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. 


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. 

Embedding Sustainability in the Curriculum

Presenting the Media Arts and Humanities Sustainability Educator Toolkit:

Or if you prefer, here is the Google doc (feel free to leave comments).

This toolkit is aimed at supporting educators (at Sussex and beyond) to build themes, concepts and practices related to sustainability into our teaching. It’s a grab-bag of inspirations, provocations, and helpful signposts.

It covers:

  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • Planetary boundaries
  • Climate change and climate justice
  • Ecocentrism
  • Indigenous knowledges
  • Degrowth and postgrowth

There is a focus on media, arts and humanities, and some focus on the University of Sussex. But we hope it will be useful much more widely.

This toolkit is complemented by a crowdsourced living document of links and resources. We have been inspired by the commitment to decolonising the curriculum in the past few years. Now it is time to embed sustainability – and acknowledge the deep relationship between the two.

The toolkit is published under a CC license.

Other related resources:

Storytelling and play for climate futures

By Jo Lindsay Walton

One of the most interesting projects I’ve been part of this year is the climate futures roleplaying game Kampala Yénkya. With the support of the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme, I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside Dilman Dila and Maurice Ssebisubi (Uganda), Polina Levontin and Jana Kleineberg (UK), Bright Nkrumah (Germany / South Africa), and assorted playtesters and reviewers, to create innovative educational materials around climate adaptation, localised for Uganda.

UNESCO highlight the importance of futures literacy to a just climate transition:

Democratizing the origins of people’s images of the future opens up new horizons in much the same way that establishing universal reading and writing changes human societies. This is an example of what can be called a ‘change in the conditions of change.’

In the Global North, games and science fiction have longstanding links with futures research, and more recently have developed a strong connection with climate futures specifically (something we’ll be exploring in a special issue of Vector in spring 2023). By contrast, African speculative cultures are underutilised and under-theorised in the context of adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. 

The project’s key deliverable was a tabletop roleplaying game, Kampala Yénkya (the title roughly translates to ‘Kampala of Tomorrow’). The game involves mapmaking and collaborative storytelling, and seeks to empower players to imagine the future of Kampala in many different ways. It is available to download here, under a Creative Commons license.

This is the first edition (‘Oracle’ edition), designed to be played with fairly minimal materials: a copy of the rules, an ordinary deck of playing cards (or two), some tokens (e.g. matchsticks), and blank paper and pen for drawing a map.

Science fiction writer Dilman Dila provided the initial inspiration and wrote a substantial portion of the game materials, as well as a supplementary collection of short stories. The game design was informed by the Applied Hope: Utopias & Solarpunk games jam which I co-organised last year, supported by SHL. Kampala Yénkya evolved through several rounds of playtesting in four of Kampala’s secondary schools. Maurice Ssebisubi, an environmental scientist and an educator, coordinated the games that involved nearly two hundred students, ensuring that the game is responsive to local climate information needs while also being fun and inspiring to play.

The bulk of the funding was made available from the SSRP’s Fund #6 to support the work of a team of Ugandan and UK academics, educators, and artists, to develop and test innovative climate action education materials for use in Uganda. SHL provided support in-kind in the form of me, and also a little extra funding for translation. All the core team members also volunteered additional time on the project. Special thanks also to Peter Newell and Michael Jonik for their help early on.


Kampala Yénkya: Oracle Edition is now available as an open beta. This version of the game can be played with easily sourced materials (matchsticks, playing cards, pen and paper). The oracle edition is published in English and Luganda. bit.ly/ImagineAlternatives

Kampala Yénkya: Deluxe Edition is currently is in its playtesting / graphic design phase (design by Jana Kleineberg). Game packs will be delivered to 20 further Ugandan schools in late 2022 / early 2023. Each game pack contains:

  • Game materials and instructions — custom designed cards and ‘story stones’ for playing Kampala Yénkya. With the help of narrative prompts, players imagine Kampala in 2060, while also getting quizzed on their climate knowledge. 
  • Inspiration deck — extra storytelling and worldbuilding ideas written by Dilman Dila, with contributions by Polina Levontin.
  • Further information — for players who want a more in-depth exploration of themes raised within the game.

