Collaborative research projects

Collaborative research projects

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

Overview of 2022 projects

  • Preserving Public Values in Privatised Digital Systems (DigiPublicValues)
  • Explorative cases of sustainability and climate change discourse dynamics on social media combining text and network analyses (DYSTENA)
  • European Polarisation Observatory Working Group (EPO-WG)
  • Multi-agent learning and equilibrium (EQUILEARN)
  • Towards a common framework for evaluating EU's policy effectiveness in achieving its Green transformation goals (EVALEU)
  • Greening or greenwashing banks? Climate-conscious bank stakeholders and their impact (GREENINGBANKS)
  • Local democracy and state power: Immigrant inclusion or marginalization? (LocalDem)
  • Migrants’ integration in EU countries: for a selected few only? Current shifts in conceptions of integration and impact on social and ethnic inequalities in host countries (MERITA)
  • People and International Politics in Post-War Europe (PIPPE)
  • Political polarization and prospective learning (PPPL)
  • Religion, Illiberal Constitutionalism and the Retrogression of Fundamental Rights in East Central Europe (ReLiCon)

Lead institution: LSE

Other CIVICA members involved: EUI, Bocconi, Hertie

Focus area: Democracy in the 21st Century; Data-driven technologies for the Social Sciences

Objectives: The project ‘Preserving Public Values in Privatised Digital Systems’ (DigiPublicValues) explores how public values can be preserved when the delivery of digitized public services is delegated to private actors. It moves from the observation that States increasingly rely on private parties for infrastructure or service provision when they digitize public services. Digital public-private partnerships shape the exercise of State powers and individual entitlements. This phenomenon has not yet been subject to significant scholarly scrutiny, with research to date focusing primarily on the privatized regulatory powers of digital platforms when, for instance, they engage in rights balancing through their content moderation policies. Focusing on justice (Italy and England), education (England) and migration and asylum (EU) sectors, the project identifies the role of private digital providers in the provision of public services, and it analyses the democratic consequences through an interdisciplinary lens. It addresses mechanisms to protect public values and ensure digital sovereignty in the context of digital public-private partnerships in the selected sectors.

Project coordinators:

Project webpage>>

Results:

This research agenda was developed and delivered through three workshops. The first workshop held at Bocconi offered the opportunity to scope the case studies and identify the common challenges stemming from the digitisation of public services from a democratic value standpoint. The variations between types of cooperation between public and private entities was noted and compared to ‘standard’ public-private partnerships.  The team concluded that legal principles were the most suitable tool to lay the foundation for more developed legal frameworks and rules, potentially of transnational nature, to address the identified challenges. Accordingly, the team identified four (non-exhaustive) principles to guide such public-private entanglements. These are publicness, participation, accountability, and proportionality.

The second workshop held at EUI has engaged with the formulation of the identified principles. The EUI team offered reflections on the content of the principles, and raised several questions regarding their scope, functioning and implications.

The third workshop held at LSE consolidated the project findings. Professor Albert Sanchez-Graells (University of Bristol) offered an overview of his work on public procurement and AI, while the Hertie team presented a literature review of the existing scholarship on public-private partnerships. This review confirmed the intuition that the implications of digitisation for public values has been overlooked, particularly in empirical research. During this workshop the team agreed upon a basic structure for policy recommendations and assessed options for next steps.


Notable Outputs:

In addition to the workshops, the team produced a series of blog posts documenting some of the project’s findings. A further series of blog posts is envisaged to mark the culmination of this phase of the project.

Lead institution: SSE

Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi, CEU, Sciences Po

Focus area: Societies in Transition, Crises of Earth; Data-driven technologies for the Social Sciences

The DYSTENA project explores cases of sustainability and climate change discourse dynamics on social media and contributes to the development of computational tools for the analysis of text data by combining recent advances in topic modeling and in network analysis. The project team, composed of Karl Wennberg and Mickaël Buffart from the Stockholm School of Economics, Carola Klöck from Sciences Po Paris, Florian Weiler and Petra Kralj Novak from CEU, and Ronald Burt from Bocconi University, seeks to collaborate for the advancement of research methods to help track the dynamics of discourses on social media and examine how these influence policies and norms. To do just this, they will work on interdisciplinary cases in organization management and political science to analyze mechanisms at work in online political or organizational communications and develop methods to study these mechanisms. By studying the complex- multifold challenges around sustainability and climate change through the angle of discourse dynamics, the team will contribute to a better understanding of our Societies in Transition and the crises of Earth (CIVICA theme 1). This is important since one of the major challenges in modern economies relates to linking macro-societal needs, such as food security and biodiversity, to actions on the micro level. The research will shed light on how this link is created through the dynamic interplay between various narratives and actors.

