Mapping affinities: visualizing academic practice through collaboration

Academic affinities are one of the most fundamental hidden dynamics that drive scientific development. Some affinities are actual, and consequently can be measured through classical academic metrics such as co-authoring. Other affinities are potential, and therefore do not have visible traces in information systems; for instance, some peers may share scientific interests without actually knowing it. This thesis illustrates the development of a map of affinities for scientific collectives, which is intended to be relevant to three audiences: the management, the scholars themselves, and the external public. Our case study involves the School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering of EPFL, which consists of three institutes, seventy laboratories, and around one thousand employees. The actual affinities are modeled using the data available from the academic systems reporting publications, teaching, and advising, whereas the potential affinities are addressed through text mining of the documents registered in the information system. The major challenge for designing such a map is to represent the multi-dimensionality and multi-scale nature of the information. The affinities are not limited to the computation of heterogeneous sources of information, they also apply at different scales. Therefore, the map shows local affinities inside a given laboratory, as well as global affinities among laboratories. The thesis presents a graphical grammar to represent affinities. This graphical system is actualized in several embodiments, among which a large-scale carpet of 250 square meters and an interactive online system in which the map can be parameterized. In both cases, we discuss how the actualization influences the representation of data, in particular the way key questions could be appropriately addressed considering the three target audiences: the insights gained by the management and the relative decisions, the understanding of the researchers’ own positioning in the academic collective that might reveal opportunities for new synergies, and eventually the interpretation of the structure from an external standpoint that suggesting the relevance of the tool for communication.

Kaplan, Frédéric
Beaude, Boris
Other identifiers:
urn: urn:nbn:ch:bel-epfl-thesis8242-7

 Record created 2018-01-17, last modified 2018-03-18

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