New Common Tilburg University

Coronavirus crisis calls for a new “together,” the new common

Professors provide insight into the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

How does the new common influence our society, now and later?

TilburgU & Co

On Saturday September 19, the imposing LocHal was the setting for the book presentation of The New Common: How the Covid-19 Pandemic is Transforming Society by initiators Emile Aarts, Hein Fleuren, Margriet Sitskoorn and Ton Wilthagen. In line with the context of the new together, the vast majority of the audience attended the talk show from a distance via video.

Book 'The New Common: How the Covid-19 Pandemic is Transforming Society'

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In thematic rounds, a varied group of scientists and representatives of companies, government organizations, and social institutions gather at the table. Led by Simone van Trier and Nathan de Groot, they talk to each other at an appropriate distance.

The kick-off for the debate is for two initiators of the book, Ton Wilthagen and Margriet Sitskoorn. They exchange ideas with Tilburg Mayor Theo Weterings and President of Interpolis, Chantal Vergouw.

New Common - Elbow bump - Margriet Sitskoorn

We have to enter into new social interactions with each other, choose new ways of working

A book with a mission as a starting point

Ton Wilthagen starts with the book's mission to sketch a positive perspective for the new together, not to be confused with the imposed rules of the new normal. "We look towards accepting a new together. We don't want to focus on what can't be done right now. With this book, we are starting a program of thinking and doing, and, as a university, we want to contribute to an action perspective for society. The book is a snapshot; the program develops from this point." Margriet Sitskoorn emphasizes that the choice for a positive starting point is a conscious one. "We are looking for a bright future together, without denying reality. We have to enter into new social interactions with each other, choose new ways of working. And a great appeal is also made to our own abilities to do the right thing. Our brains have to adapt to this as well."

"It is important that we continue to experience support"

Theo Weterings and Chantal Vergouw are the first ones to receive the books. Theo Weterings thanks the university for its efforts to put this topic on the agenda in this way. He also gives his vision on how the city of Tilburg is doing. "The city is doing well, but people are struggling with the measures and with their own behavior. The rules we have to abide by are unnatural. It is not in line with how we behave as people, but still it's important that we as a government continue to deliver that message. I myself am curious how long we can keep this up and what we as a government can do to keep motivating people. After all, we don't know when it will be over. And it is also important for us as administrators that we continue to experience support. If science thinks along with us about this in order to travel this the long way properly, then that's good for society".

The New Common  - Mayor of Tilburg

"The city is doing well, but people are struggling with the measures and with their own behavior"

Chantal Vergouw says on behalf of Interpolis that it is good that Interpolis embraced the new way of working a long time ago. "Trust plays an important role in this fluid situation. But we too are searching, there is uncertainty and employees do not always feel good. From the current situation, we are not going towards a re-start but to a re-set. What is the beckoning perspective and what do we have to do about it? I am curious how we can learn from science to embrace the situation, as a basis for progress."



The theme of generations is addressed. The following people join in:

  • Loes Keijsers - Associate professor of Developmental Psychology
  • Robin Pierce - Associate professor of Data Protection and Privacy
  • William Harris Duke - Student Tilburg University
  • Lian Smits – Board member STERK HUIS

Question what young people need

Current developments have made the dividing lines between population groups more visible. In the book, Loes Keijsers and Robin Pierce focus specifically on adolescents,and how we can meet their developmental needs.
Loes Keijsers: "This important life phase is the foundation of life, on which adults depend as well. Young people need space from their parents, good education with committed teachers. And young people cannot live without friends and good social contacts. My plea is to teach adolescents explicitly to deal with stress and to teach them how they can continue to develop themselves, even now. And in order to provide them with those resources, it is necessary that we ask them themselves what they need."

Everyone is vulnerable

Robin Pierce makes the link with vulnerable target groups. "Everyone is vulnerable, not just the vulnerable, i.e., the elderly or the disabled. Vulnerability is not just about getting sick of the virus. It's also about the consequences of the virus. Think of depression, fear of losing your job, and you name it. We have to ask ourselves: what can we do to make it easier for everyone in the current and future situation?”

