Gary King instrumental in developing new model for academic collaboration with industry

April 10, 2018
Gary King

IQSS Director Gary King and Nate Persily of Stanford Law School have developed a new model for academic collaboration with industry.

As described in their working paper “A New Model for Industry-Academic Partnerships”, the model is centered on an independent commission composed of respected scholars to be entrusted with access to all relevant information and systems of a private firm, and is responsible for defining specific research areas for the broader scholarly community. Unlike in previously existing approaches to research using private firm data, King and Persily's model enable unfettered research; the firm has no right to pre-publication approval or review, and the commission publishes regular reports on the firm's continued cooperation.

Once the topic or topics of research are identified, the "trusted third party," as King and Persily describe the commission, then recruit independent academic researchers via standard processes of grant application and peer review. Researchers who are selected by the commission are then awarded grant funding (provided by nonprofit organizations) as well as access to anonymized data as needed for their study. To ensure privacy and confidentiality, the data would at all times remain within the original firm's specialized servers with continuous auditing.

In this context, a new partnership has been announced in which funding from seven politically diverse nonprofit organizations—the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Democracy Fund, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Charles Koch Foundation, Omidyar Network, and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation—will support the use of anonymized Facebook data for independent, peer-reviewed social science research. The Social Science Research Council (SSRC)  will organize the peer review process. The topic of research is the impact of social media on the world, with a primary focus on democracy and elections.

The collaboration between the SSRC and Facebook using King and Persily's research model has the potential to establish a new standard approach to academic research designed to be shielded from private motives and influence. As SSRC president Alondra Nelson explains in a statement published by the SSRC, "This initiative will abide by the highest standards of academic research, and is part of what the SSRC has been doing for nearly a century: fostering better understanding of social processes to improve the lives of all."

Gary King is Albert J Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University and Director of the Institute for Quanitative Social Science. Nate Persily is James B. McClatchy Professor of Law at Stanford Law School.


More information on the research collaboration between the SSRC and Facebook can be found in the articles linked below.

SSRC: "Statement from SSRC President Alondra Nelson on the Social Data Initiative"

Facebook: "Facebook Launches New Initiative to Help Scholars Assess Social Media’s Impact on Elections"

Hewlett Foundation: "Hewlett, Knight, Koch foundations, with other funders, will support independent research on Facebook’s role in elections and democracy"

Boston Globe: "Facebook turns to Harvard professor to study election influence"

WGBH Interview with Gary King: "Harvard Professor Discusses Effort To Fix Facebook"

Gary King and Nathaniel Persily. Working Paper. “A New Model for Industry-Academic Partnerships”