The pandemic has shown that researchers and society heavily rely on the willingness of citizens to share personal information. Although this need has been communicated to the public, data donations are very scarce, and people are reluctant to use services that serve a societal good. Prior research findings on data donations are limited. There are few studies that analyze the motivations for donating personal data for the public good, but so far, studies on actual data donation behavior are very scarce. Findings suggest that people are motivated to donate their data for personal benefits as well as out of social duty and concerns, but also need to understand the purpose of providing their data. Building on these findings, we want to test different communication strategies that highlight either (i) a social responsibility and contribution (as mostly done nowadays) or (ii) personal benefits from donating personal data. Understanding which strategies work best is of high importance not only for researchers, but also for governments, organizations, and policy makers. During the corona pandemic, officials have tried to increase citizens’ willingness to provide data and use digital services that help limit the spread of the virus (i.e., contact tracing apps). Although the importance of using such services has been made clear, acceptance of such services has been devastatingly low such that efficiency could not be ensured anymore. We argue that different communication strategies of such services might have increased adoption and hence, efficiency.

Organizations, like the University of Zurich, face a similar dilemma. Working has been restricted to home office during the pandemic and with the increasing number of vaccinated people, employees are looking forward to return to the office. However, employers are often lacking critical information to enable a safe return to work onsite. The University of Zurich, as our pilot cooperation partner, wants to encourage voluntary data donations of employees and students to ensure a safe environment for its staff and students to return to campus. The goal is to harness donated individual data to address crisis situations in an ethical and self-directed manner. Based on collected vaccination and health-related data, the crisis team wants to continuously monitor the development of the pandemic situation and ensure rapid action. Collaborating with the crisis management at UZH provides us with the opportunity to test our hypotheses on the efficiency of different communication strategies.

This collaboration project is of high organizational, societal, and scientific relevance. Not only, are we able to actively support a huge organization with their pandemic exit management, but also to provide insights on how data donations can help with said management and how the request for such donations should be communicated.


As the term states, data donations rely on the voluntary nature of participants to provide their information. To account for data donation motivations, we are planning a follow-up survey for both donators and non-donators that focuses on participants’ general attitude towards donations (altruism), their values and their perception of the corona pandemic.

Moreover, to increase general validity for our findings and test further strategies, the project is planned to be repeated at other institutions (e.g., PHZH, City of Zurich) and different data sources (e.g., location data). Thus, we are able to not only limit out theory to the current corona pandemic but show that it can be applied to more general situations.

A project by Anne Scherer and Claudia Wenzel