Workshop Recap: Research Ethics – Principles and Practice in Digitalization Research

On April 18 2024, the Methods Lab organized the workshop Research Ethics – Principles and Practice in Digitalization Research to meet the increasing relevance and complexity of ethics in digitalization research.

In the first part of the workshop, Christine Normann (WZB) introduced participants to good research practice and research ethics in alignment with the guidelines of the German Research Foundation (DFG). Besides the need to balance the freedom of research and data protection, she informed about important institutions, noted the difficulties of formulating ethics statements for funding applications before study designs are finalized, and provided some practical tips regarding guidance when planning research.

Next, Julian Vuorimäki (WI) guided participants through the handling of research ethics at the Weizenbaum Institute. He focussed on the code of conduct, ombudspersons, guideline for handling research data, and the newly founded review board. The latter is in charge of providing ethics reviews for individual projects and studies, which can be applied for through a questionnaire on the institute website.

In the second part of the workshop, three researchers presented practical ethical implications and learnings from research projects. Methods Lab lead Christian Strippel reported on a study where user comments were annotated to allow for the automatic detection of hate speech. He focused on possible misuse for censorship, the confrontation of coders with questionable content, and the challenges of publishing the results and data regarding copyright and framing. Tianling Yang (WI) presented ethical considerations and challenges in qualitative research. The focus lied on consent acquisition, anonymity and confidentiality, power relations, reciprocity (i.e., incentives and support), and the protection of the researchers themselves due to the physical and emotional impact of qualitative field work. Finally, Maximilian Heimstädt (Helmut Schmidt University Hamburg) talked about ambiguous consent in ethnographic research. He gave insights into a study in cooperation with the state criminal police office to predict crime for regional police agencies. Not all individuals in this research could be informed about the research endeavor, especially when the researchers accompanied the police during their shifts, which raised the question of how to find a balance between overt and covert research.

The Methods Labs thanks all presenters and participants for this insightful workshop!

Workshop Recap: Introduction to Programming and Data Analysis with R

On April 10th and 11th, The Methods Lab organized the second edition of the workshop Introduction to Programming and Data Analysis with R. Led by Roland Toth from the Methods Lab, the workshop was designed to equip participants with fundamental R programming skills essential for data wrangling and analysis.

Across two days, attendees engaged in a comprehensive exploration of R fundamentals, covering topics such as RStudio, Markdown, data wrangling, and practical data analysis. Day one focused on laying the groundwork, covering the main concepts in programming including functions, classes, objects, and vectors. Participants were also familiarized with Markdown and Quarto, enabling them to include analysis results while producing text, and the key steps and techniques of data wrangling.

The first half of the second day was dedicated to showcasing and exploring basic data analysis and various visualization methods. Afterwards, participants had the opportunity to put into practice the knowledge they had gained from the previous day by working with a dataset to formulate and address their own research questions. Roland was on hand to offer assistance and guidance to the participants, addressing any challenges or concerns that arose along the journey.

The workshop fostered a collaborative learning environment, with lively discussions and ample questions from all. We thank all participants for their active involvement!

Workshop Recap: Introduction to Online Surveys

The use of online surveys in contemporary social science research has grown rapidly due to their many benefits such as cost-effectiveness and ability to yield insights into attitudes, experiences, and perceptions. Unlike more established methods such as pen-and-paper surveys, they enable complex setups like experimental designs and seamless integration of digital media content. But despite their user-friendliness, even seasoned researchers still face numerous challenges in creating online surveys. To showcase the versatility and common pitfalls of online surveying, Martin Emmer, Christian Strippel, and Roland Toth of the Methods Lab arranged the workshop Introduction to Online Surveys on February 22, 2024.

In the first segment, Martin Emmer provided a theoretical overview of the design and logic of online surveys. He started by outlining the common challenges and benefits associated with interviewing, with a particular emphasis on social-psychological dynamics. Compared to online surveys, face-to-face interviews offer a more personal, engaging, and interactive experience, enabling interviewers to adjust questions and seek clarification of answers in real time. However, they can be time-consuming and expensive and may introduce biases such as the interviewer effect. On the other hand, the process of conducting online surveys presents its own set of challenges, such as limited control over the interview environment, a low drop-out threshold, and particularities connected with self-administration such as the need for detailed text-based instructions for respondents. Nevertheless, self-administered and computer-administered surveys boast numerous advantages, including cost-effectiveness, rapid data collection, the easy application of visuals and other stimuli, and accessibility to large and geographically dispersed populations. When designing an online survey, Martin stressed the importance of clear question wording, ethical considerations, and robust procedures to ensure voluntary participation and data protection. 

