SNSF supports USI research project on public COVID-19 pandemic discourses


Institutional Communication Service

4 June 2020

The analysis of the impact of the pandemic calls for a discussion between politicians, administrations, the economy, and civil society. Analysing the communication between public health organisations and specific target groups is essential to understand behaviour and responses to the health emergency. In this context, the COVIDisc project proposed by L. Suzanne Suggs, of the Institute of Public Communication (ICP) and the Institute of Public Health (IPH) at USI – together with the colleagues at the Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschafte (ZHAW) and at the University of Trieste – is one of the ten projects selected – out of a total of 70 submitted in the field of social sciences – by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) in response to the special call on coronaviruses launched in March.

The public discussion on COVID-19 can have an impact both on our perceptions and on our communication and social behaviours. The actions of young population groups play a crucial role in the implementation of policy under the conditions of a 'special situation', as defined by the Federal Epidemics Act (EpidA, art. 6). The COVIDisc project includes the analysis of media and organisational discourse, as well as qualitative interviews conducted with people aged 15 to 34 in the German and Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland, for the purpose of improving communication between public health organisations and these age groups. The project focuses on 15-34 year olds because this group represents three distinct life stages, is considered highly flexible in terms of mobility, and is considered less affected by the virus in terms of health. The double focus on speech in both Italian and German also offers insights into local and regional dynamics in multilingual Switzerland.

"The study will provide relevant communication recommendations for decision-making processes and communication management in public health organizations," explains Prof. Suggs. "It will develop strategies for crisis communication, target audience and message development for the current COVID-19 pandemic and future public health measures".

In April, Professor Suggs, who is also Vice-President of the Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), was invited to join the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force set up by the Federal Council and formed by researchers from a wide range of academic institutions in the country. The various groups of specialists, divided by area of expertise, have been called upon to address a series of topics, in a coordinated approach, including diagnostics, clinical procurement and research, contact tracing through new digital applications to be developed and validated, as well as ethical and legal issues. Further details at: