Collaborative research projects

Collaborative research projects

These interdisciplinary projects bring together scholars from CIVICA universities to conduct policy relevant research on major societal challenges. 

Following CIVICA's first call for collaborative research proposals, eleven projects have been selected for funding under CIVICA Research. The goal is to foster innovative research and new networks across the alliance. 

The projects will showcase their first results in early 2022 and will run until the beginning of 2023.

Overview of projects

  • Attitudes to Inequalities: Perceptions, Judgments, Justifications (ATI)
  • Contesting the Court: Examining Judicial Politics in the European Union
  • Democracy and Its Discontents. A Historical Examination of the Current Predicament of Democracy (DEMOS)
  • Digital Trade Integration - Dataset & Index (DTII)
  • European Polarisation Observatory: Measuring Positions of Users, Medias, Polarisation, and the Role of Algorithms and AI Systems (EPO)
  • Mapping Emotions during COVID-19 Pandemic Using Twitter Data (EmoMap)
  • Migration, Terrorism, and Democracy
  • Sustainable Energy and Food Transitions (STEADFAST)
  • The Long Shadow of Educational, Skills, and Professional Inequities in Time and in Space: Implications for Polarization and Support for Populism in Europe
  • Welfare, Democracy, and Populism under the COVID-19 Crisis (WELDECO)
  • When the Law is Silent: Hate Crime Prosecution and Implicit Bias in Law Enforcement Agencies (SILAW)

Lead institution: Central European University
Other CIVICA members involved: National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, Sciences Po, The London School of Economics

Focus area: Democracy in the 21st Century

The project consists in studying the cognitive and cultural aspects of inequality: investigating what people think about inequalities and why.

  • How are beliefs and moral judgements about inequalities formed?
  • Are beliefs adequate, and if not, what are the sources of biases?
  • What type of inequalities do people find acceptable and what type do they think deserve reducing, even at some cost to themselves?

This project consists in answering these questions and, more generally, investigating the various expressions and determinants of people’s attitudes to inequalities. We will investigate the perception and justification as well as judgment of inequality in its various forms or guises. These are mental states which are, we suggest, both influencing and influenced by social and cultural phenomena.

Project coordinator: Christophe Heintz (CEU)

Researchers involved:

Project webpage>>

Lead institutions: Hertie School and European University Institute
Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi University, Central European University, Sciences Po, The London School of Economics

Focus area: Europe Revisited

While long considered an important actor in European integration, there are signs that the Court of Justice’s role in EU politics is increasingly contested. This contestation comes from both sides, with national Courts and scholars deriding ‘activist’ rulings in particular areas while simultaneously complaining of a failure to proactively defend European legal values in others. This project aims to revisit the debate over judicial politics in the EU by examining the causes and outcomes of increasing contestation of the EU judiciary. We therefore aim to examine both the factors that lead to contestation and the political, scholarly and substantive outcomes of contestation for the European constitutional order.

In doing so, the project aims to bring together a group of leading lawyers and political scientists within the CIVICA network to examine a key research priority within CIVICA, namely the constitutional resilience of the EU political order and the role of the judicial branch in safeguarding its basic principles. By focusing on a common area of interest across the CIVICA network, and taking advantage of new research on judicialization in both law and political science, the project plans to lay the foundation for broader and more ambitious research collaboration within CIVICA on international Courts and the European constitutional order. 

Project coordinator: Mark Dawson (Hertie School)

Researchers involved:

Lead institution: Sciences Po
Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi University, Central European University, European University Institute, The London School of Economics

Focus area: Democracy in the 21st Century

There is a broad consensus on the fact that modern democracies are facing today major difficulties if not a profound crisis. That they are confronted with immense challenges, domestic and global, that test their legitimacy, erode their foundations and even threaten their very survival. On this crisis we have a rich multidisciplinary scholarship, which has thoroughly identified and dissected some of its key drivers and manifestations: the link between inequality and the contestation of democracy; the roots and nature of the current populist and anti-systemic challenges; the redefinition of national identities and the loosening of the ethnic and linguistic homogeneity of many nation-states; the interdependence between democratic nation-states and the global context, just to mention a few for illustration.

