This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.
In the April of 2017, a group of approximately twenty undergraduates from various backgrounds slowly trickled in to an empty classroom at Miami University in the late afternoon. That afternoon was the first meeting of the Prosecution Project. Of those twenty-some undergraduate students, four remain with the Project now, in the fall of 2018. Since then, nearly 45 Miami University students have contributed in some way to the project, whether it be for a few weeks, a semester, or a year.
As the Prosecution Project approaches its second year, the outcome is slightly different than what was imagined at the start — I can say this with certainty, since I was in the room for that very first meeting nearly two years ago. The Prosecution Project was initially conceived as a one-year ordeal, wherein the upcoming summer and throughout the fall semester, researchers would gather and code data, and in the spring semester, analyze and report on that data, with the outcome of a publication in a year’s time. We soon realized that this project was going to become much larger than that. More and more cases continued to be input, more detailed and intricate coding questions began to come up, and the scope of the project expanded exponentially.
Data collecting and coding continued well into the spring of 2018, with monumental questions of methodology, coding, theoretical framework, and other fundamental aspects of the Project being brought up at each weekly team meeting. It became clear quite clear that there would be no publishable output by the end of the academic year, but we did begin to expand the “deliverables” of the Project into mediums not yet considered. The blog was created in the spring, as a way to show people outside of our small team and its supporters what we had been doing for the past year. Preliminary analysis began on the data, even if it was nothing more than a framework for future analysis. We began to systematize the process of coding, including drop down menus in our dataset for faster and more uniform variable level assignment; creating teams of coders that work in tandem to independently code and verify doubly that cases were coded correctly; the organization of different files that accompany the Project, including source files for each case; and a number of people assigned to scrape new cases and cases we may have previously missed from large databases and other sources. The new plan was to have a complete dataset by the end of the summer of 2018.
When the fall rolled around, we soon realized that this plan just wasn’t feasible. We were adding hundreds of new cases each week, and of the then-nearly-2000 cases we had added, only about 800 had been coded and verified. Our new plan became intensive coding weeks in which we could complete as many cases as possible, followed by a semester of analysis and producing reports.
Now, in October of 2018, the goal has shifted again, and is, in truth, still evolving. The current plan which that we are working with right now is a multi-layered analysis. As of mid-October, we have over 2000 cases added, and of those cases, over 1000 complete and verified. Part of the team is currently working on continuing to code, while other subgroups of our 20 undergraduate researchers are doing analysis in multiple forms. We have a team of researchers running descriptive statistics and generating data visualizations, a team working on inferential statistics to generate correlations and regressions and other statistical results, and a team working on the beginning stages of Qualitative Comparative Analysis.
While the Prosecution Project has evolved significantly over the past 18 months and become a much bigger feat than we could’ve imagined that April afternoon in that first little meeting, it has not lost sight of its goal. We hope to not only begin publications and mini-reports of our own findings of the prosecutions of acts of political violence/extremism and terrorism, but also to make our database accessible to students as a tool for conducting research, and to the public in the pursuit of open and accessible knowledge.
Athena Chapekis is a senior sociology major at Miami University and senior team member and data analyst at the Prosecution Project