In the second part of the workshop, Christian Strippel delved into the realm of online access panel providers, including the perks and pitfalls associated with utilizing them in survey creation. Panel providers serve as curated pools of potential survey participants managed by institutions, such as Bilendi/Respondi, YouGov, Cint, Civey, and the GESIS Panel. Panel providers oversee the recruitment and management processes, ensuring participants are matched with surveys relevant to their demographics and interests, while also handling survey distribution and data collection. While the use of online panels offers advantages such as accessing a broad participant pool, cost-efficiency, and streamlined sampling of specific sub-groups, they also have their limitations. Online panels are, for example, not entirely representative of the general population as they exclude non-internet users. Moreover, challenges arise from professional respondents such as so-called speeders who rush through surveys, and straight-liners who consistently choose the same response in matrix questions. Strategies to combat these issues include attention checks throughout the questionnaire, systematic exclusion of speeders and straight-liners, and quota-based screening. To conclude, Christian outlined what constitutes a good online panel provider, and shared valuable insights into how to plan a survey using one effectively.

The third and final segment of the workshop featured a live demonstration by Roland Toth on how to set up an online survey using the open-source software LimeSurvey, which is hosted on the institute’s own servers. During this live demonstration, he created the very evaluation questionnaire administered to the workshop participants at the end of the workshop. Roland began by providing an overview of the general setup and relevant settings for survey creation. Subsequently, he demonstrated various methods of crafting questions with different scales, display conditions, and the incorporation of visual elements such as images. Throughout the demo, Roland addressed issues raised earlier in the first part of the workshop concerning language and phrasing, emphasizing rules for question-wording and why it is important to ask for one piece of information only per question. The live demonstration was wrapped up with a segment on viewing and exporting collected data. After letting the participants complete the evaluation form, the workshop concluded with a Q&A session.

Workshop: Introduction to Programming and Data Analysis with R (April 10-11, 2024)

Level: Beginner/Intermediate
Category: Data Analysis

After being well received last year, we’re happy to announce the return of our workshop Programming and Data Analysis with R for its second edition. This two-day intensive workshop led by Roland Toth (WI) will take place on Wednesday, April 10, and Thursday, April 11, at the Weizenbaum Institute.

During the first day, attendees will receive comprehensive training in programming fundamentals, essential data wrangling techniques, and Markdown integration. The second day will center around data analysis, providing participants with the chance to engage directly with a dataset and address a research topic independently. A blend of concepts, coding techniques, and smaller practical tasks will be interspersed throughout both days to reinforce hands-on learning.

For more information, check out the program page!

Workshop: Introduction to Online Surveys

We are excited to announce the Methods Lab’s first workshop of the year, “Introduction to Online Surveys“, which will take place on Thursday, February 22. This workshop will be conducted both at the Weizenbaum Institute and online, and is open to Weizenbaum Institute members as well as external participants. Led by members of the Methods Lab, Martin Emmer, Christian Strippel, and Roland Toth, the workshop will focus on the use of online surveys in the context of social science research, providing participants with a theoretical foundation as well as a hands-on guide. We will cover aspects such as the logic and design of online surveys, how to work with access panel providers, and demonstrate how to effectively set up an online survey using the versatile survey tool LimeSurvey. Crucial topics such as ethics and data protection will also be discussed.

For detailed information about the workshop, please visit our program page. We look forward to your participation!

Recap: Digital Methods Colloquium (December 7, 2023)

Digital and computational data collection and analysis methods such as mobile/internet tracking, experience sampling, web scraping, text mining, machine learning, and image recognition have become more relevant than ever in the social sciences. While these methods enable new avenues of inquiry, they also present many challenges. It is important to share and discuss research, experiences, and challenges surrounding these methods with other researchers to exchange ideas and to learn from experiences.

For this reason, Roland Toth from the Methods Lab and research fellow Douglas Parry organized the Digital Methods Colloquium that took place on December 7 at the Weizenbaum Institute. They invited researchers from all over Germany who had used such methods before. The focus lied on sharing not only successes, but – even more so – the challenges that they had experienced in the research process.

In the first part of the colloquium, participants presented recent or past research projects for which they had used digital methods. The presentations covered various methods, including experience sampling, mobile logging/tracking, multimodal content classification, network analysis, and large language models. All presentations were received very well and led to high engagement with many questions and exchanges from the participants.

The second part of the colloquium was designed to facilitate interactive discussion and knowledge sharing among the participants. They were assigned to one of two discussion groups that focused on either data collection or data analysis in the context of digital methods. In each group, participants followed prompts and discussed urgent issues and possible solutions, which they then visualized using posters. Finally, both groups sat together and presented the posters to each other, leading to a final discussion. After a short wrap-up, some participants joined the hosts at the Christmas Market for a well-deserved hot beverage.

The hosts would like to thank all participants for attending and engaging in the Digital Methods Colloquium. Bringing together researchers from different fields demonstrated that there are more commonalities than differences when it comes to the challenging and exciting field of digital methods. We are looking forward to more exchange and, possibly, Part 2 of the Digital Methods Colloquium sometime in the future.

