SAILS researcher Anne Meuwese awarded PDI-SSH grant
The PDI-SSH grant will be used by Meuwese to create a web portal and collection of tools and resources, named ‘WetSuite’, that will help researchers apply Natural Language Processing (NLP) methods to legal textual data from public bodies.
PDI-SSH grants are part of the SSH Sector Plan of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) and intended to strengthen the digital research infrastructure in the Netherlands. Of the 47 grant applications, Meuwese’s project, in which she works closely with computer linguist Matthijs Westera (Humanities/LUCL), was one of ten projects selected to receive funding.
Artificial intelligence (AI) methods that can extract new information, such as patterns invisible to the human eye, from large amounts of textual data are becoming increasingly sophisticated, says Meuwese. One example of this type of technology is Natural Language Processing (NLP). 'At the same time, more and more official public body documents are becoming available digitally, such as laws, administrative decisions and case law. By allowing computers to search these texts for connections and striking features, we can learn and improve a lot about the functioning of government.’ The goal of web portal WetSuite is to provide data access and tools, both to researchers in law with little or no programming experience and to researchers in NLP with little or no legal background.
Meuwese will use the grant to take an important step forward in the project. 'Together with a team of computer linguists, legal experts and public administration experts we can now start to actually build WetSuite. Much preliminary work needs to be done by a programmer so that we will ultimately have an interface that also allows non-technical users to access NLP applications. The PDI-SSH grant means that we can now recruit a lead programmer as well as two assistants.' Vacancies are to be posted soon.
Besides Meuwese, scholars from other faculties are also involved in the project. 'I manage the WetSuite project from Leiden Law School because it relates to infrastructure that will ultimately be used to enhance legal research. At the Faculty of Humanities (Leiden University Centre for Linguists), not only is Matthijs Westera involved, but Stephan Raaijmakers will also have an advisory role. In addition, Alex Ingrams (Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs) will help us to connect with research in the field of public administration. The Leiden team will also collaborate with Tilburg University (Johan Wolswinkel) and Maastricht University (Gijs van Dijck).'
Meuwese is delighted with the steps she can now take in the project. 'It’s always easy to talk a lot about interdisciplinary collaboration and human-centred use of AI. So, it’s great to be able to build on this now. Only by doing, can we find out what's possible in terms of using AI to monitor government decisions.'
Are you interested in applying NLP to legal data? Do not hesitate to get in touch!