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Social researchers push global collaboration amidst Covid-19

Co-founders of social sciences and humanities platform say better international infrastructure is needed

An initiative for improving collaboration in social sciences and humanities has built a unique tool to aid collaboration on the impacts of Covid-19 and fill a gap in global infrastructure for the disciplines, according to its co-founders.

Launched in April, the World Pandemic Research Network is an edited directory of ongoing coronavirus-related projects by social science and humanities researchers worldwide. As of 12 May there were over 210 registered projects from 226 contributing institutions.

“Compared to other disciplines or fields, we in SSH lack the tools for collaborative research and for speeding up like they have in physics or biomedicine,” said co-founder Olivier Bouin, director of the French network of Institutes for Advanced Study. “We are filling a gap.”

Fellow co-founder Saadi Lahlou, a professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics, said that while the health research aspects of Covid-19 will eventually fade, the socio-economic aspects will last much longer. Since the social sciences and humanities lack research infrastructure at the international level, his team created a tool for researchers “to be aware of who else is doing something relevant” at the earliest stage of research projects, while collaboration is still possible.

He highlighted how one East Asian research group published a questionnaire on how the coronavirus pandemic was affecting local enterprises. This has now been picked up by other researchers and is now being used by groups spanning the globe from Mexico to Burma via France.

Researchers can register projects with WPRN that are then approved by an international group of ‘referents’—researchers invited by the projects scientific advisory board. The board includes senior figures such as former European Research Council president Helga Nowotny.

While the project was initiated by Bouin and Lahlou via the Paris Institute for Advanced Study, they said they do not want it to be centred on Europe and North America.

“The pandemic offers us, in a sense, the possibility to reach out and show that it’s a global game,” Bouin said.

He hopes that if it proves successful for Covid-19, the model could be replicated for other areas such as climate change. The initiative has already won support from groups including the International Science Council and the International Academic Union.

“We are proposing something that could become, with the help of these larger networks, the standard for collaboration,” said Bouin.