What is Concept Analytics and who are we?

Concept Analytics Lab (CAL) gathers linguists, AI engineers, and historians and is aligned with Sussex Humanities Lab within the Critical Digital Humanities and Archives research cluster. The principle mission behind Concept Analytics is to understand human thinking by analysing conceptual layering in texts. We overcome the divides between humanities, AI, and data science by harnessing the power of computational linguistics without losing sight of close linguistic analysis. 

Although CAL was formally set up in 2021, its existence is the culmination of research energies over the previous few years and our desire for a stable space to explore concept-related ideas with like-minded scholars.  Establishing the Lab has provided us with a platform from which we showcase our research expertise to researchers and other external partners. CAL has grown and changed through 2022, during which time we have counted on a team of six researchers at a range of stages in their careers, from undergraduate to postdoctoral level. The team is led by Dr Justyna Robinson. 

CAL has so far partnered with research groups within Sussex, e.g. SSRP, as well as ones further afield, e.g. Westminster Centre for Research on Ageing. We have worked closely with Archives such as Mass Observation Archive and Proceedings of the Old Bailey, as well as non-academic organisations. 

What were the highlights of the past year? 

Our activities in the past year centred around exploring the content of the Mass Observation Project (MOP) and their Archive of May 12 Diaries with the aim of identifying conceptual changes that happened during Covid-19. We have completed two main research projects. CAL was awarded funding through the UK-RI/HEIF/SSRP call Covid-19 to Net Zero, in collaboration with industry partner Africa New Energies, to identify the impact of Covid-19 on people’s perceptions and habits in the context of household recycling and energy usage. CAL was also commissioned by the PETRA project (Preventing Disease using Trade Agreements, funded by UKPRP/MRC) to discover key themes and perceptions the public holds towards post-Brexit UK trade agreements. Keep reading for summaries of the findings of these research projects, as well as our other achievements this year. 

Household recycling with Africa New Energy (ANE) 

Through this project we identified that respondents to the MOP Household Recycling 2021 directive were deeply committed to recycling, but that these feelings were coupled with doubt and cynicism in relation to the effectiveness of the current system. MOP writers pointed to a perceived lack of transparency and standardisation in recycling processes and systems. Lack of transparency and standardisation have also been identified as obstacles to recycling adherence and efficacy in more policy-based analytical surveys (Burgess et al., 2021; Zaharudin et al., 2022). Changes in recycling habits among the UK population were identified as resulting from external factors, such as Covid-19 and reduced services, as well as lack of knowledge about how and what can be recycled. This research has significantly impacted the way our grant partner ANE approach their operations in terms of gaining energy from organic waste content. The research results also led ANE to start work on gamifying the waste classification process. It aims to encourage recycling compliance by replacing the current sanction-based system with a more rewards-based system. This research shows that the CAL already has a track record of establishing commercial routes of impact for our research and we see extending the scope of this impact to be a critical next step in CAL’s research programme. Further details on the collaboration with ANE can be found in this blog post.  

We are seeking further HEIF funding to expand on the work already done with the Household Recycling directive to maximise policy impact by processing the handwritten answers and also processing the 2022 12 May Diaries for insight into the impact of the current energy crisis on respondents’ behaviour and attitudes to energy. As part of this project we would hold an exhibition in which we would invite various stakeholders including policy makers to showcase our work. 

MOP UK Trade Deals 

We were commissioned by the PETRA project’s lead Prof. Paul Kingston from the University of Chester to perform a conceptual linguistic analysis of the MOP UK Trade Deals directive. We used our approach to identify hidden patterns and trends in the answers to the directive questions. The conceptual analysis allows us to combine quantitative with qualitative methods and identify otherwise unperceived patterns. The main themes that arose were related to the perceived quality of trade deals and concerns about animal and ethical standards. We also performed an analysis linked to people’s knowledge, belief and desires. The results of the analysis will inform policy makers in their decisions regarding trade deals. Additionally this piece of work has attracted some interest from public health bodies with whom we are preparing a potential grant for future research. 

Papers and presentations 

In 2022 Justyna Robinson and Julie Weeds both presented the work they did within the context of the Old Bailey archives and have had their paper on that work published in the Transactions of Philological Society. In this paper they describe a novel approach to analysing texts, in which computational tools turn traditional texts into a corpus of syntactically-related concepts. Justyna Robinson and Rhys Sandow also have authored a paper forthcoming in 2023, ‘Diaries of regulation: Mass Observing the first Covid-19 lockdown’. This research will be presented at Mass Observation’s 85th Anniversary Festival, Mass Observation Archive, The Keep, 23rd April 2023. 

Website 

As part of the SSRP/HEIF funding we received earlier this year we have also developed a website, which can be found at conceptanalytics.org.uk, where we also post blogs with news pieces and short research insights. 

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