Open gov­ern­ment data in Rus­sia

Providing open data about public administration has become a trend all over the world among government bodies and local authorities. The idea is to increase transparency and to invite individuals and organisations to collaborate with the public services, and build new solutions on that data. In Russia, the executive organs have since 2012 been obliged to make their data public. What does this mean in practice? How has the order been implemented?

read the full interview with Ilona Repponen from DRS.

Innovation and Digitalisation in Russia

The monthly seminar on February 1 featured two presentations by Aleksanteri Institute researchers. Both presentations focused on issues related to the new technologies and economic development in Russia.

Anna Lowry, Postdoctoral Researcher, presented her analysis of Russian state program “The Digital Economy of the Russian Federation”. The program is an important element of the Russian Government policy aiming the country’s technological and economic development. Anna showed that the program’s focus on the provision of new ICT services is potentially detrimental to its performance, given that the country has a limited capacity to manufacture electronic components and high-technology products. At the same time, the program is an important milestone in shaping the policies that seek to promote Russia economic development, argues Anna Lowry.

The second presenter, Sari Autio-Sarasamo, University Lecturer, Aleksanteri Institute’s vice-director, presented a research project Innovative Economy in Russia, where she is the Principal Investigator. The research project ambition is to study the influence of new technology on the country’s political economy through the analysis on multiple levels. The project methodological challenge is to collect firm-level data and to build on that empirical ground the understanding of the dynamics of modern Russia’s economic development.

Digital Russia Studies: The core projects

The first DRS seminar of the year on the 11th of January started with the presentations by two speakers from Digital Russia Studies core. Postdoctoral Researchers, Andrey Indukaev and Mariëlle Wijermars gave talks about their current projects connected with digitalzation in Russia.

Andrey Indukaev the primary results of his project named “Mapping the political discourse on ‘innovation’ and ‘digitalization’ in Russia”. In his work Andrey focuses on two concepts – innovation and digitalization – taking prominent place in the political discourse in Ruissa. The projects aims to analyse the  shifting political role those had during and after Medvedevs term. The study aims to combining the methods of distributional semantics with other methods of text analysis. The results presented at the seminar consisted mainly of the word2vec model trained on a corpus thematically focused on the innovation and digitalization.

Mariëlle Wijermars launched her project “Strategies of Persuasion: Russian Propaganda in the Algorithmic Age” which in November was has been awarded a University of Helsinki three-year project grant. The detailed description of the project can be found here: https://blogs.helsinki.fi/digital-russia-studies/projects/strategies-of-persuasion/. At the seminar were vividly discussed the questions about what is propaganda: fake news or something else? The main discussion revolved around the issue of the project expected outcomes and the necessity for new knowledge about propaganda strategies in the age of information and media digitalization.

*Text on the picture: Putin in a bearskin. How the President became enamored with the digital economy

DRS seminar. Critical studies of big data infrastructure. Memory in times of big data.

On December 14th, Digital Russia Studies autumn seminars series were concluded by two presentations that exposed – in their own way – how the abundance of data influences modern societies.

Our Guest PhD Ekaterina Kalinina, Senior Lecturer at the School of Culture and Education of Södertörn University gave a talk about a project she is about to launch. How our way of remembering is influenced by the fact that nowadays artificial intelligence quite often takes care of preserving and organizing the traces our memory relies on. Are we about to lose our capacity – or privilege – of forgetting because of the apparently unlimited capacity to record and save all data?

PhD Julia Velkova, a post-doctoral researcher at the Consumer Society Research Centre at the University of Helsinki, discussed the material infrastructure required to store and process data. In a talk “Geopolitics of Data: Yandex Digital Data Infrastructure in Finland from a Critical Media Infrastructure Perspective” she offered an in-depth analysis of political, economic and environmental dimensions of a project carried out by Yandex, Russian information technology giant, in Mäntsälä, Finland. The project attracted media attention since the heat produced by data center is used by the city and this infrastructure looks like a win-win solution for both city, local energy providers and Yandex. However, the current setting is influenced by the shared belief that the volume of data to be stored and processed will exponentially grow with no interruption. Julia Velkova insists that this belief should be questioned to assess the viability of the Yandex data center project, and of other projects of this kind.

DRS connects with ASEEES Slavic DH group

Last week, DRS researcher Mariëlle Wijermars attended the 50th Annual Convention of the Association of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) in Boston. In addition to presenting her own research at the conference, Mariëlle was invited to join the business meeting of the ASEEES group Digital Humanities in the Slavic Field (Slavic DH) and introduce Digital Russia Studies there. ASEEES Slavic DH aims to support the teaching, scholarship, curation, and preservation of digitally-rendered work in Slavic (as well as East European and Eurasian) Studies – objectives that we at DRS fully endorse. Our activities and aims, as well as the exciting projects we have coming up in 2019, were greeted with a lot of enthusiasm by the group and we hope to see some of them at next year’s Aleksanteri Conference in Helsinki, where an entire track will be dedicated to Digital Humanities.

A Nordic Workshop series “Algorithms in Context” funded by NOS-HS

DRS co-founder Daria Gritsenko has been awarded a grant to lead an international workshop series “Algorithms in Context”. The project idea has been developed together with DRS researcher Mariëlle Wijermars and aims at gathering together scholars of algorithmic governance from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Russia and the UK to discuss the notion of context in relation to the study of algorithms. While Daria and Mariëlle are behind the overall workshop design, Nordic project partners Patrick Vonderau and Holger Pötzsch bring their experience and networks into the implementation of individual workshops. Our goal is to develop methodologies for comparative study of algorithmic governance.

