The global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic revealed the importance of communication and information flows not only nationally but also across countries. The DFG-funded project DECIPHER aims at analyzing the communication strategies employed by governments and health institutions of six European countries and the USA. Furthermore, a comprehensive analysis of mass media frames about the pandemic will reveal the patterns of public representation of the disease itself, but also the perception of institutions in charge of containing the spread of the virus. Based on innovative methods of automated analysis and data science approaches, Covid-19-related information circulating on social media as well as possible echo chambers are within the scope of the project. This includes the analysis of social media channels by important opinion leaders such as politicians or journalists. To gain insights into the effectiveness of governments’ responses, the public´s perception of available information and the authorities’ public health management is taken into consideration as well. Finally, the systematic comparison of findings between Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the USA will potentially reveal factors that explain different patterns of the disease’s progress in each country and the varying role of communication and its effectiveness.


In any crisis motivating self-protective behavior is crucial to limit negative impact and damage, but in a global public health crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic, it is a matter of survival. Therefore, the project DECIPHER aims at analyzing and comparing the effectiveness of risk and crisis communication regarding the outbreak and the long-term development of the pandemic. The main objective of the research project is to evaluate the communication strategies, structures and outcomes of governmental risk and crisis communication in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the USA, along with the (social) media communication concerning the Covid-19 pandemic and the evaluation of the given information and communication strategies by the public. The project´s results will potentially produce meaningful insights into ways of improving risk and crisis communication strategies of government institutions in the context of severe public health crises.

Research questions

Three research questions are guiding the project:

RQ1: What explanations and messages about Covid-19 as well as related protective actions did governments and health institutions in Europe and the USA provide to the public and media?

RQ2: How did legacy media across the aforementioned countries cover and frame risk messages about Covid-19 disseminated by governments and health institutions?

RQ3: How did citizens in these countries perceive and respond to the pandemic and risk messages about Covid-19 disseminated by governments, health institutions, and legacy media?


Research design

To answer the research questions, DECIPHER combines qualitative, quantitative and computational methods. An understanding of institutional risk messages as well as an explanation of the cognitive, affective and conative aspects of risk perceptions and citizens´ information needs require an interdisciplinary approach combining communication science and psychology with computer and data science. The analysis of large data sets like (social) media content and responses call for the development of suitable algorithms and the application of computational methods like network analysis and computational text analysis. This innovative mixed methods approach will contribute to a relevant extension of risk and crisis communication research.


DECIPHER is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) with approx. 1.8 million Euros for three years.