Through the keyhole: exploring life under lockdown inside Britain’s households

This week at Blue Marble we launched our Through The Keyhole research. We will be conducting in-depth qualitative research with 15 UK households over the next 6 weeks to understand how they’re experiencing life under lockdown.

We are currently living through a period of profound instability and change. Never before in peacetime have so many modern societies shut down to the extent that we are currently witnessing. Rarely, if ever, has day-to-day life been altered so radically and so quickly for so much of the world’s population.

This small project, which we are funding ourselves, is our first attempt to apply our social research skills to understanding the non-medical dimensions of this crisis in the UK. It’s clear to us that this is a time of unprecedented behaviour change and potential habit formation – at all levels of society. From the mundane – queuing 2 metres apart to enter the supermarket – to the distressing – following news updates from around the world – few of us can have imagined just weeks ago what we are now living through.

We want to understand how our society is adapting to the new realities – from collecting supplies for neighbours to embracing video calls for the first time. How are we changing our daily routines? What are the greatest challenges we are facing? To what extent, if at all, are there any positive side-effects of the societal shutdown? And, perhaps most importantly, how are we all feeling?

Even as we embark on this study, it’s already clear to us that – unsurprisingly – different people are responding to the day-to-day realities of the coronavirus outbreak in different ways. At this early stage, we’ve sketched below some of the societal responses that we’ve observed in this and other work over the last few weeks. We’ve grouped these into a series of typologies – based on the following assumptions:

  • These are emergent. We, like everyone else, are only beginning to understand what is happening across society as a whole. We expect to refine these groupings as our research progresses.
  • The typologies are not comprehensive. There are undoubtedly attitudinal and behavioural responses that our framework does not yet capture – for example, how do key workers ‘on the frontline’ (such as nurses and doctors) feel about what is happening?
  • They are not mutually exclusive, at this stage – and an individual might move between typologies depending on factors such as their personal circumstances or mood.
  • They are based on qualitative analysis – until we conduct any quantitative research on this, we have no sense of the relative size of the groups.
  • They are time-limited – the public’s responses are likely to shift over the coming weeks and months as the pandemic evolves. Groups may grow or shrink. Some may even disappear, and we anticipate that new groups are likely to emerge.

We have written a short pen portrait for each typology, intended to bring them to life.

  1. The eternal optimists, who are naturally upbeat and focus on the positive stories connected with the outbreak – trying to cheer struggling family or friends at the same time. They’re driving new habits among their nearest and dearest – organising virtual pub quizzes and participating in online fitness classes.
  2. The exasperated deniers, who are reluctant to adjust their lives and daily routines – this might be because they think the Government’s response is overblown or because they think they are not at risk.
  3. The community spirits, who are rallying their neighbours to respond to the outbreak at a local level – whether by coordinating help for the self-isolating or promoting local businesses and charities via group WhatsApp threads.
  4. The ‘keep calm and adapt’ group, who are unsure what to make of events over the last few weeks. They don’t have strong views on the risks of the virus or the nature of the Government response – they are just doing their best to adapt to the changed circumstances.
  5. The anxious and overwhelmed, who are finding the whole situation incredibly stressful. They worry for themselves and for others, and struggle to watch the news. They may be reluctant to leave the house (but not necessarily because they are shielding / self-isolating due to pre-existing health conditions).
  6. The confused, who may not follow current affairs very closely and have struggled to keep up with the pace of societal change over the last few weeks. They may be concerned about the outbreak, but not overly so – and they don’t know enough about what is happening to prepare for further lockdown.

2nd April 2020