Research on many topics in the Social Sciences has often been hampered by the limitations of survey data. However, the digital age has rapidly increased access to large and comprehensive data sources such as public and private administrative databases, and unique new sources of information from online transactions, social-media interactions, and internet searches. New computational tools also allow for the extraction, coding, and analysis of large volumes of text. Advances in analytical methods for exploiting and analyzing data have accompanied the rise of these data.
Beginning in 2013, RSF supported three exploratory meetings over an 18-month period with social and data scientists across the country to investigate the potential for a special initiative on Computational Social Science (CSS). The goal of the initiative would be to leverage the emergence of these new data and methods to spur new research in and across the Foundation’s core program areas.
The RSF Board approved the creation of a formal working group in Computational Social Science (CSS) in June 2015. The working group was tasked with guiding the foundation’s initiative and how RSF might support the most promising paths forward in developing a CSS research agenda in the social sciences. The working group was central to developing the Request for Proposals (RFP) that was approved at the June 2016 RSF Board meeting. The first Summer Institute in Computational Social Science was held in June 2017. As part of this special initiative, and as of November 2019, RSF has supported four CSS summer institutes (the 4th to be held in June 2020), five funding rounds for the CSS Initiative (the final round of proposals will be considered at the March 2020 Board meeting), and two funding rounds of the CSS Small Grants program (proposals for the second round of funding will be considered in March 2020).
In November 2019, the Foundation’s trustees decided that RSF would no longer accept unsolicited research proposals under the Computational Social Science special initiative. However, RSF remains interested in supporting research that brings these new data and methods to bear on questions of interest in its core programs. Examples of the kinds of CSS-related research questions RSF might support are now included in the RFPs for our programs in Future of Work, Race, Ethnicity and Immigration and Social, Political and Economic Inequality.
RSF will continue its commitment to supporting the Summer Institute in Computational Social Science for advanced graduate students and other early career scholars. We also plan to continue supporting the Small Grants in Computational Social Science for the immediate future.