Project funding has been granted by the Joint Committee for Nordic research councils in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NOS-HS), an organization set up to facilitate strategic cooperation between the research councils in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden in the research fields of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The first seminar will take place in Stockholm in May 2019. For more information and updates on the project, see the projects page.

Discourse analysis meets machine learning

On November 2d, the Digital Russia Studies autumn seminars continued with presentations on the use of machine learning and discourse analysis as a part of mixed methodology. How to conduct qualitative research in the digital era? Which digital tools are available for assisting discourse analysis? Why should we care about machine learning if our goal is ‘close reading’? Our guest MPhil Kristian Lundby Gjerde, a research fellow from the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, gave a talk on a text analysis app he had created. His aim was to maintain the close reading aspect and apply digital tools at the same time. In our seminar, he presented an app prototype with collection of 10k free license documents from kremlin.ru. The app has a regular expression search engine and calendar view. It automatically adds new published documents to the collection. In addition, it is also possible to integrate PDF files with OCR and merge different text sources. We had a chance to test the app by using an example of Russian memory politics discourse that Kristian has studied. While the app is under development, we cannot wait to see it in the published open-source version!

 

Another presenter was BA Julia Nikolaenko, our trainee from HSE (Moscow), who is now doing her Master’s thesis on the Ukraine’s political images in the Russian media space. In her research, Julia aims at studying how discourses around the Ukrainian conflict differ between news and lifestyle media using computational text mining methods, such as topic modelling and sentiment analysis. In our seminar, she presented some preliminary results of her on-going research focusing on the lifestyle media Wonderzine,  publishing within a feminist framework including fashion and beauty. She found out that articles mentioning Ukraine that were published in this media had positive tone in all topics. A  wordcloud that was built on word frequencies is mainly about fashion, but human rights and social issues are also visible in the texts. The preliminary analysis suggests that Wonderzine’s framing and conceptual frameworks are not particularly affected by the interstate conflict. The seminar participants discussed the definitions of ideology and choice of media. Julia received fruitful comments and will continue her study based on them.

Wordcloud based on Wonderzine texts mentioning Ukraine, 2014-2018

Discussing Big Data

As part of Aleksanteri Conference ‘Liberation – Freedom – Democracy? 1918 – 1968- 2018’, on 24 October roundtable on Big Data and Area Studies was chaired by Dr. Daria Gritsenko, the founder of DRS network. Experts from Digital Humanities Dr. Mila Oiva (University of Turku), Dr. Jussi Pakkasvirta (UH), Dr. Ekaterina Kalinina  (Södertörn University, Sweden) and M.Soc.Sc Markus Kainu (The Social Insurance Institution of Finland KELA) participated in discussion.

Is big data revolution or evolution?

— It depends on perspective; for whom and for which purposes, says Kainu. Big data is evolution for existing data when moving from micro to macro level. When thinking of methodology, it is also seen as evolution because of qualitative approaches used before. Yet, era of big data can also be generally viewed as revolution. Why? Research data preparations are greatly different from traditional research.

Open science and digitalisation

Participants also brought up some peculiarities of digital humanities research in discussion. Pakkasvirta emphasized that research projects should always be conducted by following principles of open science when possible. For example, Suomi24 forum data project he has been working on is open for free use.

— Supporting digitalisation at transnational level for collaboration projects should take place, comments Oiva. She has been participating in transnational Oceanic Exchange research project with focus on global connectedness of 19th century newspapers. However, the study does not cover, for example, Russian or East European newspapers because only few digitised archive materials are available for research.

Talking about possibilities of big data technologies Kalinina mentioned an interactive crowd-sourced monument project by Yandex, Russian search engine. One of the features of the interactive map created by Yandex is a possibility for the publics to mark the National Yandex map with monuments and other memorial objects. Yandex’ analysts have studied the collected from the users’ data and have noticed several trends that illustrate how people understand cultural heritage sites.

What are challenges of aligning big data and area studies?

— Big data research methodologies could be very helpful, but there is a risk of producing already existing stereotypes, starts Kalinina. That is why it is important to be critical towards to source of data, know your data as well as be ready to employ some “traditional” humanities and social science methodologies.  It is important to know where the data is coming from, how companies form their data. It is also important to understand that data collected might not be representative due to digital divides in terms of access to digital technologies and the their uses.  Another issue is data regulations and data protection laws that might condition the access we have to data for research purposes.

— Ensuring that talented young researchers will stay at academia instead of moving to private or public sector is essential, adds Kainu. Academia should be interested in employing data experts in order to support digital research and see their merits from another perspective.

— For me, the biggest challenge is yet spreading propaganda, says Pakkasvirta. Source criticism lacks often among adults when they read or share something in the Internet with comparison to children who – surprisingly often – are quite aware of it. Hence, the coverage of propaganda in big data can be surprising.

What is the future of area studies in the digital era?

Kalinina wonders whether the use of big data methodologies and big data might lead to the emergence of studies ever more focused on transnational issues given the availability of such data.

—We will always have the context of history of each region, concludes Oiva.