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Web Science Institute

Web Science Institute features in a special edition of Spotlight on Research

Published: 18 November 2020
WSI

In a special issue of Spotlight on Research, WSI Executive Director, Professor Dame Wendy Hall, shares her insight into the interdisciplinary work, the impact COVID-19 has had on future plans and details how you can get involved.

Can you give an overview of the institute and its work?

We set up the Web Science Institute (WSI) seven years ago to draw together world-leading expertise from across the University to explore the development of the Web from a socio-technical perspective.

At the time, our position at the interface of society and technology was very innovative. Our focus is studying how the Web impacts on society and how society impacts the development of the Web. Over the years our work has been very diverse, including research collaborations with industry and academia, education through our Centres for Doctoral Training in Web Science and Artificial Intelligence for the Future of Society, providing online continuing professional development courses, enterprise and impact, and influencing public policy.
 
 
How does your institute work with the wider University?

Although we are based in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, the WSI is a University-focused organisation and is led by Directors from computer science, social science, and the arts and humanities. We have a very interdisciplinary focus, catalysing joint working across all disciplines to address socio-technical challenges. Our Academic Advisory Board and Strategy Board also reflect this diversity with members from social and computational sciences, the humanities, medicine, health sciences, business, law and the natural sciences. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Externally we represent the University in many different ways. Two years ago, we took on the coordination of the University’s membership activities with The Alan Turing Institute. In the summer of this year, we ran the ACM Web Science Conference 2020 that was attended online by hundreds of delegates from around the world. We have agreed to host the conference online again next year.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

We fund early stage research through the Research Collaboration Stimulus Fund which facilitates interdisciplinary research collaborations with non-academic partners, and the Z21 Innovation Fund which gives University entrepreneurs the chance to get funding to develop their digital ideas. Our series of Distinguished Lectures attracts speakers from a wide range of backgrounds and subject areas.
 
 
What are your goals for the next five years?

The current global pandemic means that we, like almost every other organisation, are having to reassess and review our strategic plans for both the short and long-term. It is difficult to plan with certainty for the next five years, but we can be sure that whatever our future may look like, the Web will play an increasingly significant role. Every day the Web and the way we use it is changing at a faster pace than ever before, and at the WSI we are committed to retaining our position at the forefront of these changes, helping to ensure that the technology and the ecosystem of people and machines that is the Web evolves as a force for good in society. 

We will also continue our focus on two areas of research – our world-leading involvement in the growing field of artificial intelligence (AI), and our development of data engineering and the management of data at scale. We are planning to develop an online MSc to train non-STEM students in the technology, social and policy aspects of AI. Alongside this, we are committed to influencing and driving forward public policy both in the UK and internationally.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
 
 
How can people get involved with the Institute? 

We already have strong links across the University, but we are continually working to strengthen and expand that network. We are keen to encourage more researchers to engage in joint projects and are always happy to talk to staff or students, whatever their speciality, After the para ending - …to explore how they could become involved with us.

There are many ways you can find out more about the work we do by attending one of our events or workshops; signing up to our mailing list to receive copies of our newsletters, as well as details of our latest research, activities and events; speaking to us about engaging in a joint research project; or by attending one of our Distinguished Lectures.

If you are interested in finding out more about the WSI then send an email to wsi@soton.ac.uk.

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