Ugandan SF writer Dilman Dila has written a collection of short stories (working title Kampala Yénkya: Stories) set in a future Uganda, which will be published by Ping Press in 2023, with an introduction by Wole Talabi. Dila’s five interlinked tales were developed in dialogue with climate experts across Uganda and the UK. The collection also includes Q&A to enrich its value in educational settings.


Uganda: Seventeen groups across four secondary schools participated in a climate quiz, raising awareness of climate issues and collecting baseline data to inform our project
Uganda: Students from four secondary schools participated in a series of Kampala Yénkya workshops, led by Maurice Ssebisubi. Students responded positively to the game, and many of their suggested improvements have been incorporated.
United Kingdom: Kampala Yénkya was featured along other arts-led climate communication projects at The Carbon Deli, a two-day installation at The 2022 Great Exhibition Road Festival in London.

Next Steps

The project wrapped up officially at the end of July, but the momentum has continued. Maurice Ssebisubi is leading on the creation of a network of environmental clubs across schools in Uganda. This work has been supported through our project, with the climate quiz and game playtesting used as activities to pilot the clubs.

We are exploring a potential workshop around the game at African Futures 2023 (Cologne).

The project will also be the central case study in a chapter on climate risk education for Communicating Climate Risk: 3rd Edition (SHL, 2023), from the Sussex Humanities Lab and the Institute of Development Studies PASTRES project.

All game materials are made available under a permissive Creative Commons licence, to encourage sharing and adaptation. We have received expressions of interest in localising the game for other countries (South Africa, Nigeria), and will be exploring ways to support this work in the future.

Tabletop roleplaying (TTRPG) is popular all over the world, including many countries in the Global South, for both entertainment and education. But as far as we’ve been able to discover, it doesn’t yet appear very prevalent in Africa. We would be interested in hearing from TTRPG players, designers, writers, or societies / groups from the continent.

Researcher Guide to Writing a Climate Justice Oriented Data Management Plan

The Digital Humanities Climate Coalition, which began as an initiative between the SHL Experimental Ecologies group, and working groups within Edinburgh, Southampton, and the Turing Institute, has just launched the Researcher Guide to Writing a Climate Justice Oriented Data Management Plan.

This should be of interest to anyone who’s considering applying for UKRI funding (or any funding), or who is already running a project. It’s a slinky little two page guide exploring how we can reframe data management within research projects, to put appropriate emphasis on climate justice. It emphasises what can be done now, within existing frameworks. In an appendix, it also explores how the DMP section might transform in the future.

We expect to iterate fairly rapidly, and welcome all feedback and suggestions, as well as potential deeper collaboration. If you’d like to signal boost on Twitter, here’s James’s tweet launching the guide.

The Digital Humanities Climate Coalition

After some wonderfully galvanising encounters in late 2021, Digital Humanities Climate Coalition is now officially a thing. It’s a collaborative and cross-institutional initiative focused on what DH researchers (broadly construed) can do in times of climate crisis and climate transition, especially understanding and improving the environmental impact of DH research. Participants are based at HE institutions and DH Centres across the UK, Ireland, and Northern Europe. There are three working groups doing things over the course of 2022, plus a reading group. If you’d like to find out more or get involved, you can do so here.

Communicating Climate Risk

Save the date: 1 October, 12:30-17:00

Register here.

Communicating Climate Risk workshop

If the goal of climate communication is to compel decision-makers to act, then for too long our methods haven’t worked. Many desperately want to tackle the risks posed by climate change, but are confounded by mountains of complex, technical data. 

So how can academics present climate risk in ways that are meaningful and effective for this audience?  How can they ensure communication is part of their thinking from the outset, not just at the end of a research project? Who exactly are the end-users of climate risk research, and what are their needs? 

