This is the second in a series of blogs that I am writing on the core values that shape the teaching, research, and service activities of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy (COSSPP). In the first blog I discussed the value of Diversity, one that shapes our intellectual environment and the faculty, staff, and students in the college.
The second COSSPP core value I want to introduce is Evidence-Based Decision Making. In discussing this I need to harken back to the college’s creation in 1973 as the College of Social Sciences when a mix of traditional academic units with roots in the social sciences (Economics, Geography, Political Science, and Sociology) were combined with two policy-oriented programs (Public Administration and Urban & Regional Planning).
The new college focused on core knowledge of social, economic, and political issues and the application of that knowledge to policy questions and public affairs. While the intellectual traditions and theoretical foundations of these units may differ, all share a common commitment to the idea that quality empirical analysis should inform and shape the actions and decisions of individuals and organizations.
Like our friends in the hard or natural sciences (think physics, chemistry, biology, and meteorology), social scientists use experimental research design, large datasets, observation, and sophisticated analytic methods. They apply these tools to research on issues as diverse as health care finance, transportation systems, gender and identity, coastal systems, and government transparency. Unlike hard scientists, though, social scientists also embrace qualitative methodologies and operate in a messy world within which experimental research designs are infeasible or impossible.
Through these diverse methods and analytical approaches, the social sciences tackle issues and problems that impact the lives and well-being of the human species, based on the belief that empirical analysis is the key to the betterment of society and improved quality of life for all. Many of these are “Wicked Problems” – thorny, complex, and deeply rooted in society – and must be approached in a systematic way.
So how do these methods apply to real-world problems? How does social science research yield insights into individual, organizational, and societal behaviors and actions?
Let me offer up a few examples. If there are proposed changes in taxes or environmental policies, data can be mobilized to assess these proposals and recommend a course of action to decision makers, as is evidenced by the work of faculty and students working in our Hilton Center and DeVoe Moore Center. Similarly, data can be gathered and analyzed to assess the social, financial, health, and transport needs of older adults in Florida, most notably by the Safe Mobility for Life Coalition housed within the college. This and other older adult research is undertaken in our Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, which works with nonprofits, businesses, and the government sector to promote higher quality of life for this fast-growing segment of population. The ongoing “wicked problems” of racism and sexism can be combatted by gathering data to assess differences in employment outcomes, access to healthy foods, and/or health outcomes. Communities can then be mobilized to combat these entrenched problems in workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods, informed by research on local issues and governance challenges.
Put simply, Evidence-Based Decision Making brings a systematic, rigorous, and data-driven approach to analyzing problems and then taking action. Disciplines in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy promote critical thinking, analytical methods, and empirical skills as the path to understanding the key political, social, and economic issues that dominate our public discussions. It is my great pleasure to work with the 150+ social scientists on our faculty and more than 4,000 student social science majors to help create a world where quality data, excellent methods, meaningful analysis, and insight are used to make our wicked world a little less so each day.
Dr. Tim Chapin is Dean in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy and a professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University.
The featured image is from GIKS.org.