Library, projects, research

Six newly funded projects: resilient societies as a common mission

The global health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has unveiled the fragility of our societies and ecosystems. Resilience has therefore become the new grounded rule for all countries. Indeed, the current pandemic reaffirms the crucial need to prepare societies for future shocks, all sectors combined. To contribute to this general effort, the UZH-UNIGE strategic partnership launched a call for project on the following topic: Shaping Resilient and Responsive Societies and Ecosystems in View of Global Crises. In February 2021, out of nine proposals received, six projects were selected for funding.


Despite its long-lasting consequences, the Covid-19 pandemic has also opened windows for new opportunities and transversal collaborations.  Bringing together in total 32 experts from both universities as well as from other public and private institutions, the six projects will tackle the lessons learned and the question of global crises and resilience through different lenses. With research topics as diverse as integrated risk management, global health law and human rights, historical comparisons, science communication, or the use of data in managing a global crisis, the researchers will work on further conceptualizing resilience and developing innovative tools for shaping more resilient and responsive societies.


What follows are short summaries of these projects, the full descriptions of which are available here.


Lessons from the past: Quantifying pandemic spread and public health interventions during the first three global influenza pandemics in Switzerland 1889, 1918 and 1957

Principal Investigators: Kaspar Staub (UZH), Olivia Keiser (UNIGE)

The global outbreak of the Covid-19 has put societies and their public health systems through trials. To strengthen the resilience and in order to adapt for similar future challenges, learning from the past pandemics (and their management) is crucial.



In this project, the team will be quantifying the experiences of past pandemics in Switzerland, especially concerning the outbreaks in the years of 1889, 1957 and 1918. The scholars hypothesize that “the patterns of pandemic spread, its determinants, and effects of public health interventions are similar across pandemics”. The main goal of the project is to use epidemiological methods in order to reconstruct and relate the temporal and regional spread of the above-mentioned pandemic outbreaks based on incidence and mortality data, and to investigate the factors influencing the spread and the change in epidemic course associated with public health interventions. By doing so, the team hopes to provide a channel and access to the past experiences of pandemics, more importantly for the public and policy makers, who play an important role in the fight against pandemics.


PRECHEK: a checklist to evaluate COVID-19 preprints

Principal Investigators: Evie Vergauwe (UNIGE), Leonhard Held (UZH)

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown an exponential growth of preprints. Preprints encompass works that have not been peer reviewed. They have gained popularity in the past decade as preprint platforms facilitate a fast sharing of the work, interaction and enhance discussions on social media. However, since these preprints are not peer reviewed and have not undergone a process of vetting, their premature use by the press could bear also some danger of misinformation.



The researchers, therefore, aim to provide a clear and understandable guidance in the form of trainings to students and university press officers and of a checklist to evaluate the quality and credibility of a preprint. PRECHECK provides valuable insights and trainings in a time where trustworthiness of science is at stake. In the midst of rapid digitalization, information overload and a global health crisis, where time is of essence, the project aims to prepare future scientists by focusing on the youngest members of the academic community.


Integrated Risk Assessment and Management

Principal Investigators: Maria J. Santos (UZH), Markus Stoffel (UNIGE)


The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the opportunity to reflect on the prevention of future interconnected shocks originated, in particular, from health, biodiversity and climate. To prepare societies for those future interconnected crises and to build resilience, the 10 experts from both universities, but also from the World Economic Forum and the Swiss Federal Council for the 2030 Agenda,  strive to update the Integrated Risk Assessment and Management (IRAM2.0). More specifically, the experts seek to discover the drivers, stressors and vulnerabilities in the health, biodiversity and climate systems. They will look at how those elements have acted individually and concurrently in the Covid-19 pandemic. The research also seeks to highlight the co-benefits that could emerge with the adoption of IRAM measures as well as the kind of data and actions needed for its implementation. Ultimately, the experts will contribute to improving social capabilities that we need in order to live with different types of shocks as well as to implement rapid responses.