This online afternoon workshop will be jointly delivered by UCL’s Climate Action Unit and the Analysis under Uncertainty for Decision-Makers network (AU4DM). We will draw on interdisciplinary expertise to equip participants with the critical skills to communicate on climate risk. 

Speakers will share insights across three broad topics: why risk communication is difficult, what decision-makers want (and need), and how to present climate risk information. A final, fourth session will invite participants to co-design communication tools for the future. 

We need the big stories, the stories that engage and inspire. 

At the same time, we also need tools to present more niche information. 

And throughout, we also need to be always conscious of the politics of climate chance communication: the ways our communications shape whose voices are heard, and whose decisions count.

Speakers and facilitators:

  • Martine Barons (Warwick)
  • Mark Workman (Imperial)
  • Polina Levontin (Imperial)
  • Jo Lindsay Walton (Sussex)
  • Freya Roberts (UCL)
  • Kris de Meyer (UCL)
  • Lucy Hubble Rose (UCL)

This is an open workshop that will be especially relevant to climate and environmental scientists, and others whose work involves communicating or relying on scientific knowledge about climate and the environment. It is part of the COP26 Universities Network’s climate risk conference.

Sustainability and Resilience at Sussex

These are just a few notes from the Sustainability and Resilience at Sussex panel I was fortunate enough to participate in yesterday, part of the Sussex Library Staff Conference.

Chloe Anthony, a doctoral researcher in environmental law at Sussex (researching the impact of Brexit), introduced the work of Brighton Permaculture Trust (including a variety of permaculture courses, plus events like Green Architecture Day). Chloe gave us a crash course in the history and philosophy of permaculture, and the applications of permaculture design both in everyday life and more specifically in academic projects. The three permaculture ethics of “earth care, fair share, and people care” are not one-size-fits-all dogmas, she explained, but rather tools for thinking through particular sustainability puzzles, which bristle with distinctive detail at the local level. Chloe also touched on themes such as working with nature rather than against it; responding imaginatively to change and working where possible with what is available or becomes available in the world around you; eliminating waste; using renewables; creating closed loops of energy and resources; valuing diversity both as an intrinsic good and for the resilience that diversity can bring; and creating beneficial connections among the diverse elements of your system, integrating rather than rigidly segregating and pigeonholing.

Claire Sumners runs the campaign Plastic Free Seaford. She talked us through her own growing awareness of plastics: from having never given much thought to what plastic is made of, or how long it sticks around in our ecosystems, to becoming an environmental activist and educator herself. Getting Seaford certified as a ‘Plastic Free Town’ didn’t mean hitting some kind of literal zero waste target, but but rather unlocking a set of achievements to support ongoing transformative work. For Claire this has involved starting conversations with businesses, schools, politicians, and other stakeholders. One thing sounded out loud and clear: the importance of taking action at many scales, simultaneously. Addressing the environmental emergency means advocating for system change at the global and national level, and being open-minded and imaginative about new ways of doing things at the ‘middle’ scale of sectors, institutions and organisations, and making those many smaller changes in our everyday lives. In fact, as society as a whole transitions to net zero, actions at all these different levels should start to complement each other more and more.

I also detected in Claire’s talk a real subtext (maybe it was more than a subtext!) of meeting people where they are, and then giving them the support and encouragement to take a couple steps in a new direction. A not insignificant part of the work of coping with the climate emergency is affective labour: the work of listening, empathisizing, the work of storytelling and worldmaking.

