Data for Flexible Pandemic Management

Coronavirus-relevant data can help those in charge of pandemic management at UZH gain a better overview of the situation during the Fall Semester. In order to achieve this, students and staff are being asked to make their data available in anonymized form. The information will be evaluated as part of a scientific pilot project.

Nathalie Huber

Data Donation
Data Donation
Students and employees can provide their Corona-relevant data for UZH's pandemic management as part of a pilot project. (Image: Datenkooperation CH)


The Delta variant is rapidly spreading across Switzerland and the number of cases is increasing daily. Will we soon be seeing a return to stricter coronavirus measures? This is a question the University of Zurich is grappling with too. At the moment, the path looks clear. According to current plans, courses will take place face-to-face in the coming Fall Semester and staff will largely be working on site again from end of August.

"Under adherence to the regional and national guidelines, we aim to provide students and staff with a place of learning and employment that is as safe as possible," says Steve Jürkel, head of the pandemic task force at UZH. In order to ensure this and to gain reliable data for informed planning, the Executive Board of the University of Zurich has commissioned Anne Scherer, professor of quantitative marketing at UZH and the UZH task force for pandemic management around Steve Jürkel with conducting a scientific study. Assisted by the Risiko-Dialog Foundation, which Anne Scherer is collaborating with, the team aims to establish whether, and to what extent, Switzerland's population is prepared to make their data available in crisis situations such as the current pandemic. To this end, they have formed the consortium 'Datenkooperation CH' and have already carried out a preliminary study (see box).

Both parties benefit

Pandemic planning at UZH is now the first real case scenario against which Anne Scherer can evaluate the results of her preliminary study. "Our pilot project aims to establish whether, in this concrete case, UZH members are willing to make their coronavirus relevant data available for pandemic management." Meanwhile for Steve Jürkel and the pandemic task force, it is important to gain access to concrete data for informed planning and implementation of the coming semester. So both parties will benefit.

To date, the Executive Board of the University has not had access to any personal coronavirus relevant data. This may now change, if UZH students and staff provide their data as part of this scientific pilot project. The data may provide guidance in dealing with specific questions, such as: Can courses take place on site without protective measures? How many users are likely to be frequenting communal rooms such as canteens and cafeterias? What percentage of the UZH community is vaccinated and how many people are in a coronavirus risk group?

Data cannot be traced back

The data provided by UZH members will only be made available to the UZH pandemic task force in aggregate and anonymized form. "Tracing the data back to individual persons will not be possible. We have invested a great deal of time to clarify the conditions regarding data protection law and to define the ethical requirements," says Anne Scherer (see box on methodology).

Situation-centered decision making

The data collected by the pilot project will enable the UZH crisis task force to gain a more accurate insight into the situation at UZH on an ongoing basis and respond to pandemic developments with greater flexibility. "The information will allow us to make more targeted decisions – provided, of course, that a representative number of students and staff take part in the pilot project," says Steve Jürkel.

How to support UZH with your data

Staff and students will be emailed an invitation from UZH to participate in the pilot project "Data for flexible pandemic management".

Those taking part will complete an initial questionnaire (duration around eight minutes) and will subsequently participate in a short online survey regulary until the end of December. The survey takes around four minutes to complete and contains questions regarding the individual's state of health, vaccination status and time spent at UZH. The survey is managed by the external research institute Intervista.

All information provided in the questionnaire is processed by Intervista and is only analyzed and passed on to UZH in aggregate or anonymized form. Following termination of the project, Intervista will delete the data.

Participants will have complete transparency on how their data is used and will be regularly informed of the findings. See: Terms of participation and information on data protection.

Anne Scherer's preliminary study

Professor Anne Scherer's empirical preliminary study was carried out jointly with the consortium 'Datenkooperation CH'. Alongside UZH professor Anne Scherer and her doctoral candidate Claudia Wenzel, the consortium includes the Risiko-Dialog Foundation and the organization Swiss Data Alliance. In its preliminary study, the consortium explored the extent to which the Swiss population is willing to provide personal data for the purpose of crisis management. The representative survey showed that more than 60 percent of respondents were prepared to provide their data. Taking the example of a pandemic, the majority of participants were willing to make health data available. Furthermore, a large proportion of respondents were of the view that federal government and authorities or research facilities should provide the infrastructure for data collection.

Preliminary study final report: Datenkooperation CH / COVID-19

Nathalie Huber, Editor UZH News; English translation by Astrid Freuler

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