Carsten Schneider and Daniel Izsak

CIVICA Research Snapshot: An Interview with Carsten Schneider and Daniel Izsak


The two researchers discuss current and upcoming CIVICA Research highlights and opportunities, and what the project brings to researchers across the alliance.

CIVICA Research brings together researchers from eight leading European universities in the social sciences to contribute knowledge and solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. The project aims to strengthen the research and innovation pillar of the European University alliance CIVICA. By pursuing enhanced collaboration physically and digitally, CIVICA Research contributes to societal innovation, evidence-based policy-making and the knowledge base of citizens.

As CIVICA opens its second call for research proposals, we spoke with Carsten Schneider, CEU Professor in Political Science and Co-chair of CIVICA’s Permanent Design Team, and Daniel Izsak, CEU Visiting Professor in International Relations and part of CIVICA’s research work packages. Below is an edited version of the December 1 conversation.

Can you share some highlights of CIVICA Research from the past year? What do these new developments bring to researchers around CIVICA? 

CS: I think one major highlight was the first call for research proposals launched last spring. We saw a lot of participation and it has made CIVICA much more known among colleagues.

Another highlight is the consolidation of CIVICA’s Permanent Design Team, which is a group of academics and dedicated research managers. We meet regularly and it’s always very useful, productive and collegial - it genuinely feels like a new creation that certainly would not have happened without CIVICA.

The Permanent Design Team is integrated into many areas of CIVICA. We are asked to help drive deliverables and activities across all of CIVICA’s dimensions – for example, identifying speakers for the CIVICA Public Lecture Series Tours d’Europe, or seeding topics for joint courses. It’s our core responsibility to create and maintain a research environment and serve as the supervisory body for deliverables related to the Horizon 2020 funding that makes CIVICA Research possible.

What aspects of CIVICA’s thematic groups (Democracy in the 21st CenturySocieties in Transition and Crises of EarthEurope Revisited and Data-Driven Technologies for the Social Sciences) helped to seed the current projects and collaborations?

DI: Each thematic group helped faculty from the alliance in discussing emerging research interests and further defining topics. Then the researchers had the liberty to suggest certain activities. The work of the thematic groups helped to define and provide the content for the CIVICA research calls and many of those projects. The groups also launched various talks. Out of common interest, the bottom-up Data Science Seminar Series launched, hosted by different partner universities. The series is all online which helps with continuity and there's a lot of collaboration taking place there.

CS: The underlying motivation for having these groups was to break down these very abstract deliverables and move toward creating a common university. The groups help put that goal into practice and make it more tangible. It gives some form, and, in this way, research is evolving under CIVICA and its framework.

Can you discuss some examples of current CIVICA Research projects with policy implications? 

DI:  With the caveat of course that not all research that is great can result in policy implications, much of the current research is defined by its relevance in Europe today. We lay out the broader themes and it is up to the researchers how they inhabit these spaces.

CS: Of the current projects in process, most do have content related to policy. On another level, a goal for us who organized the call is to create or strengthen existing ties, allowing for a longer-term perspective that feeds our shared goal of making CIVICA a lasting institution. The research call was crucial for this, and those projects are still unfolding. Beyond the research findings, we hope the enhanced relationships are a positive outcome for CIVICA.

What is distinct about CIVICA Research? 

CS: We really see our task as going beyond research, or rather we see the tasks of research as an integrated force bringing people together. It also helps other initiatives under CIVICA’s education or civic engagement work packages that have similar goals of integration.

DI:  We try and see how we can teach together, study together, and do research together. Since it is a pilot project, we're doing this on a small scale. Also, a lot of the work goes into the administrative and process part of working across the alliance - determining the structures for how this platform can support the aforementioned goals: from research to how students can access another institution’s libraries. We’ll have to see what works through evaluation and then determine how to scale it. These are all questions for the future.

Finally, for those less familiar with CIVICA Research, what would you like to point out about your work?

CS:  We are a platform providing opportunities, including funding, but really, it's about a network and meeting people, and also believing in a vision for a truly European university. It’s far from trivial to make progress on that goal. If you think that's something one should strive for in these days, then you should have CIVICA Research on your radar because you can combine it with research interests of your own.  

DI: What I find fascinating about CIVICA is that it's a miniature version of European integration; the process matters as much as the outcome, and we can shape that outcome in many ways. At this stage there's a lot of goodwill towards networking and building. While a lot of faculty have cooperated in different ways prior to CIVICA’s launch, we really see the alliance enhancing and institutionalizing such work, and experimenting with how this can be done.

CIVICA Research brings together researchers from eight leading European universities in the social sciences to contribute knowledge and solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. The project aims to strengthen the research & innovation pillar of the European University alliance CIVICA. CIVICA Research is co-funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. 

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Interview by Julie Potter (CEU)