Social Research Center Administration: Dreams and Realities

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a remarkable proliferation of social programs in many Western countries as a result of national and local efforts to address human needs. As social services expanded so did the role of social research.

In a previous article (Isralowitz 1986), I identified four aspects of social research:

* The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

* Applied research (when a project or activity simultaneously generates knowledge and takes steps toward ameliorating a social problem).

* Evaluation (the acquisition of knowledge to appraise).

* Evaluation research (the generation of knowledge for purposes of program assessment and management).

Clearly, social research has the potential to help government and nongovernment policymakers, agency administrators, direct service practitioners and others develop a better understanding of the nature of social problems and how these problems can be addressed by society. Universities have attempted to play a role in this process by establishing social research centers (SRCs) to promote the relationship between research and development. SRCs are designed to:

* Develop and disseminate knowledge related to social problems and issues.

* Educate students in the disciplines of tile social sciences (e.g., social work and education).

* Advance the professional academic status of faculty in the social sciences within universities and professional schools.

* Identify external sources of funding support for faculty and staff engaged in social science research.

As the former director of the Graduate School for Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University and the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute for Social Research at Ben Gurion University in Israel, my goal is to provide the reader with a better understanding of SRCs and how they function. In the following article I will describe (a) the factors that influence support for university-based SRCs, (b) the difficulty of transferring research findings from the SRC to the outside world, and (c) how the social context influences the role research administrators (RAs) play in this type of research organization.

SUPPORT FOR UNIVERSITY-BASED SOCIAL RESEARCH

Nearly 20 years ago, it was reported that universities and university professional schools had made unparalleled investments in social research centers (Estes 1979). The question is, unparalleled to what? It is my observation that universities and professional schools, for the most part, have not made a major investment in the establishment and ongoing support of SRCs especially in comparison to the amount of effort directed toward other activities, including the initiation of new academic programs. In fact, universities and individual academic departments tend to neglect, reduce support and even eliminate SRCs when financial problems arise. Of course this is only my observation; exceptions undoubtedly exist, and only an assessment, over time and across locations, would identify the actual patterns of organization development and support for SRCs.

Another observation that I have made is that the long-term success of an SRC is often dependent on how faculty and those responsible for university administration view the center's credibility and leadership. I have learned that an SRC is more likely to be viewed as a valuable contributor to tire research enterprise if the SRC's leadership recognize that:

* Research center planning should not be an end unto itself.

* The center's course of action should be meaningful to faculty, the university and to the university's external constituents, including government and nongovernment interests, as well as to the private sector.

* The goals of the center must be attainable, and the results appropriate for short- and long-term organization development. …