However, some of the loudest voices articulating and examining these elements tend to project their analysis of data and examples from the contemporary loosely onto the past. We believe that such studies – important and often enlightening as they certainly are - must be complemented by a thorough historical investigation capable of defining a genealogy of the current democratic malaise, identifying illustrative historical antecedents to be compared, diachronically and geographically, to this latest predicament of democracy. All the major history departments and centers of CIVICA will be involved in this investigation, relying on the immense scope and range of expertise and knowledge they can offer.

Project coordinator: Mario Del Pero (Sciences Po)

Researchers involved: 

Lead institution: European University Institute
Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi University, Hertie School, The London School of Economics

Focus areas: Democracy in the 21st Century; Data-Driven Technologies for the Social Sciences 

The project aims to increase transparency on digital trade restrictions. We are constructing a dataset of digital trade restrictions and an index on digital trade integration, which will be released in the coming months. Our methodology is based on international best practices on how to regulate digital trade, leverage the cross-disciplinary exchange between the CIVICA partners.  

The dataset and index will inform deliberation on the design, implementation, and reform of relevant state interventions, on their cross-border effects, and on international cooperation. The data will cover at least 50 selected countries, with the objective to include more countries on a regular basis to become a global index.

Project coordinators:

Researchers involved:

Project webpage>>

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Lead institutions: Sciences Po and Central European University
Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi University, The London School of Economics

Focus areas: Democracy in the 21st Century; Data-Driven Technologies for the Social Sciences 

Traditionally, people’s opinions on different issues of the public debate have been studied through polls and surveys. But recent advancements in network scaling methods have shown that digital behavioral traces (typically following/follower networks) in social media platforms can be used to mine opinions at a massive scale.

This project seeks to develop a joint workgroup or unit within CIVICA, dedicated to producing a proof of concept for a European Polarisation Observatory of ideologies and attitudes towards issues of the public debate (e.g., taxation, immigration, European integration, perception of elites). Such a unit would study the ideological dynamics of users and media outlets to measure polarization on various issues, and investigate the role of algorithmic recommendations on user access to ideologically diverse news.

The inference of attitudes of users for a multitude of issues will allow for the ideological positioning and tracking of various groups: social movements, demographic groups, political and partisan groups, and even entities such as media outlets and YouTube channels. These results will be implemented in research cutting across several disciplines of interest for CIVICA: media studies, online social movements, and the analysis of the structure of party systems in European countries, among others.

In this project we will specifically aim at two kinds of applications. First, we will provide systematic measurements across Europe of the intensity of polarization on different issues (e.g., left-right economics, or attitudes towards people and elites) in various online settings. Second, we will seek to tackle the question of the role of AI in shaping European socio-political systems through algorithmic recommendation and its possible biases.

In order to develop a proof of concept, this project includes multiple activities: data collection of social networks across Europe, the application of network scaling procedures, the use of political science datasets for attitude inference in conjunction with scaled data, and research in social psychology and algorithmic recommendation. Many activities already show promising preliminary results. Overall, this project will be instrumental in further developing an interdisciplinary European network of research in the computational social sciences.

Project coordinators:

Researchers involved:

Project webpage>>

Lead institution: Bocconi University
Other CIVICA members involved: Central European University, Hertie School

Focus area: Data-Driven Technologies for the Social Sciences 

The project aims to exploit the richness of a large Italian corpus of individuals' digital records from Twitter collected during the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to investigate

  1. the formation and diffusion of public opinions and emotions regarding COVID-19-related health-risks and policy measures
  2. the way beliefs form and vary by groups and over time
  3. how trust in government, public health authorities, experts and in the future has evolved during the pandemic
  4. the social structure underlying patterns and diffusion of emotions and opinions
  5. to what extent emotions and perceptions can be linked to individuals’ lifecourse choices.

Using machine learning models we will be able to analyze sentiments and perceptions during the pandemic and nowcast new developments by examining trends over time, uncovering emotional reactions to event and policy changes, and investigating patterns and differences by geographic areas and individuals’ socio-economic characteristics. This analysis will form the basis for the creation of a publicly accessible dashboard on the Covidcrisislab website, which will contain the real-time evolution of citizens' emotions, perceptions and opinions since the beginning of the pandemic. Such a tool will offer scientists and policy-makers unprecedented opportunities to freely access and analyze real-time data on emotions and opinions at various granularity levels (i.e., , province-, regional- level), stratified by sociodemographic characteristics.