Development-oriented lockdown

Lian Smits of Sterk Huis sees the number of applications from people in need of support increase again. "We as a Sterk Huis did not close; the vulnerability of the target groups did not and will not allow this. From day one, we took that responsibility, within the possibilities that existed. In the current circumstances, the vulnerability of people becomes much clearer, for example in situations where home education fails. If you have fewer opportunities, that becomes more visible now. We really have to do something about that. As a human being, you learn and develop by interacting with other people. We should not lose sight of the lack of this. It is necessary that we look at a development-oriented lockdown. ”

Free will taken away

As a student with American roots, William Harris Duke misses many important moments because he is not allowed to travel or does not want to take the risk. "I can't see my family members now, can't go to a wedding or funeral abroad. My free will has been taken away from me. The uncertainty that we do not know the future is very difficult for me." As a member of student party SAM he sees that the intake of international students to Tilburg is much less and that international students come from countries that are much closer than usual. “The restrictive measures inhibit us in the social contacts we really need. Young people are looking for other ways to meet each other. We have to keep talking about that, the need to meet offline is still there. Positive effects are that you can easily take classes online elsewhere in the world, so the world is smaller in that respect. But attending online lectures cannot compete with living in another culture for a semester. That is fundamentally different.”


The theme of health is addressed. The following people join in:

  • Petri Embregts - Endowed professor on living with a mental disability
  • Katrien Luijkx – Full professor of Elderly Care
  • Bart Berden - Chair of the Board Elizabeth/TweeSteden Hospital
  • Benjamin Langman - Sports physiotherapist, Board member Sports Medical Center

Target group that must remain visible

Petri Embregts outlines the situation for people with intellectual disabilities: The impact is huge. For weeks, we interviewed people, parents, and care professionals about their experiences with COVID-19 in the present time. There was a lot of solidarity, but the social relations of mentally disabled people are still under a lot of pressure. There is fear of the pandemic, fear of being infected, and fear about things these people cannot understand. Parents have taken their children back home from 24-hour care out of fear and love. We see that there is a need to have an honest conversation with each other about topics such as responsibility and developing e-health solutions. I think it is important that the group of people with intellectual disabilities remains visible. That people continue to see how big the impact is on their lives, so that togetherness is created also among young people and that everyone understands why we do what we do."

Autonomy of the elderly taken away

Katrien Luijkx outlines the situation of the elderly. "Elderly people in nursing homes no longer had any choices. Because of the measures, they were no longer allowed to function autonomously. This is distressing, especially because there was no more freedom of choice. It is important that we now start listening and talking to them again. We cannot decide about them without consulting them.”

The group versus the individual

As a physiotherapist, Benjamin Langman was quickly looking for alternatives when he was only allowed to see patients out of medical necessity: "After all, you want to help. Until recently, e-health was an issue for health insurers and reimbursements. And athletes weren't really open to it either. The processes were accelerated. In recent years, we have also seen that there is a taboo on choosing the group interest over the control of the individual. That remains an exciting subject.”

Sustain solidarity for a long time

This is also the opinion of Bart Berden as hospital administrator. "I'm worried. We barely managed to process the first wave and the new challenge is just around the corner now that the number of hospital admissions is increasing again. In the new together, the theme is solidarity and compassion. Due to the circumstances, we took a step away from the importance of the individual. By now that has gone. Solidarity is a controversial subject and it is difficult to sustain for long. It also ties in with scarcity in care. The autonomy of the patient is important, but with scarcity, it is also important to dare to look at the bigger picture, the group. This is a delicate subject, but we can't escape it. ”

Digital transformation

The theme of digital transformation is addressed. The following persons join in:

  • Kenny Masters - Researcher Management and Information Systems
  • Max Louwerse – Full professor of Cognitive Psychology and Artificial Intelligence
  • Merwin de Jongh - CEO Building Blocks
  • Jantien Borsboom - Project manager Digilab LocHal

Data to make choices

Kenny Meesters explains how much information we have at our disposal. "We have developed apps and dashboards to monitor the crisis, but a second development is important. How are we going to make it clear that data is there to help people make good choices? If we are going to share information with each other in a good way, we can move from repressive crisis thinking to helping people make sensible, individual choices. It is a challenge to make sure that things are clear. That is a basic need. Only when that is in order can people actually think about the long term."

Endless possibilities

Max Louwerse explains: "I do not want to accept the new normal in education. I have a lot of respect for everyone who works with it in the current circumstances, but it is not how it should be. Even as a scientist, I don't know what the final goal is. Data science and artificial intelligence are great tools with endless possibilities. And we don't think about those possibilities enough yet. But that's exactly what we have to do now.”

Skills to participate

Jantien Borsboom explains: "In our programs in the library, we look at how we can help people deal with the new reality. How do you deal with all those new skills you need? How do you form an opinion about all the data that comes your way? Digital transformation is an opportunity to involve people in the discussion. Here in the library, we can invite people to take part in the discussion so that they can play a role in the whole.”

