Early trends emerge from Swiss lockdown survey

216 people participated in the Civic mobile application. © iStock

216 people participated in the Civic mobile application. © iStock

A research team ran an online survey from 8 April to 10 May in order to gauge Swiss residents’ views and experiences of life under the lockdown. Participation was unexpectedly high, with close to 7,000 people answering the questionnaire. Here is a first report

After the Federal Council imposed lockdown measures in March, researchers from EPFL, the Idiap Research Institute and the University of Lausanne (UNIL) embarked on a multidisciplinary citizen science project to understand the experiences of Swiss residents in these unprecedented times.

For phase one of the project, which ran from 8 April to 10 May, the team posted an online questionnaire – in English, French, German and Italian – to gain insights into how the new situation was affecting respondents’ state of mind, as well as their living and working arrangements. Researchers from two labs within EPFL’s School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC) – the Urban Sociology Laboratory (LASUR) and the Laboratory for Human-Environment Relations in Urban Systems (HERUS), led by Vincent Kaufmann and Claudia Binder respectively – are now poring over the results of the survey.

High participation

Participation was higher than expected. In total, 6,919 people completed the questionnaire, giving the team plenty of material to work with. The researchers are currently carrying out semi-structured interviews and, after answering the survey, 216 people opted to download Civique, a mobile app that gathered additional information from participants at intervals of several weeks. Users of the app were able to share their personal experiences and photos showing how the demands of working from home and homeschooling had gradually transformed their lives. This extra input will provide key insights into behavioral changes.

“We’re also running a series of Citizen Science Think Tanks – focus-group sessions where we invite app users to share their views of a post-COVID world, touching on issues from travel and housing to the local economy,” says Livia Fritz, a postdoctoral researcher at EPFL’s HERUS lab. “The sessions get participants thinking about important questions such as what they want life to be like after the pandemic, and how the experience might help us build a more sustainable future.”

Unexpected respondent profile

Some 80% of respondents were native French-speakers, suggesting that most were from Western Switzerland. What’s more, 64% of the people who completed the survey were women. “The makeup of the respondent sample came out of the blue,” says Garance Clément, a postdoctoral researcher at LASUR. “Not because the majority were women, but because most of them worked in health, social work and social care. This tells us that the people who were doing the most to help others during the lockdown were also keen to share their experiences and solutions with us.” The findings of the survey will be used to devise coping strategies if lockdown measures are again imposed in the future.

Suffering the effects of isolation

Respondents reported having struggled particularly with a lack of interaction and physical contact with friends and family during the lockdown, although many said they had become more frequent users of social media. “When asked what activities they were looking forward to resuming after the lockdown, seeing relatives again came out on top, followed by meeting friends and traveling,” says Laurie Daffe, another postdoctoral researcher at LASUR. “These findings show that, for many respondents, being forcibly separated from their loved ones for a month or two was especially difficult to bear. What’s also clear is that online interaction is no substitute for face-to-face social contact.”

The dozen-strong team, most of whom are women, will spend the next few months analyzing the data in depth. In these unprecedented circumstances, the researchers – from different backgrounds, and working together for the first time – had to collaborate remotely and had little time to get to know one another. Yet even at this mid-way stage, they all agree that that in itself has been a worthwhile and rewarding experiment.