Universiteit Leiden

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Digital infrastructure for research into the social network of the full Dutch population

An interdisciplinary consortium based at Leiden University, the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and Statistics Netherlands (CBS), receives €1 million to build an open digital infrastructure for network analysis of the entire Dutch population. This will allow scholars and policymakers to gain crucial insights into key issues like segregation, social change, and inequality.

Social ties

Building on the official data from CBS, the project interconnects the 17 million inhabitants of the Netherlands through 39 billion social ties, such as your neighbors, colleagues, family and school relations. The new Population Scale Network Analysis for Social Sciences and Humanities (POPNET-SSH) project will develop a digital infrastructure and research community that unlocks these data in an open and ethical way, taking into account privacy issues as well as computational challenges. 

‘This project is almost a textbook example of interdisciplinary research’, says co-director Frank Takes of the Leiden Institute of Advance Computer Science (LIACS). ‘The steep increase in nowadays available social network data is of extreme value to understanding core questions in the social sciences. At the same time, computer scientists are eager to develop new algorithms that efficiently solve real-world problems by making sense of large-scale datasets. These two interests nicely come together in a new interdisciplinary field that is referred to as "computational social science".’

Tailored data management

POPNET-SSH will enable researchers and policymakers to answer their questions about, for instance, strength of networks and loneliness, social segregation and the role of income in neighborhoods,  without the need of specialized technical computing skills. Leiden University will focus in particular on the computational aspects of the project. Analyzing a social network with millions of individuals requires tailored data management and computing facilities, but also smart and scalable graph algorithms. 

New possibilities

Now initially funded for 5 years, POPNET will build a digital infrastructure (a ‘supercomputer’) with specific hardware and software for social network analysis. With these tools, the project will boost novel research on new datasets. ‘This unique project will build a community of researchers interested in questions of great societal importance. We look forward to the novel work that will be done, based on this globally unique dataset and aided by easy-to-use supercomputer’, adds co-director Eelke Heemskerk about the importance of this network. 

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