Dates to change the practice

Merwin: "The subject of data is under a magnifying glass, but it's not new. The trick is to use data to change or direct practice. Data science is not an end, but a means. We can use it to give people personal information and thus help them. If data has value for you personally, there is no data fatigue about abstract graphs and predictions. We have developed technology to help ourselves, let's use it. In this way, we create time and space to help the vulnerable in society.”


The theme of participation is addressed. The following people join in:

  • Conny Rijken – Full professor of Human Trafficking and Globalization
  • Tim Reeskens - Associate professor of Sociology
  • Esmah Lahlah - Alderwoman for Labor Participation and Social and Economic Security Tilburg Municipality
  • Carina Kruijsse – Board member SMO Traverse

Don't become cynical

Conny Rijken gives an explanation about labor migration. "Western countries are dependent on labor migrants, for example in the agricultural world. This has been proven again in the current circumstances. In addition, the poor working and living conditions have once again become clearly visible. The drive to improve these kinds of issues is mainly economic. That simply carries more weight. It is wiser to embrace this fact and act upon it, than to be cynical about it.”

Building bridges

Tim Reeskens sees this from a sociological perspective: "People's values remain the same, even in a time of crisis like the present. We can see that views on politics have changed considerably. Many people want a strong leader. And because they all want that, people are getting closer to each other. We see this as a time effect and estimate that political views will change again and people will get further apart again".

As alderwoman Esmah Lahlah sees much of Tilburg's society: "The dichotomy in the city is worrying. There are large groups of talented people who are vulnerable and therefore hit hard. There is a lot of loneliness among the young and old. Children have educational disadvantages. The fact is that you need each other, that knowledge and innovation are needed. Just like commitment from everyone, so that a new society grows in which really everyone can participate. I recognize the value that is given to the economic interest, which was just mentioned. I think we have to look differently at what an economic interest really is. It's not only about money and profit, but also about investing in people, giving them security of existence and offering them perspective. Because that pays off. It is necessary to look beyond the short-term interest and not fall back into old reflexes as a society. In the beginning, you saw fantastic neighborhood initiatives and aid actions. Now that's gone. We really need to see how we can hold on to this kind of solidarity.

Carina Kruijsse has seen many homeless people in Tilburg struggling with the circumstances: "If you don't have a home and you don't have an indoors, while according to the government you have to stay in your home, that's tough. Nevertheless, our clients have shown a great deal of flexibility, and they have taken control themselves. But of course they did miss their structure, for example because we had to make choices in our day care activities. The number of homeless people in the Netherlands is growing, many people are left behind, and in coronavirus time, that group has grown. If we don't start looking at this together now, it will only get worse. As Traverse, we have called on our cooperation partners in Tilburg to work together in prevention, early detection, more creative housing solutions, and more appropriate care for people in a homeless situation. For 50 homeless people, we want to have found a home again by July 1, 2021."

Look ahead to “how to go from here”

In conclusion, the presentation duo turns once again to Ton Wilthagen and Margriet Sitskoorn and asks them to look back at the afternoon and look ahead to “how to go from here.”

Ton Wilthagen: "You can see everyone's desire to have contact offline. At the same time, we also conclude that the use of online tools has a lot more potential and that we can achieve an enormous scope with them. It offers a lot of perspective. And at the same time, bringing back offline life requires a solid piece of social engineering.

"We would like to continue this new common in a programmatic way and in co-creation with society"

We see the vulnerabilities of our society more clearly than ever, a vaccine does not solve that. In the first few months, everyone was willing to do anything; that is something deep inside people. The fact that people are no longer able to keep it up is also due to the fact that there is not always more room to show solidarity. Life at home continues, everyone is working. Our priorities have changed. We still have the desire for solidarity. In order to guarantee it, we have to institutionalize it. In addition, we need to move towards a broader notion of prosperity. In the old economy, things of value had a price. And nowadays only everything with a price has value. We really need to take a broader view of that. About this afternoon: this is the new common of Tilburg, here in the LocHal. We would like to continue this new common in a programmatic way and in co-creation with society.

Margriet Sitskoorn concludes: "We started this project with a book as a starting point. Everyone wants to participate; there is a lot of knowledge and more than enough talents. We therefore make an appeal: apply your knowledge to the new situation so that we can build something together. We can move forward together and that is exactly what we are doing now.”

The 'New Common'

The corona crisis has compounded major societal challenges. Tilburg University shares knowledge and insights to reshape our society. We are happy to discuss this New Common.