Mapping Affinities in Academic Organizations

Scholarly 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 leave visible traces in information systems; for instance, some peers may share interests without actually knowing it. This article illustrates the development of a map of affinities for academic collectives, designed 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, hereinafter ENAC. The school consists of around 1,000 scholars, 70 laboratories, and 3 institutes. The actual affinities are modeled using the data available from the information systems reporting publications, teaching, and advising scholars, whereas the potential affinities are addressed through text mining of the publications. 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. The map, thus, shows local affinities inside a given laboratory, as well as global affinities among laboratories. This article presents a graphical grammar to represent affinities. Its effectiveness is illustrated by two actualizations of the design proposal: an interactive online system in which the map can be parameterized, and a large-scale carpet of 250 square meters. In both cases, we discuss how the materiality 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 their consequences in terms of governance, the understanding of the scholars’ own positioning in the academic group in order to foster opportunities for new collaborations and, eventually, the interpretation of the structure from a general public to evaluate the relevance of the tool for external communication.


Published in:
Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analytics, 3
Year:
Feb 19 2018
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 Record created 2018-04-23, last modified 2019-06-17

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