Project coordinatorKarl Wennberg (SSE)

Researchers involved:

Results:

The objective was the advancement of research methodologies facilitating the tracking of discourse dynamics on social media and the examination of their impact on policies and norms. To achieve this, three events were organized: two online workshops in February and May, and a conference held at SSE in September. Each workshop showcased three original research projects from institutions both within and beyond the CIVICA network (e.g., Stanford, UC Berkeley, EFMD Berlin) and attracted 86 and 65 attendees, respectively. The workshops followed an interactive format, featuring presentations, opposing viewpoints, and Q&A sessions with a global audience. The conference extended this format, presenting eight diverse projects utilizing computational methods and drawing an audience of 38 individuals.

The themes of sustainability, climate change, and discourse dynamics lent themselves to interdisciplinary exploration, attracting scholars from organization studies, sociology, management, and political science. This interdisciplinary engagement fostered discussions that transcended our initial focus on Societies in Transition and the crises of Earth (CIVICA theme 1). Through these interactions, we expanded our understanding of the theme and facilitated collaboration among scholars in network analysis. The events also played a pivotal role in building a research network, with over 200 scholars in the field—current or prospective—added to our mailing list through event promotions. Additionally, a collaboration with Sweden's National Library (www.kb.se) enabled the provision of BERT language models to our network.

Although the primary aim was to enhance understanding of Societies in Transition and Earth's crises, the initiative successfully broadened our perspective through interdisciplinary participation. We anticipate significant advancements in text and network analysis, thanks to the establishment of a robust network, dedicated discussion platforms, and the education of scholars in the application of new and improved tools.

Lead institutions: Bocconi, CEU, Sciences Po

Focus area: Democracy in the 21st Century; Data-driven technologies for the Social Sciences

The study of the social and political impact of social media has become an important stream of research, not least for its relation with growing anxieties regarding political polarisation and extremism, fragmentation of internet communities into so-called bubbles, and misinformation, to name a few. Large-scale studies of socio-political dynamics on internet platforms and AI systems mediating them are becoming a driving force for evidence-based policy, shaping the future of internet regulation. These large-scale studies hinge on conceptualizations and operationalization of opinions: Do algorithmic recommendations propose politically-diverse content piercing filter bubbles? Do users connect only with like-minded others forming echo chambers? Does political extremism relate to misinformation? Traditionally, people’s opinions on different issues of the public debate have been studied through polls and surveys. Recent advancements in network scaling methods, however, have shown that digital behavioural traces in social media platforms can be used to mine opinions at a massive scale. These methods allow for the inference of political positions for large samples of users, driving a diverse spectrum of studies on the impact of social media and the internet in social and political dynamics. These methods, however, have traditionally been limited to inferring positions in liberal-conservative scales, best suited for the American setting of bipartisan divides and strongly structured along aligned one-dimensional cleavages. In the first phase of our project, the European Polarisation Observatory (EPO), we established a multi-disciplinary network of scholars across CIVICA for the development and use of multidimensional political opinions in European settings. Through this initiative, we developed new methods to infer multidimensional political attitudes on large samples of internet users, and how they can be used to produce breakthroughs in the understanding of polarisation in Europe. Our results cover algorithmic recommendation, democratic back-sliding, new media dynamics, the emergence of illiberal attitudes and mistrust of institutions, misinformation, and polarisation and fragmentation of the digital public space. This first phase also led to considerable development of big data infrastructure and scientific software modules. With this proposed second phase project, the European Polarisation Observatory Work Group (EPO-WG), we seek to build on this established network to advanced towards a proposal for a major funding with the objective of materialising an European Polarisation Observatory into a self-sustainable social media observatory infrastructure or unit within CIVICA, providing political opinion data driving research in diverse areas of social sciences across members.

Project coordinators:

Researchers involved:

Project webpage>> 

Read more about the first phase of the project>>

Lead institutions: LSE

Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi, SSE

Focus area: Data-Driven Technologies for Social Sciences

As part of the CIVICA priority area "Data Driven Technologies for Social Sciences", the project "Multi-agent learning and equilibrium" will run October 2022-October 2023 in London, Milan and Stockholm. It is a cross-disciplinary project at the departments of Mathematics (LSE), Computer Science (Bocconi), and Economics (SSE), based on the expertise of the investigators in game theory, machine learning, and economic equilibrium concepts.