The study should be considered as a pilot project. We focus on Italy in particular because of already collected data. With the collaborating partners, we will collect comparable data from two other countries: Hungary and Germany. The output of the project will consequently serve as a template for adding further countries, and the long run aim is to implement a comparative framework for European countries where emotions and sentiments are easy to access also after the pandemic.

Project coordinator: Nicoletta Balbo (Bocconi University)

Researchers involved:

Lead institution: Hertie School
Other CIVICA members involved: European University Institute, The London School of Economics

Focus area: Democracy in the 21st Century

This project examines whether and how terror attacks in Europe affect host societies’ attitudes and behavior towards migrants. It asks what policy-relevant interventions can improve individual views towards migrants in their host countries, and promote inclusionary behaviour / eschew exclusionary and anti-democratic acts.

Migration—and its alleged link with terrorism—continues to play a central role in public debates across Europe. Public opinion surveys point at soaring threat perceptions towards refugees. Indeed, radical right-wing parties often capitalise on these perceived dangers, and propagate anti-migrant exclusionary rhetoric. There is also evidence that the local population is becoming more supportive of hate crimes against.

Our proposal sheds light on the connection between migration and terrorism, and advances the understanding of its effect on anti-democratic attitudes and behaviour in several ways:

  1. Analysing the impact of migration-related terror attacks in Europe (1970-present)—disaggregated by the target’s and perpetrator’s identity (migrant or local)—and linking them with attitudinal and behavioural indicators, such as participation in protests in support of or against migration, and voting for parties that support or oppose migration. This will provide a factual description of the connection between migration, terrorism, and political behaviour.
  2. Analysing experimentally how information about terrorism affects individual attitudes, and how anti-migration attitudes can be countered.
  3. Examining how information about terrorism affects individual level behavioural outcomes (generosity towards migrants or locals, or selfish behaviour).

The proposed project identifies potential beneficiaries, and tailors deliverables to benefit them. Taken together, our proposal will advance both our academic understanding as well as inform public policy about how migration and terrorism are related; how this link can spur exclusionary and anti-democratic attitudes and behaviours among the host society; and what public policies can counter them.

Project coordinator: Julian Wucherpfennig (Hertie School)

Researchers involved:

Lead institution: Bocconi University
Other CIVICA members involved: Central European University, European University Institute

Focus area: Societies in Transition, Crises of Earth

Recent literature demonstrates that avoiding dangerous climate change is possible if clean technologies backed by strong institutions are rapidly introduced around the world. However, this scholarship has been criticized for its predominant focus on supply-side technical solutions while disregarding behavioral and societal factors affecting demand for energy and natural resources. Another criticism has been that not everything envisioned in climate mitigation scenarios developed employing modeling tools is feasible in the real world.

STEADFAST addresses both criticisms by advancing the understanding of feasibility of worldwide dietary and energy demand changes necessary for achieving the Paris climate targets. The project builds on complementary expertise in energy and climate modelling (Bocconi), mechanisms of energy transitions (CEU), and drivers of climate attitudes and behaviors (EUI). It advances a common framework whereby social mechanisms identified through historical evidence are used to construct a ‘feasibility space’ for mapping future climate action. We will construct feasibility spaces for energy demand and dietary changes and use these to assess the feasibility of transitions envisioned in climate mitigation scenarios.

The project will analyze historical evidence on decoupling of economic growth and energy, the energy targets and plans in selected developing countries, as well as meat consumption trends and their determinants. Subsequently, this historical evidence, consolidated into feasibility spaces, will be used for assessing the feasibility of demand for energy and food in IPCC 1.5°C and 2°C climate pathways in order to identify the regions, time-periods and sectors with most significant bottlenecks, as well as present recommendations for constructing more realistic pathways.

Project coordinatorValentina Bosetti (Bocconi University)

Researchers involved:

Lead institution: The London School of Economics
Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi University

Focus area: Democracy in the 21st Century

The project brings together an interdisciplinary team of political scientists, economists, and economic historians to examine the historical drivers of inequality and implications for contemporary rise in populism and polarization in Europe. Our team will analyze the long-term drivers of regional and social heterogeneity in inequalities and human capital engendered at the juncture of the transition of feudal societies into modern skills-intensive and organizationally incorporated professional workforces in present-day Europe, East and West.