In my bit (slides here) I introduced SHL and our recent Sussex Humanities Lab’s 2020 Environmental Strategy. SHL’s plans for 2021 include a more fine-grained scoping review of the sustainability work and priorities of DH centres (and adjacent) across the sector, so watch this space! I also elaborated on one or two points from the Strategy document. For example:

  • Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) and geoengineering play an important role in climate modelling and policy in every future scenario seriously considered by the IPCC. Yet it seems like they’re not really talked about outside of this ‘big picture’ context, for example, when we think about our sustainability plans as individuals, institutions, and local communities. So I think it’s important we cultivate a rich critical awareness of climate technologies, and become literate in the issues and uncertainties, so we can make robust decisions and protect ourselves the risks of Net Zero on paper only.
  • Obviously there are many different routes to Net Zero, and it’s also important we don’t elide their political differences in the drive to get there speedily and efficiently. In other words, it’s not just about “us” getting to Net Zero as fast as “we” can (although obviously it’s time to get a move on). It’s also about recognising that resources and responsibilities are unequally spread, and that different decarbonisation strategies spread the costs and the benefits in different ways. This is just the kind of critical thinking, I suggest, which humanities academics can often bring to the table … although of course it’s also something we all can and should be thinking about!

Samantha Waugh, Sussex’s Sustainability Manager, then gave a very useful overview of where the university is at and where we might be heading. A new Sussex-wide strategy is in the works (publication in the spring), structured around four themes, mapped to the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals. There was a lot of great detail (albeit some of it necessarily a bit provisional): here’s my (probably slightly unreliable!) summary …

Sam kicked off with strategic drivers: how is the environmental crisis is manifesting at the institutional level? This includes of course the global context: all the ways that our understanding of the environmental crisis is expressed and contested across scientific research, grassroots activism, and national and transnational policy contexts. Another significant piece of the global context is the pandemic itself, the risks and opportunities it has created, what it has accelerated or put on hold, what it has made more visible or less visible. Some relevant drivers have a more specifically Sussexy flavour: we are lucky in that our staff and student communities generally already have a deep personal commitment to social and ecological justice, and passion and impatience to make the necessary changes. NSS scores are one window into those student priorities. We also have really world-leading expertise in Development Studies, with all the opportunities and obligations that implies. More generally, we need to ensure our sustainability policy and practices are fully alligned with our Sussex 2025 vision.

With that in mind, the four threads are:

  1. Interdisciplinary Development. Sustainability will be embedded throughout the curriculum, in particular via a flagship first year module in each school. It will also be embedded in our employability strategy. Interdisciplinarity also means recognising that sustainability is also about environmental justice, so this theme is also likely to be where a large chunk of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion work sits. There are tremendous opportunities here for collaborating with our passionate and brilliant student body to drive transformation, creating spaces, solidarity, and support to test out more radical ideas.
  2. Decarbonisation. Our decarbonisation strategy is also in the works, and will include SMART targets for achieving Net Zero by a particular date. Will it be 2035? Maybe earlier? Some modelling has been commissioned which should give us a clearer idea early next year. There are questions of course around how decarbonisation will be incentivised and monitored across the sector and the UK economy more generally, and the potential for Sussex to show pre-emptive regulatory alignment. But there’s also the potential for leadership: this could be another area for creative exploration, innovation and social and commercial entrepreneurship. Sam hopes to put in place prizes for green innovation, support for spin-offs from research, and so on. Other priority areas to look at are buildings, facilities and construction, and flexible and remote work policies. Sam reinforced the point that the carbon implications of flexible and remote working may be more complex and mixed than they at first seem, and the importance of taking an open-minded and holistic view as we steer through these transformations.
  3. The Civic Leaders and Partners theme is about our engagement, outreach, and collaborations, including charity partnerships. So this relates to the UN Sustainable Development Goals of good health and wellbeing; sustainable cities and communities; peace, justice, and strong institutions; and that final goal which is to pursue all the others through partnerships and collaborations. For Sussex this means, among other things, a sustainable and active travel action plan, and a sustainable procurement policy and practice. Sussex must use our influence with suppliers and other strategic partners to normalise a society of ecological sustainability and personal and collective wellbeing, including ensuring partners have their own appropriate Net Zero commitments and plans in place, that they pay a living wage, and so on.
  4. Environmental Champions. The fourth thread of our strategy maps to the UN Sustainable Development Goals of clean water and sanitation, responsible consumption and production, life below water and life on land. There will very shortly be published (probably already out) an initial benchmarking exercise, ahead of a sustainable food and waste action plan and biodiversity policy and action plan. The initial targets will be to be in the top quintile of performers.

