Centre for Finance and Development
16 November 2020

Incentives to Increase the Use of Tracing and Testing Apps: Carrots or Sticks?

From financial incentives to offering free phones, experts are discussing different ways of motivating more people to use COVID-19 tracing and testing apps.

At a joint online conference of the Graduate Institute's Centre for Finance and Development, Global Health Centre, and Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy on 27 October 2020, experts discussed different approaches to increase the use of tracing and testing apps to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Nathan Sussman, director of the Centre for Finance and Development, opened the conference by introducing the key challenges in increasing the use of apps to curb the pandemic.

Viktor von Wyl, Head of the Digital and Mobile Health Group Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Prevention Institute at the University of Zurich, and Member of the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force, presented insights from the first four months of the Swiss tracing app SwissCovid. He concluded that the challenges for app effectiveness lay mostly on the non-technical side. He mentioned delays in code generation, lack of understanding, and absence of financial compensation for self-quarantine among the main challenges.

Stéphane Helleringer, Professor of Social Research and Public Policy at NYU Abu Dhabi, presented the findings of an experiment he had conducted with a colleague through online surveys. He said the experiment showed that financial incentives might represent a powerful tool to stimulate the adoption of digital contact tracing apps. However, trials would need to show how such incentives play out under real-life conditions.

Michele Loi, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Ethics and the History of Medicine and Digital Society Initiative of the University of Zurich, presented his research proposing offering free, basic phones to people who do not have a phone capable of running the tracing app.

Following these presentations, Patricia Ndumbi, Technical Officer at the World Health Organization, and Suerie Moon, Co-Director of the Graduate Institute's Global Health Centre, discussed with the three authors. Shalini Randeria Director of the Graduate Institute's Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy, moderated the debate.


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