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Observatory for Political Texts in European Democracies - A European Research Infrastructure

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - OPTED (Observatory for Political Texts in European Democracies - A European Research Infrastructure)

Reporting period: 2022-04-01 to 2023-09-30

Liberal democracy is increasingly challenged in Europe and beyond. To better understand these challenges and to support democracies across Europe, it is important to make more transparent the activities that take place at all stages of the political process. Social scientists are nowadays in a unique position to systematically observe political developments, in particular if they fully exploit the possibilities of the vast amounts of semi-structured data and modern computational techniques. Communication is at the heart of many political processes, and understanding the current challenges to democracy inevitably must rely on a comprehensive assessment of communicative processes. Political texts produced by the media, political actors like politicians, political parties, governments, or by citizens and non-governmental organizations offer a remarkable opportunity to observe and understand social and political processes. This project sought to provide the conceptual design to build a European infrastructure for political text analysis – OPTED, the Observatory for Political Texts in European Democracies — to better understand the state and dynamics of political processes in European democracies.
OPTED addresses a number of challenges that characterise political text analysis research. First, the research field of political text analysis is fragmented and therefore inefficient. This strains resources, but also impairs the quality of scientific work in terms of reproducibility and validity. Second, the research field is time and context-sensitive and language differs between usage areas and over time. Also, the European political space is multilingual and observing this space requires multilingual, non-discriminatory tools. Third, the area of text analysis has been criticised for a lack of reliability, validity, or reproducibility of research. Hence, there is a strong need towards a standardisation of processes and routines. Fourth, researchers working with political texts are touching on ethical and legal boundaries, some of which have not even been well-defined yet.
An institutionalization of the field of political text analysis through a common European infrastructure will yield a more impactful, sustainable, innovative, democratic, non-discriminatory research landscape, putting the European Research Area at the forefront of global developments in this field.
Based on a range of approaches from the project partners, the OPTED Design Study project has provided a comprehensive Conceptual Design Report which serves as a blueprint for building an operational OPTED infrastructure. Services offered through a prototype of the OPTED online platform among others include novel ways to store and retrieve data resources, a curated collection of tools and a mapping of the literature, as well as training materials. The CDR emphasizes the strong need for academic community engagement for further developing the infrastructure in line with community needs.
The OPTED consortium has produced a vast amount of groundwork towards addressing the project objectives. These works have impacted both the development of the central OPTED online platform and the development of the conceptual design for a fully operational infrastructure. A community wide need assessment gave insight into the challenges faced when using text analysis methods and allows OPTED to tailor information and materials to support a wide and inclusive user base, including gender and low-resource contexts.
For the different types of political texts, data inventories and resources have been produced and are now openly accessible. These cover European news media sources and access options to their texts, legislative text corpora across European member states and text data from political organisations, among others. A mapping of the research landscape highlights the need for a truly continental platform that encompasses data from all European nations and encourages researchers to think across borders. OPTED has made accessible and extended previous work on text storage infrastructures for an open science approach, as well as open tools for text annotations. Further, it has produced the first steps towards an infrastructure that will interlink different types of text data. Lastly, OPTED has produced the prototype of the research infrastructure platform. It unites much of the information and services that OPTED sees relevant to offer. Regarding ethical and legal issues, OPTED has produced a comprehensive and publicly available report on the challenges in the field of political text analysis.
All in all, the Design Study phase of OPTED during the project period has made important progress and provided a range of highly relevant blueprints and prototypes that are a comprehensive basis for further developing the OPTED research infrastructure into a Preparatory and Operational phase. The current work has been widely disseminated into the academic community by means of a community survey, publications, conference presentations, sponsoring of academic workshops and events and through social media activities. Thereby, OPTED has created a recognized brand name among its academic user community. It has furthermore begun to establish the OPTED work in relevant stakeholder communities, for instance among research units in national parliaments, political party archives, data journalists and NGOs.
OPTED provides a framework, services, and proof of concept for the technical and conceptual design of a cutting edge European research infrastructure (RI) and raises awareness of the strategic and substantial need of a long-term funded infrastructure on political text analysis that shapes the observations and comprehension of processes and developments of European democracy. It has been at the forefront of developing a community based RI in the area of political text analysis and already after the Design Study phase offers novel curated repositories of data and tools and a non-consumptive research pipeline for text data sharing. The work provided throughout the conceptual design phase will provide proof-of-concept for the operational phase and underline the importance of a long-term establishment of the infrastructure to put research in the area of political text analysis in the European Research Area at the forefront of global initiatives.
The conceptual design outlines the contours of an OPTED infrastructure that will push the boundaries of research excellence in various fields of political text analysis, generate a globally visible and excellent research community and democratize research on political texts based on FAIR principles. OPTED will establish itself as a major resource for journalists and opinion makers, for students and interested academics, and for policymakers to turn to for systematic information about the state and dynamics of European democracies as evident by political texts. It will become the major hub for political text analysis in Europe and beyond. The resources, standards, and services that are implemented through OPTED are the building blocks for the development of a computational political science of text that is open, transparent, multilingual, flexible, problem focused, gender-aware, text-aware, context-aware and integrated.
Overview of the different work packages and their tasks in the structure of the OPTED project.