mitigation or re-engaging will require an understanding of human behaviour – and our analysis shows that what drives comfort with those behaviors differ. This highlights the importance of using behavioural science not only as an effective diagnosis of behaviour, but also providing linkage through to intervention activities to help move towards desired outcomes.

These are the findings of an Ipsos survey conducted between April 24th to May 8th 2020. The survey instrument is conducted monthly in 27 countries around the world via the Ipsos Online Panel system. The countries reporting herein are Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States of America.
The author(s)
  • Colin Strong Global Lead of Behavioural Science, Global Science Organisation, UK

New Services