First Aid for Data Questions: How SoDa can support researchers with the development of innovative applications

Doing research involves several rounds of creating ideas, experimenting and processing the outcomes. Dr. Minet de Wied, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Utrecht University, understands the challenges of developing research methods and experiments like no other. In her research on empathy in children with behavioural disorders, she uses a multi-method approach and develops a tool to aid in the assessment of empathy in clinical forensic practices. To develop this tool, De Wied, asked help from ODISSEI’s Social Data Science Team. This team aims to support researchers in conducting research by helping them overcome computational obstacles.

De Wied researches the development of empathy in children and adolescents, in particular empathy disorders in young people with behavioural problems. Empathy is a dynamic interpersonal process, depending in part on the relationship between the empathizer and person being empathized, personal attributes and other contextual elements. The outcomes differ per situation, which increases the importance of using dynamic research methods.

With the tool that De Wied wanted to develop, the dynamics of empathy can be visualised and used to engage in a conversation with the person in question about personal experiences in situations in which they witness other people’s emotions. ‘Young people are asked to indicate what they feel and do when they experience that a friend, stranger or someone they like less is hurt, sad or happy. The answers to that questionnaire are being visualized by the tool. The visualization will be able to provide feedback to the researcher to continue the conversation.

But how can you convert an innovative, dynamic method into a clear visualisation? De Wied sought out the help of the Social Data Science Team for this. She was not able to develop such a complex visualization herself, so SoDa has been called in to create it. They are developing an application that can show both the dynamic variations, as well as the results in bar charts. The complexity of the concept of empathy weighs heavily in the development of the tool. De Wied focuses on five empathy-related responses (empathy, compassion, personal distress, empathic behavior and counter-empathy) that are asked separately and can be processed into patterns. These five aspects are not sufficiently discussed in the current questionnaires. SoDa will therefore also focus on visualising those aspects in the tool. 

The use of the questionnaire in the field is still in its early stages. That is why it was very important to De Wied that SoDa could be flexible. Despite the fact that the possible outcomes of the tool were not yet clear, SoDa still wanted to provide assistance in developing the visualisation. “It’s an experiment, you don’t know what you will encounter in practice. Perhaps it is too complicated or too confronting’, she indicates. “I told SoDa it might work, but maybe it won’t. I was then told that that is part of doing research, and that that’s okay, I thought that was great,” De Wied continues. De Wied currently consults regularly with SoDa to discuss the development of the visualisations step by step. On the basis of test sessions, adjustments are made until it can be used by researchers in the field. ‘It is very special that I can receive this support as a researcher who does not have the possibility to visualize this tool themselves’, says De Wied.

About SoDa

The SoDa team aims to help researchers with questions and support them in conducting their research. For any kind of data-related question, researchers can ask for help from the Social Data Science Team. Are you not sure whether SoDa can help you? Then it is possible to visit the SoDa Drop-ins, where you can briefly discuss your situation with the SoDa team..

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Photo by Ana Municio on Unsplash