Many economic decisions are made automatically by learning algorithms, for example the dynamic pricing of hotel rooms. Can these algorithms learn to *collude*, with higher prices than what would be expected from perfect competition? Some evidence suggests this may happen. With a mathematical model of a "pricing game", this the first question studied in this project. The more general question is to understand better how machine learning works when multiple independent agents learn on their own. The research challenges are much more complex that in single-agent learning, which has been very successful in, say, image recognition. Learning during the interaction among multiple agents may lead to unusual optimizing behaviour against each other. They may be stuck in a "bad equilibrium" instead of cooperating. On the other hand, one may not want hotels to "cooperate" (that is, collude) with higher prices. All this needs to be better understood.

The project will develop a novel modular approach with exchangeable "parts" for the given game of competition and cooperation, the machine learning method, and its evaluation in various "equilibrium" scenarios of reasonable behaviour of the agents. These parts can be varied separately, within a new open-source software framework.

Project coordinator: Bernhard von Stengel (LSE)

Lead institutions: CEU, SNSPA, Sciences Po

Focus areas: Societies in Transition, Crises of Earth; Europe Revisited

With the Green Deal, the European Union embarked on a mission to aim for the fastest worldwide transition to a green economy with low emissions. These aims require a paradigmatic shift in the function of its economy and significant socio-economic strain and would also depend on upgrading the EU’s institutional capacity to evaluate and monitor policy implementation. Overall, the EU’s effort to become the global leader in combating climate change and environmental degradation could be successful if the policy instruments deployed towards these ends are carefully calibrated to ensure a continuous progression of its Member States’ to achieve its environmental goals. To understand the extent to which the current policy targets can be achieved at present and what modifications would be required, we must evaluate the EU's success so far in achieving the targets set in its previously adopted environmental policies. Currently, there is no systematic evaluation nor a theoretical framework to understand how the EU approaches the process of designing its environmental policies and designs its instruments of policy implementation. Achieving this is important to provide a framework to improve the EU’s approach to policy design and implementation, with lessons that can be extrapolated to any country of regulatory areas aiming to design and implement policies to tackle similar challenges. This project elaborates the first steps for such a framework by comprehensively systematizing the current knowledge of the EU’s approach and capacity for policy ex-ante and ex-post policy implementation in the field of environmental policy, with a special focus on using funds to upgrade Member States’ capacity. Based on the structured literature review, we will elaborate a research design, conduct preliminary research and structure the findings in a research report that will serve as the basis for organizing a Civica workshop with specialists and for a grant application.

Researchers involved:

Lead institutions: Sciences Po

Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi University

Focus area: Societies in Transition, Crises of Earth

Limiting global warming over this century to a level consistent with the 2015 Paris Agreement implies significant investment to finance the green transition from brown to green activities. As also indicated by banks' current communication strategies, large banks are major players in this process because, by selecting borrowers, they create incentives for firms to support the green transition. However, the mounting pressure from regulators and investors increases the risk that a part of banks' green words is only greenwashing. While many large banks boast ambitious climate-related strategies and commit to investing in clean or ESG-concerned firms, environmental activists regularly point at billions of loans still poured into climate and environmentally damaging activities.

What makes large banks shift towards financing the transition at the global scale? What roles do stakeholders (e.g., depositors, shareholders, and regulators) have? Is peer pressure, notably via the membership in voluntary coalitions for climate, an effective way to motivate banks to support the transition? The GREENINGBANKS project investigates these questions using a unique combination of public and proprietary individual datasets, either at the level of a large European country (France) to study pressure on banks from local depositors or globally to study the role of other stakeholders and institutional investors. By exploiting local environmental NGO campaigns and participation in international environmental alliances, our project will provide new insights into the role of activists and peer pressure in boosting the green transition of financial institutions.

