Russian Network Analysis Begins at the HSE
The HSE has set up a new International Laboratory for Applied Network Analysis. The lab’s Academic Supervisor, Professor at Indiana University, Stanley S. Wasserman and Deputy Dean for International Relations at the HSE Faculty of Management, Valentina Kuskova talked to the News Service about the aims of the new laboratory.
What is network analysis?
Scientists have long been interested in how different communities function, but have struggled to find the right research tools to examine them. Network analysis allows us to look closely at a community as a network of connections between any number of people or organisations however large. By using mathematical methods we can investigate the influence of these connections on the lives of people and on the way companies work.
'We call it applied analysis because we use mathematical methods in concrete areas of research to work on current problems that cannot otherwise be resolved,' explains Valentina Kuskova. For example, supposing researchers want to know how being part of certain internet communities can affect a student’s success. They could carry out a survey and try to interpret the subjective responses they received. It’s altogether another approach to follow all the links between students in a network and then connect them mathematically with their success rate. Not only will there be more data but it will be richer and more reliable than answers on a scale of one to five.
Network analysis can be applied in a wide range of areas. The models and data analysis techniques developed by Stanley Wasserman are used in corporate management, in heath care and in research on teenage behaviour. And the idea of social networks isn’t only about Facebook and its Russian version Vkontakte. Joint actions offline can also be regarded as information exchange between social actors.
As Professor Wasserman puts it, network research has become popular and widespread in Europe over the last twenty years, although in Britain it started considerably earlier. The first European conference on network research will be in Barcelona in July 2014. Meanwhile in Russia this research area is just taking off. 'I see it as a challenge and I’m glad to have the opportunity to bring my ideas and methods to use in the new laboratory,' says Stanley Wasserman anticipating his work at HSE.
It was Valentina Kuskova and her colleague Deputy Director of the HSE St Petersburg campus, Daniil Alexandrov who thought of setting up the laboratory in the first place and it was no accident that they invited Stanley Wasserman to be the lab’s Academic Supervisor. He is one of the world’s leading specialists on network analysis and worked with Valentina Kuskova when she gained her PhD at Indiana University. Benjamin Lind, Assistant Professor of the Faculty of Sociology, who has been working at the HSE since 2011, is Senior Researcher of the laboratory.
To understand the meaning of the data you collect, you need to know both quantitative methods and the basic concepts of management and social psychology
Academic Supervisor of the International Laboratory of Network Analysis
The laboratory will have three departments, with a research collective working on campus in Moscow, St Petersburg and Perm. Valeria Ivanyushina will head the team in St Petersburg and Olga Mayorova in Perm.
“To understand the meaning of the data you collect, you need to know quantitative methods and the basic concepts of management and social psychology,” says Stanley Wasserman. Valentina Kuskova adds that, 'Students who want to join the research team need to be interested in networks, want to learn a lot and apply the methodological skills they acquire to further research.'
What kind of projects will the laboratory work on?
The laboratory aims to establish a Russian research community that can use network analysis methods to solve all kinds of problems. Colleagues from other HSE laboratories can also have training in these methods. There are plans for joint teaching seminars.
On the one hand colleagues at the laboratory will be there to help to resolve issues urgently and on the other, they plan to work on a series of new projects. One of the projects is with a big Russian company which has branches across the country. The researchers will study the links between the company head quarters and the regional branches and between the management and staff within them.
Getting into Web of Science and Scopus is not enough for us - we are setting the bar higher
Deputy Dean at the Faculty of Management
'There are organisational theories about how branches should interact with head office,'explains Professor Wasserman. 'We are going to collect data to see whether these theories hold water in this instance. But it isn’t only about theory - the main thing that our project should achieve is an increase in productivity and a sharpening of the company’s competitive edge. What we want is greater efficiency.'
Although the nature of the research is applied, the laboratory team intends to publish a lot. 'We agreed that we will only start research if we can publish on the basis of it,' says Valentina Kuskova. And we are aiming for the top journals, she says, 'Getting into Web of Science and Scopus is not enough for us, we are setting the bar higher'.
Professor Wasserman is an editor of Network Science – a leading network research journal. He has broad contacts with reviewers on other academic publications. The laboratory will invite these experts to special seminars on how to prepare academic articles.
Oleg Seregin, the HSE News Service
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