Social Science One implements a new type of partnership between academic researchers and the private sector to advance the goals of social science in understanding and solving society’s greatest challenges. Our mutually incentive-compatible approach enables academics to analyze and use the increasingly rich troves of information amassed by companies to address societal issues, while protecting their respective interests and ensuring the highest standards of privacy and data security.
How it Works
A commission of senior academics, including some who sign confidentiality agreements and forego the right to publication, acts as the trusted third party at the core of our design. The commission and partnering companies come to an agreement on the scope of a research project. The partnering company will then provide the commission access to relevant company data and answer questions. The commission identifies relevant datasets and issues a series of Requests For Proposals; outside scholars submit proposals, which are selected on the basis of academic and social merit (excluding proposals which violate privacy or existing legal agreements/obligations, infringe on ongoing investigations, or put a company at a competitive disadvantage). Those chosen will receive privacy-preserving access to the data, retain the freedom to publish research findings on agreed upon topics without pre-approval from the participating company. If the company breaches this agreement in any way, such as withholding relevant information, the commission has the right and the obligation to publicly report the violation.
This novel approach enables companies to enlist the support of the scientific community to help them produce social good, while protecting their interests and improving their business. More detail on the two-part organizational structure that makes Social Science One possible can be found in this paper.
In April 2018, Social Science One and Facebook launched a project on “the effects of social media on democracy and elections,” offering researchers privacy-preserving access to Facebook’s data through the structure described above. This project, which is in partnership with the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), also includes funding from eight nonprofit foundations from across the ideological spectrum as well as a new type of peer pre-review feedback service designed to speed scientific progress and shorten time-to-publication.