The Population Scale Network Analysis for Social Sciences and Humanities (POPNET) project has started on April 1, 2021. The interdisciplinary consortium, consisting of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), Leiden University (LU) and Statistics Netherlands (CBS), has come together to build an open digital infrastructure for network analysis of the entire Dutch population.
Building on the official data from CBS, the project will interconnect the 17 million inhabitants of the Netherlands through 39 billion social ties, such as neighbours, colleagues, family and school relations. The team of POPNET 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 infrastructure will allow researchers and policymakers to answer their questions about, for instance, strength of networks and loneliness, social segregation and the role of income in neighbourhoods.
Computational social science
‘The steep increase in nowadays available social network data is of extreme value to understanding core questions in the social sciences’, says co-director Frank Takes. ‘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”.’
Eszter Bokányi, who has been hired as a postdoctoral researcher for the project hopes that her background in physics will add a helpful point of view in the interdisciplinary team. ‘This is a unique opportunity to continue my research at the intersection of social phenomena and spatial social networks’, she says.
‘The unique combination of the novel data, Big Data and Network Science methods and diverse backgrounds of researchers on the team opens new horizons for the computational social science research.’ adds Yuliia Kazmina, a Ph.D. student on the POPNET project. ‘I believe that together we will be able to raise new questions and translate discovered evidence to inform policymaking and make a real-world change.’
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 an easy-to-use supercomputer platform’, adds co-director Eelke Heemskerk about the importance of this network data.