Evaluation of COVID-19 crisis management at the University of Twente: The first phase of COVID-19 crisis

Johannes I.M. Halman, Henri Huisman

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At the request of the Executive Board of the University of Twente, a study was conducted to evaluate the management of the consequences of the first phase of COVID-19 at the University of Twente. It concerns the period from March 1, 2020 to September 1, 2020. The aim of the study is to learn lessons for the follow-up period of the COVID-19 crisis but also for other possible crisis situations that may occur in the near future at the University of Twente.

The following activities were undertaken in the process of evaluating the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis at the University of Twente (UT):
a. Document study of the minutes and decision lists made by the Central Crisis Team (CCT) and the COVID-19-CvB (C-CvB) as well as the recommendations issued by the UCB-C, the CCOZ, the CCOW and the 1.5-metre Steering Group and 1.5-metre Working Group;
b. Interviews with members of the COVID-19 crisis organisation that was set up by the UT;
c. External interviews with the Twente Safety Region and TU Delft;
d. Writing of the evaluation report on the management of the COVID-19 crisis.

After a short introduction in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 explains how the management of the COVID-19 crisis was organised at the UT. Chapter 3 provides details about five critical events that happened during the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis at the UT. Based on the results of a formal evaluation, the general conclusion that the University of Twente has been able to successfully survive and manage the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis is deemed justified. An explanation of this general conclusion can be found in Chapter 4. This report ends with Chapter 5, in which the main conclusions and recommendations are listed.

With respect to the management of the COVID-19 crisis several positive observations can be made:
- Early recognition
As early as January 2020, an HR-CES COVID-19 project group was set up to assess the possible consequences for the UT if the COVID-19 crisis reached the Netherlands. Based on the signals that the project group was able to collect, the Executive Board decided to initiate the Central Crisis Team. The first official CCT meeting took place on February 27, 2020.
- Sensemaking
Through active participation in the VSNU, the UT was well informed about national developments and imminent COVID-19 measures by the national Government, the RIVM and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The UT was also well aligned with the Twente Safety Region organisation.
- Making critical decisions
The CCT (and later also the C-CvB) were very decisive in taking a lot of effective COVID-19-related crisis measures. Particularly the decision to halt education activities for one week to prepare for the transfer towards online education worked very well. The decision to maintain various software applications (like Teams, Bluejeans, Canvas etc.) in parallel, was a wise decision in terms of creating and maintaining safety redundancy and diversity conditions.
- Orchestrating vertical and horizontal coordination
The decision to delegate operational activities by transforming the existing consultation forums UCOW, UCOZ, UCB into COVID-19-focused consultation forums CCOW, CCOZ, C-UCB appeared effective.
- Reliance on critical systems
The lockdown of the UT necessitated a switch to working from home. This made the availability of a safe working IT infrastructure a very critical system. The UT realised a successful transfer to a completely online work process and a successful transition from in person education to online education.
With the partial reopening of the UT buildings (in accordance with the RIVM guidelines by keeping 1.5 metres distance and consequently utilising only 40% of the available capacity) the UT has positively distinguished itself from the other universities in the Netherlands.
- Meaning making
The CCT (and later the C-CvB) took a clear position and a strong line by following the RIVM guidelines. This made decisions recognisable for UT employees and students. The UT community was kept informed about necessary steps being taken via regular COVID-19 briefings. The involvement of the SU in the COVID-19 briefing preparations worked very well to ensure that the briefings also provided answers that were relevant to the student community.
- Communication
The UT community was regularly informed through communication briefings. All critical decisions that were taken by CCT (and later C-CvB) were explained in the communication briefings that were sent out to employees and students. The briefings predominantly combined a factual and empathetic communication style. Reporting on education-related issues was done in close cooperation with the CCOW and SU. Employees and students were reached via email, twitter, facebook and by setting up a permanent “Coronavirus” site on the website of the UT with Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

Of course, as in any crisis that has to be managed, there are always areas for improvement. The most important suggestions for improvement are:
- The internationalisation of the UT
In the past 6-8 years the UT has undergone enormous internationalisation. As a result, cultural differences have widened. Although attention has been paid to this in the past few years, the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that for successful crisis management it is important to take into account an international frame of reference and the cultural differences within the UT community.
For example, international students and international staff members took WHO guidelines and the guidelines within their own country as their primary frame of reference and were often astonished by the RIVM guidelines that were followed and expected more severe measures.
- Follow up and implementing critical decisions
What appears somewhat remarkable, is the lack of a track and trace system to follow up the progress of decisions that were made by the CCT and later C-CvB. Implementation of such a system may prevent losing sight of the follow up and implementation of important decisions.
- Vertical and horizontal coordination
What has been missed is the involvement of the deans in the management of the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis.
A too stringent vertical approach in disseminating information risks information not being forwarded (e.g. because a programme director is on vacation). Then the target group will not be informed and will consequently be deprived of sometimes vital information.
When implementing the 1.5-metre university at the UT, a lack of horizontal coordination between faculties was observed. In meetings with the C-UCB and with deans, the Executive Board could focus on the importance of better aligning the implications of decisions taken by CCT and C-CvB. It would also be helpful if faculties share their best practices in these meetings.
- Meaning making
Too little attention was paid to alternative scenarios that could have happened and the use of external expert analyses. For example, with respect to the possible duration of the crisis and related options for action. And alternative options for UT to secure continuity of education and operations in case a serious cyberattack occurred were missing.
- Communication
Prior to the official release of important communication briefings, it is advisable to check the message with the target group regarding reasoning and clarity of the message. This will increase the support base of the message in the target group.
- A reflective attitude on decisions made
With respect to the accountability of decisions that are made or need to be made, it is also important to consider and reflect on the ethical, economic, legal, administrative and ecological consequences, not only in the short term, but also for the longer term. Reflecting and communicating on these aspects will help to better underpin and justify these decisions and will strengthen the support base within the UT community for the decisions that are made.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Twente
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)978-90-365-5159-5
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2021


  • Covid-19
  • Crisis management
  • Evaluation
  • University of Twente
  • Corona crisis


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