Project coordinatorMichele Fioretti (Sciences Po)

Researchers involved:

Lead institution: Sciences Po

Other CIVICA members involved: SSE

Focus area: Democracy in the 21st Century

LocalDem explores the links between politics and policing at the local level since 2000. Anti-elite right-wing populists rise to power, in part, through their efforts to link immigrants with crime in voters’ minds. Once in power, aggressive policing is one of their first policy goals. Thus, nearly all European democracies face the challenge of fighting crime without further marginalizing low-income, minority, or immigrant groups. The recent literature on policing suggests that these goals are in fundamental tension: More policing reduces crime, but at great costs to disadvantaged communities’ health and well-being. Here, we propose to explore how a greater police presence combined with greater local accountability affects social dynamics. Specifically, we will study the effects of recent expansions of municipal police departments in France. We will start by documenting the correlations between local police presence on the territory and a wide range of demographics, crime rates and political opinions. Then we will estimate the causal effects of establishing a force. We will collect and digitize novel data on parties’ manifestos in municipal elections. This database will become publicly available at the end of the project. Text analysis from this new source and election results will allow us to study the effects of the police-promising party narrowly winning or losing the election in order to isolate quasi-random variation in the establishment of a local police force. With this design and individual level data, we will study not only how a local police force affects crime and arrests, but also migration, housing values, and educational and employment outcomes, particularly among disadvantaged members of the population. Our main overarching hypotheses are (1) that intrusive and aggressive policing leads to a broad disengagement of immigrants from society (especially for young men), but (2) that not all municipal police forces represent intrusive and aggressive policing.

Project coordinator: Roberto Galbiati (Sciences Po)

Notable Outputs: We digitized more than 2,500 manifestos for French municipal elections in 2008, 2014 and 2020. They will be accessible to the public in June 2024 at the latest, through the CEVIPOF platform.

(https://archive.org/details/archiveselectoralesducevipof

Lead institution: SSE

Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi, CEU, EUI, Hertie, IE, LSE, SNSPA, Sciences Po, SHG

Focus area: Europe Revisited

MERITA will develop a multi-disciplinary forum on the topic of integration of migrants in Europe, identifying topic synergies across disciplines and problematizing them. For example, when integration is associated with a set of merits to be proven, the definition of these merits is done in relation to worth. Is there an emerging world of worth that tends to gain a preponderant position in contemporary views on integration? How is this world of worth doing in view of fundamental EU values based on inclusion and the Human Rights? What kind of inequality may this lead to?

The project MERITA will explore two central research questions: (1) What are current (competing) logics in thinking integration and (2) what are the potential implications of these logics? In particular, regarding the possible creation of increased social and racial inequality in societies.

Project coordinatorLaurence Romani (SSE)

Researchers involved:

Results:

This forum's main results are (1) the development of a publication (presented at the IMISCOE 2023 conference) and (2) the draft of an international research project that will be submitted to national and international research calls from 2024.

Project webpage>>

Lead institution: LSE

Other CIVICA members involved: EUI

Focus area: Europe revisited

What lessons do citizens draw from experiencing major armed conflicts, and how do they think about international politics in their immediate aftermath? When war is a recent rather than a distant memory, do people have coherent ideas about newly emerging tensions and the best ways to ensure peace, security, and stability going forward? These important questions have gained new relevance in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While many politicians, pundits and observers point to lessons from World War 2 to illustrate the necessity of stopping aggressors decisively in their tracks, others maintain that the same event instead has shown that neutrality is the preferred way to prevent an escalation of armed conflict. How people arrive at vastly different assessments of events of regional and global significance is as notable as it is puzzling. As a first step toward solving the puzzle, this seed funding project will produce a grant proposal for a larger project that aims to exploit a treasure trove of previously unused public surveys conducted on behalf of the U.S. Department of State in several European countries between 1945 until 1970. These surveys regularly asked random samples of citizens inter alia about their perceptions of the intensifying Cold War and their attitudes toward former warring parties, newly established international organizations, and European security projects. Together, well over 100,000 Europeans participated in these surveys, and they promise to offer rare glimpses into (changing) attitudes toward European and international politics in the years following World War 2. We will prepare the grant proposal in three steps: First, we identify, pool, and clean the available historical survey data to construct a large, unified dataset. Second, we explore the data to specify possible research questions and conduct preliminary analyses. Third, we disseminate first findings and, on that basis, draft a grant proposal for the systematic analysis of our data.

