The Data in Democracy Summer School brings together a select group of participants from a variety of sectors for five days to learn, share, and apply crucial insights concerning the forms, functions, and impacts of data in democratic societies. Participants will take part in a series of lectures and discussions with built-in practical exercises, engage in social and networking activities, and, on the final day, take part in a hackathon using real-world data. This year's theme is "fake news", and during the hackathon participants will apply insights from earlier in the week to critically analyze an original dataset from online media sources.



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. And—as we have seen all too clearly in recent months—enhancing political engagement on social media platforms can promote misinformation, polarization, and distrust.

Unfortunately, the list goes on.

How can we (1) maximize the effectiveness of and (2) minimize potential harms resulting from the use of data in contemporary democracies? The Data in Democracy Summer School is founded on the belief that engaging in dialogue and learning from those with different disciplinary perspectives is essential for achieving both goals. If computer and data scientists remain isolated from the humanities, if data journalists and analysts do not engage with lessons from the social sciences and vice versa, our approach to data will remain impoverished.

The summer school’s own lecturers approach data first and foremost as political and social scientists. We have extensive methodological, including computational, experience. But the social science perspective provides a deeper, sometimes more critical, understanding of the social and political processes that generate data. And, we believe, social science research can tell us a great deal about the likely effects of various applications resulting from data analysis, design, and engineering. We therefore aim to share insights from our own discipline and engage in productive conversations with those from other fields about the uses and abuses of data in democratic societies.

Program and theme



Each year the Data in Democracy Summer School takes up a special theme. In 2018, we will consider the much-discussed issue of “fake news”, highlighting 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. Our key note address, “Big Data, Online Misinformation, and Fake News”, will be given by Andy Guess of Princeton University, whose research is at the forefront of this issue. And on the final day of the summer school, participants will work, hackathon-style, with an original dataset drawn from online news reports to explore and apply the ideas and possibilities shared throughout the week.

View the full program here.

Eligibility and applications


The Data in Democracy Summer School seeks to bring together a small but diverse group of 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.


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.