Lens looking at society, credit: Arthimedes, Shutterstock

Research in the service of European societies


The European University Institute supports the dissemination of social science research on COVID-19 through a Knowledge Hub, innovative research projects, and a new data portal.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the mandate to use social sciences to address current challenges and advise policy makers could not be more relevant or timely. The European University Institute (EUI) has taken up this challenge, supporting multi-disciplinary initiatives across the European (and global) research space, specifically with regard to the novel coronavirus.

Making research available 

In spring of 2020, at the height of lock-down in Italy, the EUI set up its digital Knowledge Hub on COVID-19. The hub provides a complete overview of the Institute’s activities related to the pandemic, including research, data collection, publications, multimedia material and events.

The hub grew organically from the early weeks, thanks to the initiative and input of an interdisciplinary group of faculty members and researchers, with assistance from the Institute’s research support services, all of whom were working remotely.

Professor Renaud Dehousse, President of the EUI, remarked on the “momentous impact” the new coronavirus has had on European societies and beyond. “The Institute could do no less,” he explained, “than to encourage social science research on the crisis and facilitate the dissemination of that work.” It is his hope that the Knowledge Hub will contribute to “better research and better policies,” encouraging multi-disciplinary synergies and insights into all societal aspects of the 2020 pandemic.

In July, the EUI deepened its commitment to maximise the accessibility of COVID-related research results when it became an early signatory to the European Parliament’s Manifesto for EU COVID-19 Research.

Novel research projects for a novel virus

Since the early days of the COVID-19 lock-down, social science researchers have been spontaneously contributing expertise on the social, economic and political effects of the virus. To date, EUI academics alone have produced around 200 articles, commentaries, podcasts, videos or other materials related to the pandemic.

Still, given the momentous impact of the emergency, the EUI launched a competitive selection to promote and fund new research on the topic by its academic community.

In summer 2020, the Institute awarded funding to 17 research proposals exploring different aspects of the crisis. 

The winning projects, conducted by doctoral students, faculty, and fellows, tackle an array of issues ranging from the economy to gender equality, to the role of social media and teleworking.  

CIVICA Ambassador Tamara Popic, an EUI Max Weber Fellow who has worked extensively on health politics, will collaborate with EUI and external academics on the new project “Responding to COVID-19: Government Action, Government Rhetoric, and Public Trust.” One component of the project is the construction of a dataset containing information on governmental actions in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, and how those actions are related to public compliance and attitudes. 

Regarding the opportunity to pursue policy-related research on COVID, Popic states: “This is a crucial time for researchers and policymakers to work together on resolving our societies' pressing problems.” 

COVID-19 data portal

EUI Professor of Microeconomics David Levine supervises the organisation of the data for the Institute’s new COVID-19 Social Sciences Data Portal. Levine has been the lead academic in the creation of the portal, having recognised the potential of such an instrument early in the spring. 

“The Data Portal aims to become the go-to place for researchers looking for data they need to carry out social sciences research on COVID-19. Designed for convenience, the network of information stretches all over the world, with thorough coverage of relevant issues. It ranges from infection rates to economic factors and is soon to include documentary and archival information, covering decrees and measures designed to contain the pandemic.”

“We don’t provide the data,” says Levine, “at this point what we have done mostly is organise existing data on COVID-19.”

As he explains, the richer the catalogue, the greater the appeal. For example, lawyers will be able to use the data to explore the impact on human rights, while economists and sociologists will be able to rely on the data to explore the impact of anti-COVID19 measures.

He hopes the Data Portal, which is currently in its infancy as a pilot project, can become a long-term endeavour, and the aim going forward is to attract an increasing number of disciplines.

Written by Adriana Urbano and Jackie Gordon (EUI)

Header photo © Arthimedes/Shutterstock; photo of David Levine courtesy of David Levine; photo of Tamara Popic courtesy of Tamara Popic