Research | Social Sciences

Unique digital research lab established at UiB

A new computer lab represents UiB’s and Bergen Research Foundation’s biggest investments in on infrastructure in social sciences ever. This will make UiB one of the most interesting places for social sciences in Europe, says Elisabeth Ivarsflaten, leader of the project.

Elisabeth Ivarsflaten
Paul Sigve Amundsen.

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Associate Professor Elisabeth Ivarsflaten at the Department of Comparative Politics founded the Norwegian Citizen Panel. The panel is a web-based survey of Norwegians’ opinions on important societal matters and was Norway’s first internet panel dedicated to research. Now, this digital infrastructure is able to extend its reach.

”This will be a major boost for social sciences and cross-disciplinary research in Norway,” says Ivarsflaten.

A grant of 20 million NOK (around 2 million Euros) has now been awarded by the Bergen Research Foundation (BFS). This grant enables the citizen consortium to establish Digital Social Science Core Facility (DIGSSCORE) at The University of Bergen (UiB). DIGSSCORE is a further development of the Norwegian Citizen Panel, and will establish a computer lab: The Citizen Lab.

This makes DIGSSCORE one of UiB’s biggest investments on infrastructure in the social sciences ever. The project is also the first infrastructure from the social sciences to receive funding from BFS. The research group The Choice Lab from the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) and Uni Research Rokkan Centre join as partners in the project. The total budget for DIGSSCORE amounts to 53.8 million NOK (around 5.5 million Euros).

The core facility will be used by researchers from several research fields across disciplines, researchers from the humanities, social sciences, law and psychology among them. The facility is the first of its kind in Norway.

A digital revolution

Norwegian citizens spend more than two hours online every day. Just about every Norwegian citizen has internet access, either at home or at work. The Norwegian society has been massively digitalised in the last decades.

”This changes our society and creates great opportunities for the social sciences, much more now than only ten years ago. Questions we used to believe were impossible to answer can now be answered, for example questions concerning extreme opinions in Norwegian society,” says Ivarsflaten.

The new core facility seizes these opportunities. The Citizen Panel and the Citizen Lab will perform innovative and world leading research on society and politics, within several fields.

The digital change makes way for more experimenting, seeing as the questions one asks the participants can be randomised. It is also possible to ask the participants to describe their thoughts and emotions on a topic in their own words, something which is quite costly using traditional surveys. Research that used to take four years can be performed in a matter of days, while fulfilling scientific requirements.

”The divide between qualitative and quantitative research is crumbling. Now, we are able to use algorithms to read words. This is an entirely new approach, enabling the participants to  answer more freely,” says Ivarsflaten.

Studying attitudes over time 

The digital change also makes it easier to establish contact with participants and to collect data. In turn, this makes it easier to study attitudes over a longer time period, according to Ivarsflaten.

She and her team of researchers have chosen several issues they want to track over time, such as ethnic diversity, the health field and climate change. These are all fields where large changes are expected. Norway, with its wealth of oil, is particularly interesting in light of energy and climate issues.

”The large number of participants makes it possible for us to compare people employed in the oil industry and their view on climate issues to others. We wish to be relevant,” says Ivarsflaten.

New issues will be researched in the time to come. The support from BFS makes it possible to extend the collection of data from two to three times yearly.

International collaborations

The Citizen Panel has in its two active years produced an excellent reputation internationally as well as a solid network. The panel is used by several research teams at UiB, as well as several international researchers and teams, from universities such as Stanford, Harvard and Yale. DIGSSCORE aims to strengthen its international collaboration, says Ivarsflaten.

”Many see the potential in this project and want to join. It is describes as dynamic by our international partners, a cross-disciplinary engine creating new and tangible results,” she says.

The major ambition in the years to come is to fully make use of the new technology for the social sciences. Ivarsflaten wants to extend collaborations between disciplines, the humanities and social sciences being one example.

”We will need them both to create new and vital knowledge. A secondary goal is to hone the digital and technical skills within the social sciences. This is something our future society will need, and it will benefit students at UiB. DIGSSCORE will make UiB one of the most interesting places to study social sciences in Europe,” says Ivarsflaten.