From criminal justice to transportation, poverty to “fake news,” large-scale data are helping us both understand and address some of the most pressing issues facing modern democracies. And yet analyses and applications of those same data can do real harm. Algorithms used for setting bail can perpetuate racial biases. Calculations employed to improve the efficiency of postal delivery may divert already-scarce resources away from impoverished areas. Enhancing political engagement on social media platforms can promote misinformation, polarization, and distrust.

The list—unfortunately—goes on.

How can we maximize the effectiveness of, and minimize potential harms resulting from, the use of data in contemporary democracies? One important answer is to bring more social science into our data practices. Social science perspectives permit a deeper understanding of the social and political processes that generate data—allowing us to more critically unpack what the data represent. And social science research can tell us a great deal about the likely effects of various applications resulting from data analysis and technology.

With this in mind, the Data in Democracy Summer School brings together a select group of practitioners and academics for five days to learn about and apply crucial insights from the social sciences concerning the forms, functions, and impacts of data in democratic societies. Participants will receive a series of lectures with built-in practical exercises, engage in social and networking activities, and, on the final day, take part in a “hackathon” that capitalizes on participants’ diverse backgrounds and experiences as they work together on a problem using real-world data.

Program and theme



The core of the program is broadly relevant to anyone who uses data to unpack and address contemporary social and political problems, be it as a journalist, technologist, academic, or data analyst in either the public or private sectors.

However, each year also features a special theme. In 2018, we will consider the much-discussed issue of “fake news,” highlighting social scientific theories and concepts that can help us understand what “fake news” is, its impacts on society, as well as the potential of various data-centered approaches to either mitigate or exacerbate the problem.

View the full program here.

Eligibility and applications


The Data in Democracy Summer School seeks to bring together a small but diverse group of approximately 25 participants from all over the world. The Summer School is designed to allow participants to learn and gain from interactions with one another and the instructors.

Anyone holding a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent professional experience) who works with quantitative data on a regular basis—e.g., as part of graduate studies or in professional work—is eligible to apply. This includes anyone from data and computer scientists to data journalists and analysts in the public, corporate, and academic realms.

Participants will be selected on the basis of these basic qualifications and with consideration for diversity in terms of professional/academic backgrounds, methodological approaches and skills, and cultural perspectives and experiences.

To apply, please submit the following materials to dataindemocracy@fsw.leidenuniv.nl:

  • CV
  • Motivation letter (maximum 2 pages), highlighting:
    • Your reason(s) for interest in the summer school and
    • The ways in which you use data, including
      • The topics you address and
      • The methodologies you use. (We do not require the use of any specific methodology. This information will give us a better sense of potential participants’ skills and interests.)
    • If you do not hold a bachelor’s degree, please discuss your equivalent work experience.

The deadline for applications is May 25, 2018.

location and logistics


The Data in Democracy Summer School is hosted by the Institute of Political Science at Leiden University. The oldest university in the Netherlands, Leiden University has campuses in both Leiden and The Hague. Summer School lectures will be held at the Wijnhaven, a brand new academic facility in The Hague, and Wednesday social functions will provide participants with the opportunity to explore the historic Leiden location.

Both cities are a short train-ride from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.

Participants will need to secure their own accommodations for the Summer School, but Summer School staff are available to assist with recommendations and other advice, if desired.

Please contact us with any questions at dataindemocracy@fsw.leidenuniv.nl.

summer school fees

Graduate Students: €550
Professionals: €1050

Discounts may be available for those with financial need.