Quanteda Studio, MiniVAN and Digital DNA Toolbox awarded Concept Grants

 SAGE Concept Grants

We are delighted to announce the first three winners of our Concept Grants program.

Each has been awarded $35k to develop their ideas and help more social scientists to work with big data. 

The winners are:


Quanteda Studio is designed to be a powerful, flexible, and user-friendly text analytic software tool that requires no programming experience to use and will run as a web application. “Quanteda” is short for the quantitative analysis of textual data, and this new application will be built on the power of the open-source quanteda R package for processing and analyzing text.

Text mining and text analytics has exploded in recent years. Technically able data scientists have a wealth of sophisticated tools for mining information from the troves of available textual data, in the form of computer programming languages and software libraries written for those environments. The downside of this sophistication, however, is that users with no programming experience in R, Python, or Java have no access to these tools.

Quanteda Studio is being developed by Kenneth Benoit from the London School of Economics, the creator of quanteda and an expert applications and methods of text analysis for the social sciences. This new tool will make the power of quanteda widely accessible, enabling social scientists to access and use the package’s text analytics capabilities through a graphical user interface that requires no programming.

Kenneth Benoit said:

“I’m delighted to have been awarded this seed grant to develop a prototype, and delighted to be working with such an experienced and innovative partner of academic research and publishing as Sage.”


MiniVAN will be an easy-to-use tool that will support non-specialist social scientists in the visual analysis of their networks and in the online publication of their results.

Networks are becoming increasingly popular in the social sciences as interfaces for exploratory data analysis. The "Visual Analysis of Networks" (VAN) allows academics to explore large relational datasets without having to deal with the full complexity of graph mathematics. A key barrier remains, however, for the adoption of this approach: current VAN tools are either too complicated or unable handle the growing size of the datasets that are typical in the digital social sciences.

MiniVAN aims to solve this problem by providing a tool for the visual analysis of networks that is accessible to academics with little knowledge of mathematics or coding and yet able to scale up to output graphs containing hundreds of thousands of nodes.

MiniVAN is being developed by Tommaso VenturiniJonathan Gray and Guillaume Pique from the Public Data Lab (PDL), a European network of researchers which seeks to facilitate research, democratic engagement and public debate around the future of the data society. SAGE Publishing partnered with the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath to support the establishment of the Public Data Lab in 2017.

The MiniVAN project will draw on the team’s previous open source projects, including GephiSigmajs and Graphology - and will form part of this ecosystem of tools. In line with the Public Data Lab’s spirit of openness, the PDL is seeking to develop MiniVAN in collaboration with the digital social science community. If you have any ideas or needs for this tool, please get in touch via contact@publicdatalab.org  

Tommaso Venturini said:

“The Public Data Lab is honoured to receive the SAGE Ocean Concept Grant. Such funding provides a unique opportunity to extend our research on Visual Network Analysis and to deliver a tool that will help other social scientists to experiment with this technique.

The PDL believes in the active intervention of social scientists in the future of data society. Digital technologies are not just objects of study that we observe from the outside, but sociotechnical devices that we should investigate critically and repurpose creatively in order to facilitate social research and promote political participation.

SAGE's support will help us to open a discussion with scholars interested in network analysis and to develop an open-source tool that comply with their needs and wishes.”


The Digital DNA Toolbox will use bioinformatics techniques to provide researchers with a set of cutting-edge tools that can be used for many things, including assessing the veracity, trustworthiness, and reliability of content (and content producers) in online social networks and beyond.

Issues related to the diffusion of fake news, rumors, hoaxes, as well as the diffusion of malware and viruses in online social networks have become so important as to transcend the virtual ecosystem and interfere with our businesses and societies. Currently, we are unable to effectively deal with these issues. However, recent advances in theoretical data science, as well as the development of big data systems capable of processing the huge volume of online social networks data, gives us the unprecedented opportunity to tackle these critical and multidisciplinary issues.

The Digital DNA Toolbox will provide a novel approach to modeling online user behavior by extracting and analyzing DNA-inspired sequences from users’ online actions. These well-known DNA analysis techniques can then be used to discriminate between legitimate and malicious accounts.

DDNA is being developed by Stefano Cresci and Maurizio Tesconi from the Institute for Informatics and Telematics, Italian National Research Council.

Stefano Cresci said:

"We are very excited of the possibility to develop the digital DNA toolbox, thanks to the prestigious award of the SAGE Ocean Concept Grant. We firmly believe that current problems related to the assessment of credibility and reliability of content (and content producers) require a multidisciplinary approach. To this end, this funding will contribute to bridge the gap between big data and social scientists, empowering the latter with state-of-the-art algorithms and analysis techniques that would otherwise be confined within the computer science community. We look forward to working together with SAGE and other social scientists in order to deliver efficient, easy-to-use tools, and to make an impact on our society."

SAGE Ocean will be awarding Concept Grants again in 2019. To stay up to date with the latest news and ensure you receive the next call for applications, subscribe to the Big Data Newsletter.