Prof. Dr. med. Dr. phil. Nikola Biller-Andorno
2020 - 2022
How long are people in Switzerland willing to restrict their lives in order to contain the corona virus? Do people who like watching disaster movies react differently to precautionary measures than the rest of the population? And how do people really feel during the pandemic?
Researchers at the University of Zurich and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel have developed the online platform PubliCo to investigate these and many other questions. Their goal: to measure in real time how the population reacts to the exceptional situation and how Swiss people are coping with the corona crisis. This helps official bodies to communicate effectively with the population.
As the Corona Virus (SARS-CoV-2) continues to spread globally, causing severe human disease and death (COVID-19), citizens in Switzerland and around the world have been exposed to a range of prevention, containment and control measures, communicated by a diverse spectrum of media outlets, including information channels of governments and public health authorities but also newspapers, radio and television broadcasts, and social media platforms. During this public health emergency, official policy briefings, expert opinions, commentaries, idiosyncratic views, popular sentiments as well as dashboards, interactive maps and visuals have not only become a source of information, but also an incubator for misunderstandings, emotional responses, moral judgements, and behavioral changes in daily routines. Clearly, not all communication content is equally reliable, and citizens vary in the information sources they can or choose to access. Providing high-quality information while actively dismantling myths is a key concern for national and global health authorities, as exemplified by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) information campaigns. These efforts, however, need to be complemented by endeavors to obtain an excellent grasp of public perception in order to allow for continuous adaptations and improvement of emergency communication as well as prevention and containment strategies. Failure to communicate effectively might result in irritation, loss of trust, and suboptimal adherence to public health policies.
Against this backdrop, our project aims to develop a tool that helps tackle the “infodemic” manifested in the COVID-19 context, with a focus on a nuanced and in-depth understanding of public perception. With this tool, we intend to foster effective and tailored risk and crisis communication as well as an assessment of the risks and benefits of prevention, containment and control measures, as their effectiveness will crucially depend on public trust and cooperation.
The project adopts a trans-disciplinary multi-stakeholder approach including a participatory citizen science component. Methodologically, we propose a combination of literature and media review and analysis, and empirical studies using mixed methods. Building on real-time data and continuous data collection, our research results will be highly adaptable to the evolution of the current emergency (e.g., with respect to vaccine development). We expect the tool to be readily translatable not only to other health systems but also to other public crises, such as disaster management, refugee crises, and other public safety and civil protection scenarios, where national and international authorities will need to grapple with the development of crisis communication and intervention strategies to address public needs and interests.
- Establish PubliCo – an experimental, interactive online platform collecting data on public perception of COVID-19 and its broader implications (including psychosocial issues and care for non-COVID health conditions), as a feedback loop for policy-makers, health authorities, experts and media professionals engaged in devising and communicating public health strategies for the Swiss public.
- Design and apply custom-made toolkits (in the form of curated surveys and diary entries) to assess cognitive understanding, emotional state, behavioral dispositions, changes in social practices, and moral preferences of the public (e.g., regarding digital or personal contact tracing, priority access to a future new vaccine or social distancing of high-risk groups).
- Develop an ethics framework and recommendations for communication, citizen participation and public health interventions, including criteria for “good” communication, preconditions for trust and cooperation, as well as the role of public preferences in relation to public health policy-making and crisis management.
PubliCo in the media
- Die politische Kultur der Schweiz ist eine Stärke, die es zu nutzen gilt (Swissinfo.ch)
- Uni Zürich lanciert Umfrage-Plattform zu Coronavirus (Nau.ch)
- Medizinethikerin zum Impfzwang: «Alle haben das Recht, Gesundheitsrisiken einzugehen» (watson.ch)
- «Nicht alle sind verantwortungslos» (blick.ch)
- In der Corona-Krise am Puls der Menschen (NZZ)