We will look at the ways in which European states build upon institutions and human capital legacies engendered under past orders (during a period spanning the XVIII-XX centuries). We will also discern spatial variations in how modern states have tried to address the inequities resulting from these historically conditioned patterns. And, we will analyze the consequences for inequality and political polarization of interaction of institutions developed over a long period of time with historical shocks like famines and epidemics.

Project coordinator: Tomila Lankina (LSE)

Researchers involved:

Lead institution: Central European University
Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi University, European University Institute, The London School of Economics

Focus area: Democracy in the 21st Century

This research project aims to understand in what ways populist governments differ in their welfare and health-related policy responses to the pandemic in the context of the demise of democratic institutions. Our comparative analysis utilizes the unique opportunity provided by the global pandemic to study how populists govern under crisis situations and presents novel insights into the relationship between populism, welfare and health policies, and democratic backsliding. Applying a comparative perspective in terms of geographical areas and across policy fields will shed light on formerly unknown mechanisms of populist governance, and provide a deeper understanding of how and why populism and democratic backsliding flourishes in the current era in the global North and South.

As our investigation covers a diverse set of countries (Russia, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, India, and the Philippines), our findings will be relevant to varying geopolitical and social contexts. One of the most important research results includes a common conceptual framework to assess populist welfare policy responses to the pandemic.

Based on our findings we will develop hypotheses as to why populist regimes differed in their policy responses to the pandemic. More broadly, the outcomes of the research will enable us to understand the role of welfare and health policy measures in legitimizing populist rule. 

Project coordinatorDorottya Szikra (CEU)

Researchers involved:

Lead institution: National University of Political Studies and Public Administration
Other CIVICA members involved: Central European University, Sciences Po

Focus area: Democracy in the 21st Century

This project aims to investigate the prosecution of hate crimes in Romania, Bulgaria and Germany, with a specific focus on antisemitism, by looking into intrinsic motivations among the police and the judiciary. The main activities of the proposed research will consist in: content analysis of documents pertaining to the development of the legal instruments incriminating hate crime and antisemitism; an analysis of the procedural steps of the legal processes, but also of the files and the sentences given for anti-Semitic crimes; semi-structured interviews with the police officers, judges and prosecutors who handled the files in the case of Romania, all in order to study the behavioral patterns of the law enforcement personnel in cases of anti-Semitic hate crimes.

The project also examines the structural patterns of implicit bias and the reasons why they remain silent and undetected – among country wide surveys, and NGO or anti-discrimination groups and institutions’ activities.

The main objectives of the stated research are:

  1. To identify patterns of implicit bias among police officers, judges and prosecutors and their role in how individual files are legally instrumented.
  2. To examine the wider individual, institutional and societal markers that can account for bias and prejudice among law enforcement agencies and personnel.
  3. The third objective is to situate patterns of implicit bias into the wider matrix of the political order in Romania, Bulgaria and Germany, and formulate preliminary hypotheses for other European countries as well, by discussing issues of minority status and integration issues. This third objective will situate the research into the wider agenda of democratic backsliding literature and issues of social hierarchy, violence and oppression.
  4. To propose a set of policy recommendation on improving the legislation addressing antisemitism as well as raising awareness of this issue among policy-makers and law enforcing agencies.

Project coordinatorDan Andrei Muraru (SNSPA)

Researchers involved:

Project webpage>>

A new level of research collaboration

Most projects bring together three or four CIVICA universities, with the biggest project involving six partners. View the network graph below for more details. 


The collaborative research projects are funded from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, under the CIVICA Research project.

Additionally, projects receive financing from national funding sources and partners' own resources.

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Header photo: Arthimedes Shutterstock

“These projects work on the cutting edge of social science to provide new perspectives on the present and future of our societies.” —Mark Hallerberg, Acting President, Hertie School, and member of the evaluation committee

“I am so happy to start this project that brings together four great universities.” —Martina Ferracane, Max Weber Fellow, EUI, coordinator “Digital Trade Integration”