Sam also shared a provisional timeline with a number of milestones, including sustainability committee subgroups to launch in December 2020, a net zero commitment to be announced in spring 2021, and sustainability to be integrated into the curriculum in time for the 2022 intake.

There followed one of those lovely rich Q&A sessions which you know could have gone on much, much longer, but which you also don’t mind ending, because you know these conversations will still be flourishing long after the Zoom window winks shut.


Life, but not as we know it

A guest post by Peter Newell, Professor of International Relations in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex. This article originally appeared as part of the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme Forum on the Pandemic and Sustainability, convened by Dr Andreas Antoniades.

Amid the fear, uncertainty and personal loss that surround the current Covid-19 pandemic, people are starting to think about what form a ‘just recovery’ to the crisis might take. But what if sustainability was also one of the guiding principles of efforts to re-build economies, communities and societies?

Here I highlight three key dimensions. Firstly, behaviour change. People have shown themselves to be remarkably able to adapt to constraints and adopt new norms of living, accepting limits on their behaviour requested by the state in order to address this threat to our collective well-being. No one will welcome further or permanent restrictions on their freedom, of course. But there may be scope to further encourage positive behaviours around re-localisation and resilience: from supporting local businesses and sourcing local food and reducing food waste to enabling more people to work from home and making virtual conferencing the norm to avoid unnecessary flights.

Historical evidence suggests that once behaviours shift, even if induced by crisis, they can become the new normal. One example, would be the shift towards a four day working week that was introduced as a temporary cost-cutting measure and became so popular that it remained in place.

Secondly, fighting roll-back. Just as the crisis has provided an opportunity to avoid aspects of business as usual that are clearly unsustainable, so too the rush to kick-start the economy, combined with the losses they have suffered, is emboldening airline industries and fossil fuel firms to claim bail-outs and state support of around $2 trillion in the case of the US alone. This is in addition to the $10 million a minute that the world already spends on fossil fuel subsidies according to the IMF. They have already had some success with commitments to suspend the enforcement of environmental laws in the US, for example, and pressure for further de-regulation of hard-fought environmental protections.

Ensuring these basic safeguards are not eroded is vital to our ability to deliver the SDGs. Beyond providing compensation and re-training opportunities for workers, this is not the moment to resuscitate industries whose business models are incompatible with delivering the Paris agreement when there are so many other sectors deserving of state support. Rapid transitions out of these sectors were required before the crisis; the coronavirus has served to precipitate their decline and provides an opportunity for an economy wide re-think.

Thirdly, re-set around the aims and priorities of economic life. We have seen widespread support for prioritising welfare and prosperity over growth at all costs. This has implied strengthening the resilience of our life support systems: health services and the environment which sustains us all.

The industrial conversions we have seen in recent weeks could be extended to a broader re-purposing of the economy through new investments in jobs and infrastructure along the lines of the proposed Green New Deal to ensure the economy we build from the crisis is built on stronger foundations of sustainability. The basis for this could have to be secure and decently paid work as part of a just transition; a deliberate move away from casualisation and precarious contracts for the poorest in society.

Alongside this, there is renewed interest in cooperatives, social enterprise, B-Corps and non-traditional business models that put welfare above short-term profit maximisation.

This is a key moment to change the economy by design and not just in the mode of crisis management. The goals of strengthening resilience, enhancing well-being and guaranteeing social justice need to guide our efforts.

Things won’t ever be the same again, but nor should they be. If normal was the problem, pushing us beyond planetary boundaries, getting back to normal spells disaster. Is it possible that we might make something positive come from this most devastating of crises? For the sake of future generations, we have to make sure the answer is yes.

Peter Newell is Professor of International Relations in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex. Peter is a specialist in the politics and political economy of environment and development.

Find out more about his Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) project on ‘Climate Resilient Agricultural Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa‘.