Workshop Recap: A Practical Introduction to Text Analysis (November 30, 2023)

On November 30th, 2023, the Methods Lab organized a workshop on quantitative text analysis. The workshop was conducted by Douglas Parry (Stellenbosch University) and covered the whole process of text analysis from data preparation to the visualization of sentiments or topics identified.

In the first half of the workshop, Douglas covered the first steps involved in text analysis, such as tokenization (the transformation of texts into smaller parts like single words or consecutive words), the removal of “stop words” (words that do not contain meaningful information), and the aggregation of content by meta-information (authors, books, chapters, etc.). Apart from the investigation of the frequency with which terms occur, sentiment analysis using existing dictionaries was also addressed. This technique involves assigning values to each word representing certain targeted characteristics (e.g., emotionality/polarity), which in turn allows for comparing overall sentiments between different corpora. Finally, the visualization of word occurrences and sentiments was covered. After this introduction, participants had the chance to apply their knowledge using the programming language R by solving tasks with texts Douglas provided.

In the second half of the workshop, Douglas focused on different methods of topic modeling, which ultimately attempt to assign texts to latent topics based on the words they contain. In comparison to simpler procedures covered in the first half of the workshop, topic models can also consider the context of words within the texts. Specifically, Douglas introduced participants to Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA), Correlated Topic Modeling (CTM), and Structural Topic Modeling (STM). One of the most important decisions to be made for any such model is the number of topics to emerge: too few may dilute nuances within topics and too many may lead to redundancies. The visualization and – most importantly – limitations of topic modeling were also discussed before participants performed topic modeling themselves with the data provided earlier. Finally, Douglas concluded with a summary of everything covered and an overview of advanced subjects in text analysis.

The workshop was very well-received and prepared all participants for text analysis in the future. Douglas balanced lecture-style sections and well-prepared, hands-on application very well and provided all materials in a way that participants could focus on the tasks at hand, while following a logical structure throughout. We would like to thank him for this great introduction to text analysis!

Workshop: Interdisciplinarity in Action: Methods for Fruitful Teamwork (October 4, 2023)

We are excited to announce our upcoming workshop, “Interdisciplinarity in Action: Methods for Fruitful Teamwork,” scheduled for Wednesday, October 4, at the Weizenbaum Institute. Led by Silvio Suckow and Sara Saba (both WI), this intensive one-day workshop provides practical tools and knowledge for enhancing teamwork and interdisciplinary collaboration. The workshop offers diverse perspectives and actionable advice for structuring interdisciplinary teams and their work, hands-on practice of various team-building methods, and an input presentation by an external speaker. It is open to anyone interested in interdisciplinary research, whether leading or collaborating on such projects. Please note that spots are limited and allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. A slightly modified online version of the course will be offered separately.

For more details about the workshop, visit our program page. We look forward to seeing you there!

Launch of the Weizenbaum Panel Data Explorer

We are excited to announce the launch of the Weizenbaum Panel Data Explorer, an interactive website developed by Methods Lab member Roland Toth. The Data Explorer allows you to browse and analyze survey results from the annual survey conducted by the Weizenbaum Panel on media use, political participation, civic norms, and more. In the spirit of open science, it not only presents research data, but also in an easy-to-use manner.

The Weizenbaum Panel aims to shed light on the complex relationship between the digital realm and political engagement. By examining phenomena such as hate speech and fake news, as well as the active commitment to a democratic culture of debate, the telephone survey offers invaluable insights into the ever-evolving dynamics of citizen participation in Germany.

With the launch of Data Explorer, you can explore this comprehensive dataset and gain a deeper understanding of Germany’s social and political landscape. The platform offers six categories: social media platform use, political attitudes, civic norms, political participation, and online civic intervention. Each category presents a unique perspective, allowing you to examine specific aspects of Germany’s social and political fabric.

To begin your exploration, simply select a category that piques your interest. Within each category, you will find a selection of questions to delve into. Whether you want to gauge the political news media consumption of the German public, analyze trends in the use of video platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, or find out how often people discuss political issues at work, or with friends and family, the Data Explorer will assist you in this endeavor.

For a nuanced understanding of how different groups within the population engage in social and political activities, you can group the data output by selecting the demographic factors gender, age, level of education, or residence. Moreover, to enhance your experience and facilitate data sharing, you can download any graph in .png format. Each graph includes the question, answering options, and grouping, providing a comprehensive visual representation of the desired data.

The Weizenbaum Data Explorer was developed in Python/Jupyterhub and deployed using Voilà, which are all open-source. It is hosted on Weizenbaum Institute servers, which ensures adequate data protection. This is not the case for typical solutions such as using R Shiny and the deployment platform shinyapps.io. The Data Explorer will be expanded continuously – for example, the fourth wave of the Weizenbaum Panel will be integrated soon.

Whether you’re a researcher, journalist, student, or simply someone curious about Germany’s social and political landscape, the Weizenbaum Panel Data Explorer equips you with the tools to visualize data effortlessly. Happy exploring!