Towards a culture of resilience

Digitalisation influences every area of life

Making society aware of the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties posed by tech­no­lo­gi­cal inno­va­tions and envi­ron­men­tal chan­ges, enab­ling it to handle them and deve­lop solu­ti­ons: the Risk Dialo­gue Foun­da­tion has been pursuing these goals for more than 30 years.  

t’s the mid-1980s, when the cata­stro­phic inci­dents at Cher­no­byl and Schwei­zer­halle took place. During the same period, German socio­lo­gist Ulrich Beck released his much-discus­sed book Risi­ko­ge­sell­schaft, in which he discus­sed the risks that go hand-in-hand with tech­no­lo­gi­cal progress. Matthias Haller, then profes­sor of risk manage­ment and insu­rance at the Univer­sity of St. Gallen, did not want to simply leave this discus­sion to the experts in the field. In his view, effec­tive risk manage­ment requi­res society at large to be able to contri­bute. He subse­quently foun­ded the non-profit Risk Dialo­gue Foun­da­tion in 1989. To date, this Zurich-based orga­ni­sa­tion has worked closely with part­ners in rese­arch, busi­ness, public admi­nis­tra­tion and poli­tics, and with private individuals. 

In its early days, the foun­da­tion looked prima­rily at the risks posed by the nuclear and chemi­cal indus­tries, gene tech­no­logy and mobile commu­ni­ca­ti­ons. Now, it focu­ses on three areas of acti­vity: climate and energy, risk compe­tence and resi­li­ence culture, and digi­ta­li­sa­tion and society. Despite this, the goals of the foun­da­tion have not chan­ged, says its mana­ging direc­tor Matthias Holen­stein: ‘We want to do our bit, so society is fami­liar with the current risks and chal­lenges and learns to handle them.’ Thus, the foun­da­tion not only wants to name problems, but to offer a plat­form on which to jointly deve­lop solu­ti­ons and shape the future.

Digi­ti­sa­tion impacts every area of life

Digi­ta­li­sa­tion and society has been an area of focus within the foun­da­tion since 2018, explains project mana­ger Anna-Lena Köng: ‘The chan­ges arising from digi­ta­li­sa­tion are incre­asingly having an impact on every area of life – and we, as a society, need to get to grips with this.’ The foun­da­tion recei­ves finan­cial support from insu­rance company Mobi­liar to build up this field of acti­vity, and in parti­cu­lar for imple­men­ta­tion of the Digi­tal­Ba­ro­me­ter. Other­wise, it finan­ces itself through projects execu­ted in colla­bo­ra­tion with partners.

The Digi­tal­Ba­ro­me­ter has been published annu­ally since 2019. ‘For us, it’s a crucial gauge for under­stan­ding where the popu­la­tion sees risks and oppor­tu­ni­ties in digi­ti­sa­tion, where and how they would like to get invol­ved and to whom they assign respon­si­bi­lity,’ says Köng. Three core topics have come to the fore over time: digi­tal data, the digi­tal opinion-forming process and the future of work. In turn, they have given rise to tangi­ble projects, such as Digi­tal Liter­acy. This simu­la­tion enables parti­ci­pants to learn how to reco­g­nise and scru­ti­nise the impact that false infor­ma­tion in the digi­tal space has on the forma­tion of their opini­ons. Hand­ling perso­nal data is the focus of a project to donate data to non-profit orga­ni­sa­ti­ons, which the foun­da­tion tested out for the first time with the Univer­sity of Zurich. As part of the pande­mic-rela­ted measu­res, students volun­t­a­rily provi­ded the university’s crisis depart­ment and rese­ar­chers with rele­vant perso­nal data, such as their vacci­na­tion status or mental health infor­ma­tion. 1800 students and employees at the Univer­sity of Zurich dona­ted their data. ‘Commu­ni­ca­ti­ons support played a key role in reaching this high rate of parti­ci­pa­tion,’ says Holen­stein. In his view, this exam­ple shows that people are willing to give up their data for a higher purpo­ses – as long as it is volun­t­ary and can be revo­ked at any point. In addi­tion, he says, the Swiss popu­la­tion has a gene­rally high level of trust in non-profit orga­ni­sa­ti­ons and the authorities. 

Looking to the future

Arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, the colla­bo­ra­tion between humans and robots in the world of work and the impact of digi­ta­li­sa­tion on mental health are among the topics that will have a substan­tial impact on the popu­la­tion in the future, accor­ding to Köng. She explains that the foun­da­tion will review the type of projects it can imple­ment in order to support the popu­la­tion in the digi­tal trans­for­ma­tion. Holen­stein: ‘We notice growing numbers of syner­gies between the foundation’s three fields of acti­vity.’ In his eyes, this is a reflec­tion of reality: ‘After all, we are all affec­ted by both climate change and the digi­tal trans­for­ma­tion, and need to deve­lop a culture of resilience.’ 

Every year, the Digi­tal­Ba­ro­me­ter shows where the people of Switz­er­land stand on the subject of digitalisation. 

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