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Building the Future: Excelling in Computational and Quantitative Social Sciences in Turkey

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Social ComQuant (Building the Future: Excelling in Computational and Quantitative Social Sciences in Turkey)

Reporting period: 2021-11-01 to 2023-07-31

Today, digitalization is an unstoppable megatrend. It characterizes the twenty-first century in many aspects of social, political, and cultural life. The deep structural changes that accompany digitalization have become both the subject matter and an instrument of the social sciences. Social scientists now use big data, machine learning, network analysis in computational methods, and (quasi) experimental methods in quantitative methods to analyze the social world. These novel methods can be applied e.g. to distill measures from new data sources (texts and images), to characterize population heterogeneity, to improve causal inference, and to offer predictions in aiding policy decisions and theory development. Despite the development in the state-of-the-art, there are significant disparities in terms of research and innovation performance between Turkey and the better performing European Member states as well as North American countries in computational and quantitative social sciences (CSS and QSS) together with the field of Digital Societies. In order to reduce the gap in Turkey's disparities in these fields, Koç University (KU) in Istanbul has teamed up with the leading European institutions GESIS- Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences (GESIS) from Germany and ISI Foundation- Istituto Interscambio Scientifico (ISI) from Italy to form the project consortium of Social ComQuant. The Social ComQuant project aims to enhance the scientific excellence and innovation capacity of the KU, and consequently, improve the fields of CSS and QSS in Turkey in collaboration with GESIS and ISI. The fundamental objectives of Social ComQuant are (1) supporting early career development; (2) improving research excellence, (3) enhancing knowledge infrastructure, and (4) strengthening research collaborations. These objectives are being fulfilled under five work packages (WPs) of the Project, which are:

* WP1: Training of Early-Stage Researchers,
* WP2: Building Research Excellence and Networking
* WP3: Knowledge and Teaching Infrastructure
* WP4: Communication and Dissemination
* WP5: Project Management.
For this first interim report—covering the period from August 1, 2020, to October 31, 2021—, there were nine deliverables to be completed. Additionally, we included the deliverables that we finished ahead (e.g. Deliverable 3.4) and that we have started to work on despite their due date have not reached yet (e.g. Deliverable 1.5). Consequently, the Social ComQuant has effectively fulfilled thirteen deliverables and six milestones in the first reporting period. For WP1, the first international CSS summer school in Turkey was organized in July 2021 (D1.1); the exchange program between KU, GESIS, and ISI has been initiated in January 2021 (D1.4); and workshop organizations has started and 5 workshops had been completed (D1.5). For WP2, the selection process of the exchange participants has been systematized and initiated (D2.1). For WP3, we have launched the first CSS master’s program at KU, along with introducing new courses and certificate structures in CSS and QSS (D3.1 D3.2 and D3.3); and we have been working on organizing online training modules and computational methods tutorials (D3.4 and D3.5). For WP4, we drafted a Detailed Dissemination, Communication, and Stakeholder Engagement Plan (DCSEP) which defines the objectives, target audience, and communication and dissemination channels of the project (D4.1). Finally, for WP5, which is concerned with the overall management of the project, plans of project management (D5.1) and data management (D5.2) were prepared and put in execution, and the peer-reviewed publications in CSS of the coordinating entity—that is KU—during the three years preceding the start date of the project have been listed in the Continuous Reporting Tool on the Funding and Tenders Portal to fulfill Key Performance Indicators (KPI) requirements of the Project. As for the milestones, we managed to realize six milestones in the first 15 months of the project, as promised in the offer (or even one milestone more than promised): the number of ESRs at KU in the fields of CSS and QSS is increased (Milestone 3); the number of female researchers interested in CSS is increased (Milestone 4); the first MA program in CSS and QSS in Turkey is launched in 2021—earlier than expected—(Milestone 5); the official project website has been developed along with a common graphic line (Milestone 6); a network to share newsletters and a platform to share blog posts has been built (Milestone 7); and a social media footprint had been established (Milestone 8).
The activities of WP1 during the first fifteen months of the project have strengthened the research capacity in Computational Social Sciences at KU and among young Turkish scholars. ISI has already started preparations for the second summer school, which will be on textual data analysis including NLP and machine learning methods. As part of Social ComQuant’s research excellence building and networking goals, WP2 is also about long-term collaborations between GESIS, ISI, and KU. With the exchange programs, we still expect to have common research projects in between institutions until the end of the project. If we will not get a reasonable number of qualified applications, then we may consider extending the scope of the exchange program to other Turkish universities, based on consultation with the PO. As part of knowledge and teaching infrastructure, and in line with the objectives of the WP3 in particular, we are also working to establish a Computational Social Science Research Center at KU. Additionally, by the end of the project, we expect to offer self-explanatory teaching materials that present selected methods for collecting, preprocessing, and analyzing digital behavioral data as well as idealtypical research pipelines in which these modules are combined into application workflows. Regarding WP4, we have many goals to be realized in the second half of the project. The most significant and ambitious of them is that we want to transform our website into an interactive communication platform that targets both local and international audiences if the budget can be arranged accordingly. We plan this platform to act as a global document-sharing and discussion/forum digital space, where the users will be sharing codes, datasets, and articles. The Social ComQuant project all about increasing awareness of CSS and establishing a solid educational infrastructure by providing a variety of educational activities and resources, and building a wide network. With a large portion of the participants from KU at the activities, therefore we expect to have a continuity of the CSS projects at KU - particularly considering the establishment of the CSS research center and the MA program in CSS. Also, in addition to the Social ComQuant’s projects being online, they are open to the public, and a good portion of the participants are from universities outside of the main cities in Turkey. Therefore, we hope to improve CSS literacy beyond the focus institution of KU.