Current DSI Fellows and Project Staff

DSI Fellows

Dr. Alexandra Diehl

Dr. Alexandra Diehl is DSI Fellow from June 2020 to May 2021:

Visual Tools Based on Citizen Data for Improving the Communication of Severe Weather Events


According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), the indirect economic losses caused by climate-related disasters increased by over 150 % during 1998–2017 compared to the period 1978– 1997 [1]. Among the most prominent high-impact weather events are flooding, storms, and heatwaves. Scientists need to improve the accuracy and communication of weather forecasting to reduce or even avoid the damage caused by these kinds of weather hazards. To know even a few hours in advance about the place and intensity of weather hazards can help to mitigate the consequences of natural disasters, save lives, and prevent economic losses. Very-short-term weather forecast techniques, known as nowcasting, are vital tools in this endeavor, but they are not yet accurate enough in many regions, or fail to cover certain areas because there are no sensor data available. In this context, the availability of trustworthy observations coming from citizens can play a new decisive role. Citizens continuously generate an enormous amount of digital content of diverse kinds such as blog posts, tweets, as well as photos and videos. People tend to proactively participate in digital media and communicate this kind of high-impact events in internet channels such as social media, news feeds,and citizen science projects, which represents a huge opportunity to improve current weather forecasting.To be able to use this information, scientists need methods to assess and quantify the quality of citizen data. The high-dimensionality and complexity of citizen data make the use of purely automated and algorithmic approaches for quality assessment challenging and insufficient. Currently, it is computationally intractable to consider all possible hidden and yet essential features that citizens may have included in the data by only using algorithms. To tackle this challenge, we propose a combined approach of visualization, modeling and data analytics to (i) generate a ground truth of weather events based on social media and citizen science data, (ii) analyze the topological traits of the emergent activity of users in social media in the presence of severe meteorological outbreaks, and (iii) visually explore the model results and assess their quality, as first steps towards a systematic approach for the quantification of citizen data in the context of weather events.

The project will tackle those challenges unifying two different approaches, citizen science and social media analytics. For this purpose, we will design a mobile citizen science application considering perceptual visual cues to collect data about high-impact weather events, and gather common terminology used by citizens when they refer to weather events and weather conditions. The second approach will consist of the analysis of social media data and initial modelling of social networks to extract useful information associated to high-impact weather events, identify expert users among the social networks, and individualize key thematic terms and associated emotions. The outcome of this project will consist of (i) a percetually-based visual design of a mobile application for citizen science on high-impact weather events, (ii) a visual analytics tool to integrate citizen science and social media data, the open source code, and anonymous and aggregated data sets used for research, according to the current GDPR regulations and Swiss laws on data privacy.


 [1] P.Wallemacq and R. House. UNISDR and CRED report. economic losses, poverty and disasters 1998–2017. brussels: Centre for research on the epidemiology of disasters (CRED), 31, 2018.


Website: Dr. Alexandra Diehl

Prof. Dr. Walther Zimmerli

Prof. Dr. Walther Zimmerli will be a DSI Fellow in the Spring and Fall Semesters 2020.

The digitalization of society has its origin in the universities and research institutions; it is currently being shown that they are also recursively being taken in by digitalization: The process of digitalization is de facto in the process of getting full circle back to the universities and research institutions, without them always being aware of the fact. The term 'virtual university', which first of all meant a tertiary educational institution in the sense of Ivan Illich's concept of de-schooling  a tertiary eductional institution without real substrates such as buildings, institutions etc. and was later associated with terms like 'Open University', Distance learning', 'University of the Air' etc. ("Virtualization of the first order"), thus recursively receives a second, digitalized level of meaning. The question is no longer only: How do tertiary educational institutions make use of digital, electronic media?, but: How will a comprehensive digitalization of these possibly change facilities themselves?
The project RD2VH, which is to be carried out in the spring and autumn semester of 2020 within the framework of the Digital Society Initiative (DSI), is a philosophical-theoretical project that is directed towards differentiating this question historically and epistemologically from a critically reconstructed concept of digitalization into its dimensions in cognitive science, education and institutional theory. The aim is to develop a theoretical model of virtual universities of the second order in which
experience in implementing the concept of a virtual university of the first order can be incorporated. The focus is more precisely on the area of continuing education.
Whether and to what extent this model can be empirically validated and translated into recommendations for action of a pilot experiment will be left to the next step.
The institutional USP of this project lies in the fact that it is already located at the intersection of the activities of the Digital Science Initiative (DSI) and the Center for Higher Eduction and Science Studies (CHESS) of the UZH through the person of the applicant, and therefore promises to be able to use the resulting synergies.

Website: Prof. Dr. Walther Zimmerli

Dr. Olexandr Nikolaychuk

Dr. Olexandr Nikolaychuk is a DSI Fellow from October 2020 to March 2021:

Recycling uncast votes as a means of increasing voter turnout

Sufficient voter turnout is a desirable property of a healthy democratic system. Unfortunately, historical data show that a sizable portion of the eligible electorate tends to abstain.

This project aims to increase voter turnout by leveraging important insights from behavioral economics as well as personal and social psychology. The general proposition is to augment the current vote counting rule in the following manner: uncast votes are not ignored but rather, randomly allocated among the alternatives.

An intervention of this kind has a number of advantages: it does not require citizens to reveal their private information or restrict their freedoms (as opposed to, e.g., obligatory voting), it is not distortive under plurality voting and would be rather straightforward and economical to implement in real life. The main effect in curbing abstention relies on leveraging such psychological phenomena as the endowment effect, moral responsibility and group identity.

As such, the project considers the empirical effect of several variations of the innovative behavioral intervention. Altogether, three studies are planned: an online survey and two laboratory experiments.




DSI Projects

Bingjie Cheng

Website: Bingjie Cheng



PD Dr. Markus Christen

Website: PD Dr. Markus Christen



Armand Kapaj

Website: Armand Kapaj


Dr. Michele Loi

Website: Dr. Michele Loi


Dr. Sara Maggi

Website: Dr. Sara Maggi


Dr. Ian Ruginski

Website: Dr. Ian Ruginski




DSI Directors

Prof. Dr. Abraham Bernstein

Prof. Dr. Sara Irina Fabrikant

Prof. Dr. Mike Martin

Healthy Ageing

Our aim is to have a contextualizable overall picture of health and quality of life in old age. Digitalization now enables an inexpensive and innovative extension of the monitoring of quality of life and health. The existing data are poor in situational and contextual information, and are relatively rarely collected. In order to systematically and comprehensively implement the central functional capacity of individual persons as a supply target in the WHO model of "Healthy Ageing" (2016), close observations in the real-world context are required. This requires an investment in a research infrastructure for responsible health research with high data density, in digital competences of older people to use their health data and in transdisciplinary research groups consisting of health, technology, legal and context/humanities scientists to develop causal relationships between the collected information. These causal models are a prerequisite for reducing care costs in the area of coordination-intensive illnesses alone by hundreds of millions of Swiss francs a year.


Participatory Health Research

With digitalization and open science, more and more information is being made available to an increasing number of people for health decisions. Competences for the selection and critical evaluation of research results must therefore also be available to all in society. We are working together with the Center for Gerontology and the UZH/ETH Citizen Science Center Zurich to create the framework conditions for the participatory evaluation, conception and implementation of health research projects.


Website: Prof. Dr. Mike Martin

Prof. Dr. Florent Thouvenin

Prof. Dr. Claudia Witt