UTDesignLabNew corona notification app being tested in Twente

New corona notification app being tested in Twente Hightech meets neighbourship in joint research project

In April of this year, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport took the initiative to develop a new corona app. Now that the app's prototype is finished, Twente plays an important role in the research into its user-orientation. By order of the Ministry, researchers from University of Twente, among other institutions, will determine whether the app does what it is supposed to do and whether it meets the necessary requirements regarding privacy, legal aspects, ethics and user-orientation. In collaboration with municipalities, the GHOR and the Municipal Health Service, a number of tests will be conducted in Twente over the coming weeks.


The new notification app is designed to support the Municipal Health Service with source and contact tracing in the event of contaminations with the coronavirus. The app warns users who have come into contact with another user who is infected with the coronavirus. The smartphone app sends users a notification and gives advice on what to do next. When as many Dutch citizens as possible install the app on their device and use it, people in the vicinity of an infected user can be informed quickly and effectively. This helps contain the spread of the virus as much as possible, allows for faster and smarter testing for Covid-19 and prevents unnecessary or overly long quarantine situations.

The Dutch national government has imposed requirements for the app's design with regard to privacy, data security, fundamental rights, national security, ethics and accessibility. Using these key areas as a starting point, the Ministry asked a development team of specialists to develop an initial prototype of the notification app.

Over the next few weeks, this prototype will be tested further among various user groups. These studies are coordinated by Lisette van Gemert-Pijnen, Professor of Persuasive Health Technology, and Peter-Paul Verbeek, Professor of Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society. Both work at University of Twente and form part of the national task force that focuses on the development and introduction of the new app. Peter-Paul Verbeek is also scientific co-director of DesignLab, whereas Lisette van Gemert-Pijnen is one of DesignLab's research fellows.


Under the supervision of Lisette van Gemert-Pijnen, usability tests are conducted in UT's DesignLab, in collaboration with TOPFIT Citizen lab and BMS lab. The main focus is on the experiences of target groups for whom the use of the app may require extra attention or clarification. Professor Van Gemert says: ‘The voices of young people, the elderly and those with low literacy have not been sufficiently heard. We want them to tell us what they think about the corona measures and whether they view the app as a useful contribution to our shared goal of containing the virus.’

The test is designed to map out how users experience the app's key processes: installing it, its everyday use, receiving notifications and the process in the event of a positive test. It is determined whether respondents understand and can use the app, but also whether they believe it to be useful, whether its use raises new questions and whether they intend to actually use the app and follow the recommendations it offers.


Peter-Paul Verbeek is in charge of the Ethical Testing aspect of the app's development. First of all, a panel of experts will subject the app to an ethical test, based in part on the guidelines drawn up by the World Health Organization. Furthermore, a so-called ethical guidance session will be held with a comprehensive panel of involved parties. During this session, ethical and social questions and concerns regarding such topics as accessibility and privacy are identified and translated into recommendations for the app's design, its embedding and its use. ‘Corona apps can help prevent the spread of the virus, but they also raise certain ethical and social questions,’ says Verbeek. ‘By conducting an ethical test with ethics experts and citizens, we want to contribute to the responsible design and social embedding of the app that is currently being developed.’


Once the usability tests and the ethical test have been completed and the results have been processed into the app's prototype, a more comprehensive field test will be conducted in collaboration with the Municipal Health Service of Twente before the start of the summer holiday period. For this test, 500 to 1,000 candidates will be recruited in the region of Twente who will install the app on their smartphone. The field test is designed to show whether large groups of users can use the app correctly and what actions they take in response to the test situations they are presented with. The field test is overseen by Wolfgang Ebbers, who works as a professor occupying an endowed chair at Erasmus University Rotterdam and lives in Enschede.

Mayor Onno van Veldhuizen of Enschede, who also serves as chairman of the Safety Region Twente, is thrilled about the role that Twente can play in the app's development. ‘Because of the combination of high-tech and neighbourliness that the region offers, Twente is the ideal setting for the studies conducted as part of this app's testing phase. University of Twente has the necessary knowledge and expertise to oversee the research. Our region's characteristic neighbourliness means we are used to keeping an eye on and looking out for each other. That is exactly what this app will help us do and what we need during these trying times. I am glad Twente can do its part to contribute to this effort.’

Participate in field tests?

We have been receiving quite some enquiries from people who would like to participate in the field tests. Currently, the way of recruitment is being arranged and registering is not yet possible. If any public recruitment is being done, it will be published on our website (www.utwente.nl) and a call may appear in (regional media).

See also:
Press release from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport with more information about the design and backgrounds of the app.

L.P.W. van der Velde MSc (Laurens)
Spokesperson Executive Board (EB)