The project is aimed at addressing the challenges of studying Russia after 2022, evaluating how the production of knowledge about Russia is changing in the current conditions when the regime reduces the level of transparency and various restrictions limit access to Russia-related data for scholars and social scientists.
Based on a series of expert interviews, the project identifies what are the main challenges for studying Russia in these increasingly deteriorating conditions and what solutions can be used by researchers to adapt to this situation.
In particular, the study explores how the researchers deal with intensified ideological control and censorship, restricted access to primary sources, and decreased integrity of administrative data in Russia. It also investigates how researchers continue their work after various restrictions that were introduced after 2022 largely disrupted international academic cooperation in various domains of Russia-related research.
The project demonstrates that, as they are trying to keep necessary professional connections but avoid toxic Russian academic institutions, scholars focusing on Russia sometimes opt to collaborate with researchers in Russia on an individual basis. Moreover, initiatives for Russian at-risk scholars are also becoming increasingly important in this context.
When it comes to the emergent issues of accessing reliable data about Russia, researchers try to adapt to these challenges by triangulating between different data sources and methods. They also have to increasingly rely on online methods of data collection, such as web surveys, online interviews, and online ethnography. It also becomes necessary to develop independent repositories of data about Russia and independent mass media aggregators, as well as introduce more consistent and systematic data archiving practices.
Apart from the interview-based analysis of emergent challenges and solutions, one of the key outputs of the Known Unknowns project will be a guidebook that will help the researchers to navigate through Russia-related statistics that are still available but not always reliable. Ideas for Russia will collaborate with a team of experts who will evaluate a number of key demographic, economic, and social indicators about Russia and suggest recommendations on how reliable each of those indicators is, why exactly its trustworthiness can be limited, and what alternative indicators can be used instead.
Additionally, as a part of the Known Unknowns project, the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom launched a short-term research scholarship program. The program provides two residential and three non-residential scholarships at Ruhr University Bochum for researchers studying contemporary Russia.
Some preliminary results of the project have already been presented at the 2023 Aleksanteri Conference at the University of Helsinki, at Russia: Known Unknowns workshops at Ruhr University Bochum, as well as at the Russia at War seminar at the University of Tromsø and the Knowledge Production from the Outside workshop in Kirkenes.
The full report of the Known Unknowns project has been published in February 2024. The Russian data trustworthiness guidebook is expected to be published in March 2024
Mass media publications:
— Meduza. Podcast “The Naked Pravda“: “How studying Russia became a paradox”
— Russia.Post. Vlada Baranova: “Turning Point? The Ethnicization of Social Issues and What Indigenous Communities Think About It”
— Eurasianet. Арсений Веркеев: «Можно ли не доверять опросам в России?»