Project coordinatorMareike Kleine (LSE)

Researchers involved:

Results: Cleaning and Synthesis of data

Notable Outputs:

Lead institutions: Bocconi, Hertie School

Focus area: Democracy in the 21st Century

Recent decades have seen an increase in political polarization with intensifying disagreement on factual matters across party lines, especially in the United States. While diverging points of view are a natural feature of political discourse, healthy debate relies on agreement about objective facts. Growing polarization has been attributed to “echo chambers”, i.e. the tendency of people to interact with like-minded individuals and consume politically aligned news. Echo chambers themselves can result from structural factors, such as the way algorithms direct our attention on social media. But who we interact with and what news we consume is, to a large extent, also a personal choice. The proposed project explores key drivers of the choice to avoid conversations that reach across the aisle. We already started programming an online platform where an algorithm will match individuals to bilaterally interact through video calls during the experiment. We expect this project to generate three types of results. First, a working paper of the study described in this proposal, following a pre-registration of the study and data analyses that we intend to conduct by the American Economic Association RCT registry. Second, this project will be the basis for larger grant applications for our research agenda on prejudice reduction. Third, we will promote the findings through blog posts and columns for outlets such as VOXEU and The Conversation, and we expect that the project will also organically attract significant media attention.

Project coordinators:

Lead institution: Hertie School

Other CIVICA members involved: CEU, EUI

Focus area: Democracy in the 21st Century; Europe Revisited

This interdisciplinary collaborative research project, led by a team of four experts from the Hertie School, CEU, and EUI, seeks to lay the foundations of and conduct a pilot study for a larger investigation on the role that organized majority / (de facto) state religion plays in democratic backsliding and the rise of illiberal democracy. It focuses more closely on its impact on constitutional and judicial politics of fundamental rights in ECE. The research will explore the ways in which different constitutional texts and judicial interpretation have become venues for continued or unprecedented contestation of fundamental rights and liberties through the use of Orthodox Christian and Catholic value claims in Hungary and Poland, and in the understudied cases of Bulgaria Czechia, Romania, Latvia and Moldova. In doing so, it will identify (1) factors / forces that create opportunities for the pursuit of religious narratives that feed the retrogression of fundamental rights and democratic backsliding and (2) factors / forces that boost democratic resilience / halt the retrogression of fundamental rights (and the spread of illiberal democracy). In addition to disseminating the research findings through a publication, a one-day workshop on the theme of the project held at the Democracy Institute of CEU Budapest will facilitate engagement with a network of relevant stakeholders. The project is thus aimed at establishing a CIVICA-led wider consortium of experts working at the intersection of religion, constitutionalism, fundamental rights and democratic backsliding from different disciplines and institutions, amongst CIVICA partners and beyond. The core team will also develop an agenda for further research and apply for a major grant that would allow to continue and consolidate the project beyond CIVICA’s seed funding.

Project coordinators:

A new level of research collaboration

Most projects bring together three or four universities, with the biggest project involving all 10 CIVICA partners. View the network graph below for more details. 

Overview of 2021 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: CEU

Other CIVICA members involved: SNSPA, Sciences Po, LSE

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 coordinatorChristophe Heintz (CEU)

Researchers involved:

Project webpage>>

Notable outputs:

One of the main aspects of this project was to enable two doctoral students to have research stay in a CIVICA institution other than their own. Doctoral student Akos Szegofi, from CEU stayed in Sciences Po for a term, and doctoral student Angarika Deb, also from CEU, stayed in LSE for a term. They both greatly benefited from their stay.

Under the CIVICA Research project, we organised one online kickstart workshop, with relevant invited guest. It was a Team members presented at several conferences the work in progress related to ATI (Deb, for instance, presented her work at ISPP 2022, CogSci 2023).

Here is a selection of papers published or submitted that are directly related to the project.

  • Bargaining between the sexes: outside options and leisure time in households of hunter-gatherers by Deb et al. (Submitted to Evolution and Human Behaviour)
  • Perpetuation of gender inequalities in households: from cognition to culture by Deb (Submitted to Personality and Social Psychology Review);
  • Gender egalitarianism in hunter-gatherers: a review by Deb (Encyclopaedia of Sexual Psychology and Behaviour - In press)
  • Cultural epidemiology of reasons, By Blancke, S. and Heintz, C. (Submitted to Trends in Cognitive Science)
  • Une égalité sans équivalence. Pour une anthropologie du commun. By Walker, H. Revue du MAUSS, 2023, no 1, p. 167-198.
  • In defense of the heart: An Amazonian politics of respect. By Walker, H. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 2022, vol. 12, no 3, p. 791-804.