To this end, the experts will take up some outputs that emerged during the Expert Meeting that took place on 12 November 2020, more particularly from the thinking group sustainability. To attain their objectives, they will work closely with the public, academic and private stakeholders to design a citizen science and communication platform and thus facilitate information sharing and stakeholder’s involvement.


Gobal health law, ethics and human rights for resilient societies

Principal Investigators: Stéphanie Dagron (UNIGE), Nikola Biller-Andorno (UZH)

Despite evaluations and development of national epidemic preparedness, many countries have done worse than expected during the Covid-19 pandemic. Given this, the project seeks to create knowledge in two different areas of improvements based on a human rights and global ethics health approach. Given the observation that the pandemic has illustrated the susceptibility of poor and vulnerable populations to disaster, the project will firstly focus on national health systems and preparedness of societies to shocks. The second area concerns the global level and the improvement of international collaboration through the development and/or reform of legal instruments and of governance structures in global health.


Global health


More specifically, the project will tackle several overarching questions. The latter include the will to identify what human rights are breached during a pandemic. The researchers also seek to study how solidarity and protection of vulnerable populations can be enhanced. Finally, the project aims to determine what legal or ethical resources are needed to enlarge duty bearers to non-traditional partnerships for multi-level governance.


Building Socio- Economic Resilience to Global Shocks

Principal Investigators: Ralph Ossa (UZH), Salvatore di Falco (UNIGE)

Inspired by the kick-off meeting of the expert dialogue on “Shaping Resilient Societies” (12 November 2020), the researchers of this group will engage with questions concerning the economy and the lessons learned within the context of socio-economic resilience. Indeed, when the eminent health is contained, the focus will inevitably shift to these concerns.




To do so, the team will lay a foundation by clarifying the meaning of socio-economic resilience and its importance for policies. The scholars will then identify and collect the heterogenous effects of the pandemic and which groups were specifically resilient to it and if these differences have led to changes in socio-economic inequalities. At last, they will determine towards which particular disruptions more resilience is needed. The principle aim of the project is to compile a policy brief and explanatory notes, resulting from aggregated existing knowledge and original research, accessible for policymakers, other stakeholders in policymaking but also journalists and interested public.


Governance Mechanisms for Access and Use of Data in Public Health Crises

Principal Investigators: Jacques de Werra (UNIGE), Florent Thouvenin (UZH)

The obstacles of access to valuable data are relatively high, even in times of public health crises. To reduce these hindrances, the team identifies three barriers (cultural, infrastructural, legal) which restrain the access and use of data and suggest three future solutions (Data Literacy, interoperability, rethinking data protection law) to facilitate accessibility.



Acknowledging the importance of privacy, the scholars argue that the outlook towards personal data in the society should be reconsidered, since it can serve as a valuable resource and foster innovation and development of society on many levels. Moreover, they emphasize that sharing data and privacy protection are not mutually exclusive. The infrastructure must also be adjusted and enhanced in order to respond in the right way. For this, the team put forward a differentiation between types of data, where some data can be shared on a regular basis and others only made available in emergency situations. Interoperability is key to enabling data sharing in this manner. Furthermore, the restrictive legal rules and lack of possibilities to attain data collected by businesses or government agencies impede progress. Therefore, a legal framework for accessing data would enable valuable insight that could help in a health crisis, for example.


To overcome these issues, the researchers suggest that society needs a greater ‘Data Literacy’, or the “ability to critically collect, manage, evaluate and use data”, that would allow an informed decision about the usage of data. Interoperability should be ensured through standards, so that different systems and formats can function without restraints. At last, the legal frameworks of data protection should be considered in a manner where a more comprehensive access to data is compatible with privacy protection.



Picture credit for the header: Janko Ferlic

Pictures credits for the article, from top to bottom: Trnava University – Annie Spratt –  Pixabay – Aditya Romansa – Anne Nygard – Shahadat Rahman