Increasing social inequality, tensions between ethnic and religious communities, polarization, radicalization, new forms of crime and cybercrime, health care reforms and the refugee crises: these are some of the many challenges we as a society and as individuals are facing today. These challenges are so complex, however, that it is necessary to bring together different perspectives, knowledge and insights from daily practice as well as different scientific disciplines.
The Institute for Societal Resilience (ISR) links the academic expertise of researchers from the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS) with the experience of professionals from the field in expertise labs. On the one hand, these collaborations provide a scientific perspective on the complex dynamics of societal challenges. On the other hand, the expertise labs produce concrete starting points to improve policies, protocols and/or intervention techniques that can be used to tackle specific problems.
We can only achieve new scientific insights and formulate adequate answers which do justice to this complex reality by combining different perspectives and specializations. The Institute for Societal Resilience (ISR) of the Vrije Universiteit therefore strives to establish partnerships with the government, various industries, other academic institutions and societal organizations.
In addition to the cooperation with various societal partners, the ISR unites scientists from within the various social scientific disciplines. This multidisciplinary approach is essential to describe, interpret, analyze and achieve new insights for the complex challenges that society is facing today. The success of this multidisciplinary approach is illustrated by the various research projects, such as the Refugee Academy.
The concept of 'resilience' is not easy to capture. It includes elements of flexibility and adaptability, but also strength, durability, and one’s ability to recover from setbacks. In our approach to societal challenges, we think it is important to keep all these aspects in mind.
We start from the notion that a society is resilient when individuals (micro), groups and organizations (meso) and societies (macro) are able to survive and adapt in times of adversity, threats, disasters and wars and most importantly are able to find a way (back) towards a well functioning or even better social system and a healthy society.
We distinguish three main contributing factors to the resilience of a societal system:
- being aware of existing threats and making sure they can be discussed openly;
- the ability to offer a sense of purpose or meaningfulness, even in a threating situation and/or after a traumatic event;
- being creative in existing patterns of behaviour and improvising in dealing with changing conditions.