Lead institutions: EUI, Hertie

Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi, CEU, Sciences Po, LSE

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 coordinatorMark Dawson (Hertie School)

Researchers involved:

Results:
The project organised a research conference on the topic of Judicial Politics on June 16-17, 2022. See the conference website here:Revisiting judicial politics in the European Union - CIVICA Conference • European University Institute (eui.eu)

The papers presented at the conference will result in an edited book published by Edward Elgar in 2024 – ‘Revisiting Judicial Politics in the European Union’ – edited by Mark Dawson, Bruno de Witte and Elise Muir.

Lead institution: Sciences Po

Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi, CEU, EUI, LSE

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: EUI

Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi, Hertie, LSE

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:

 

Results:
The DTI project has delivered in each of the three main objectives it had:

  • Network of digital trade researchers: we organized a series of meeting, seminars and webinars that aimed to exchange on best practices for the regulation of digital trade and to share perspectives in this area. Thanks for these meetings, we developed a network of researchers that goes well beyond academia as our partners also include international organizations and think-tanks (https://dti.eui.eu/partners/). Four other partners are in the process of joining: FGV, Teesside University, US department of Commerce, and Universidad de Chile.
  • Dataset: our original objective was to cover 50 countries, but thanks to the collaboration with our partners in the United Nations and the US department of Commerce, we managed to cover and publish 123 datasets to date, and they will go up to 146 by the end of 2023. In particular, we are finalising 12 more African countries (and by doing so covering 54 countries in Africa), 7 additional Caribbean economies, and 4 more Central Asian countries.
  • Index: we have finalised a first version of the index that has been already widely used by the UN in their publications. We are working on two additional methodologies to aggregate the data, in collaboration with the Graduate Institute of Geneva, and aim to release the index by the end of the year.

The project went well beyond expectations and enabled us to create the basis to build a bigger collaboration that goes beyond academia and ensures that our research is relevant in the policy discussions.

Notable Outputs:

Project webpage>>

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Lead institutions: CEU, Sciences Po

Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi, LSE

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:

Results:

EPO has achieved a proof of concept, showing that social media data can be used to infer multidimensional positions of large populations for studies, leveraging behavioural trace data from platforms and political survey data. This unique methodological blend effectively bridges opinion dynamics with empirical fields while encompassing country specific cleavage structures and strategic political dynamics. The political attitudinal and ideological datasets produced in the project have been used at EPO to treat key questions in social media studies. These include the characterization of the so-called echo chambers, including both topological (Who connects with whom?) and spatial aspects (Who holds which position with respect to whom?). These results have also enabled translating the current debate about polarisation as a driver of misinformation into European settings, showing that traditional Left-Right polarisation must be modulated by attitudes linked to populism when considered as a driver for the dissemination of fake stories. The project has also leveraged politically positioned online populations in investigating new methods for auditing the effects of algorithmic recommendations on platforms.

Notable Outputs:

The EPO has produced 15 scientific publications in flagship journals in different disciplines, such as the ACM Recommender Systems (RecSys) Conference, Party Politics Journal, or the Journal of Computational Social Sciences. Several publications have resulted from collaboration between researchers in different CIVICA institutions. EPO has also funded postdoctoral and research assistant positions, as well as research internships and Master’s theses that have helped strengthen collaboration between member institutions.

Project webpage>>

Lead institution: Bocconi 

Other CIVICA members involved: CEU, Hertie

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 

Other CIVICA members involved: EUI, LSE

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:

Results: We fielded a survey experiment among about 7,200 respondents in Hungary, Germany, Italy, and Sweden. We examined how information about terrorism affects individual level behavioural outcomes (generosity towards migrants or locals, or selfish behaviour). While we find some effects on attitudes, despite being well-powered, this analysis does not find strong effect of information about terrorism on behaviour. We suggest that pre-existing implicit biases might be driving these null effects. 

Notable Outputs: Dinas, Elias, Anna Getmansky and Julian Wucherpfennig. 2023. “Migration, Terrorism, and Democracy”

Presented at:

  • Research on Political Behavior in Berlin and Brandenburg (invited workshop, May 5, 2023)
  • European Political Science Association Annual Meeting (conference presentation, 26 June 2022)
  • Migration Policy Centre, European University Institute, (invited talk, 11 January 2022)

Lead institution: Bocconi 

Other CIVICA members involved: CEU, EUI

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:

Project webpage

Notable Outputs: 

Online workshop: 

Lead institution: LSE

Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi 

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: CEU

Other CIVICA members involved: Bocconi, EUI, LSE

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: SNSPA

Other CIVICA members involved: CEU, 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>>

Funding

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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