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The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the biggest experiment in rapid behaviour change in the 21st century, as governments try to persuade and regulate entire populations to make huge changes to their lives for the common good. Other mass behaviour change campaigns – for example around smoking or water conservation in times of drought or waste recycling – pale in comparison.

In effect, the world has been conducting a massive natural policy experiment in what makes citizens obey or ignore a range of restrictions, with the possibility of learning from this pandemic about how governments in general, and regulators in particular, can bring about behaviour change in other times and contexts.

Recent surveys provide fascinating data, not only those conducted in Australia by BehaviourWorks Australia at Monash University (Dashboard: How are people responding to COVID-19?) but also surveys in the US, UK, Netherlands, Israel, China and Hong Kong led by Professor Benjamin van Rooij at the University of Amsterdam (How to lock down an open society) and (How to keep up social distancing after lockdown).

While there are always differences between countries and between populations depending on the stage of the lockdown restrictions, a number of findings were consistent and important.

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