The Society for the
Study of Social Issues




  President's Column
   Maureen O'Connor

In 2004, then-SPSSI President Kay Deaux asked Professor Meg Bond (U-Mass Lowell) and me to Co-Chair a Task Force that would help SPSSI think more strategically about POLICY – how to better integrate it into day-to-day activities, how to take better advantage of the then-recent relocation of the Central Office to Washington, D.C., and how to support member involvement in policy activities. As she has done repeatedly in her amazing scholarship, Kay had identified an important gap in our knowledge and practice that needed to be addressed. The Task Force examined SPSSI’s mission and history, considered existing and needed resources, and produced a strategic plan with a set of goals, objectives, and action steps to move SPSSI FORWARD in its policy engagement. That plan called for a number of key actions that were readily approved by SPSSI Council. These included the establishment of a permanent Policy Committee as a standing committee in SSPSI governance, the freeing up of space at Central Office to allow policy work to be conducted in the office, the relocation from APA of the work of SPSSI’s Marshall Scholar and Dalmas Taylor Fellow to SPSSI Central Office, and the development of a full-time staff position dedicated to policy work.

A few years later, under President Dan Perlman’s leadership, SPSSI undertook an overall strategic planning process to help set the course for the organization heading into 2010 and beyond. Through that process, SPSSI reiterated its long-standing mission – “To generate, disseminate, and apply social science knowledge to address the problems of society” – and articulated a number of values and activities that flow from that mission specifically oriented toward policy, including:

•  That SPSSI is distinct from other social scientific associations in its commitment to translating science into action and distinct from other social advocacy organizations in its commitment to basing action on science;

•  That science should guide policy and practice;

•  That SPSSI should work to increase understanding by policy makers and the public of key social issues in order to change attitudes, behaviors, and social systems; and,

•  That SPSSI should bring social science theory and evidence to bear to improve public policy across a wide range of social issues from the local to the global level in accordance with SPSSI’s guiding values.

These exercises have helped SPSSI stay focused on and expand its policy work. The Policy Committee, which this year is co-chaired by Dr. Jack Glaser and Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, has helped SPSSI develop needed policy statements, e.g., on psychologists’ involvement in interrogation and on climate change. Alex Ingrams, our full-time Policy Coordinator, tracks and calls attention to many opportunities for SPSSI to become involved in important policy discussions in DC and around the country, by working with members on specific topics and by keeping us all informed with his monthly Policy blasts. He works in coalition with other organizations, e.g., with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on advocating for science as a human right, and responds quickly to breaking issues, such as helping to pull together materials in response to the recent legislative initiative in North Carolina challenging marriage equality and strategizing about how best to address this issue proactively at the Charlotte conference. He recently hosted a Webinar on the Science of Policy Communication which brought SPSSI member expertise to a wide audience, in a highly informative and accessible format. Alex works closely with our current Marshal Scholar, Angel Colón Rivera, who has worked with the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and on Capitol Hill, bringing his SPSSI credibility to important international issues, particularly human trafficking. Also, as an NGO, SPSSI stays engaged in international social justice and policy work through our UN Committee and representatives in New York and in Geneva, where SPSSI’s voice is heard and valued (see report by Corann Okorodudu).

All of these activities and more will be highlighted in a number of sessions at SPSSI’s two summer conferences – our 2012 Biennial Convention, June 22–24, in Charlotte, NC, and the Division 9 programming at APA in Orlando, August 2–5. In Charlotte, the convention program is full to the brim with incredible social justice and policy sessions. Linda Tropp is leading a workshop, “Becoming an Engaged Scholar: A Workshop on Public Engagement”, which will be followed by several sessions focused on policy, including a session targeting scientists’ interactions with media. The keynote speakers, including Policy Committee Co-Chair, Jack Glaser, will feature the best of the science/policy interface. The three Presidential E-Streams will address science and advocacy around the environment, education, and equity and ethics. And, in Orlando, SPSSI’s programming revolves around policy, and features a keynote address by science writer and journalist, Chris Mooney, who will address science communication and policy issues.

It is impossible to catalogue all of the work going on at SPSSI Central Office and by SPSSI members focused on policy, but I hope this brief review will help to remind you of how important this work is for SPSSI, and might inspire you to look for ways to becoming more involved. If you want to learn more, or talk policy – I’m eager to hear from you.


-Maureen O’Connor

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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin