Social Science Research Center:
Helping Nonprofits Help Others
BY VALERIE ORLEANS
March 4, 2004
Inside the rows of nondescript cubicles, students
are staffing phones, asking thousands of different questions: What
are emerging business trends in Orange County? How are police perceived
in Long Beach? How can access to healthcare services be improved
for low-income families? How do members of Orange County feel about
public access television?
Every year, researchers with the Social Science Research
Center provide businesses, tax-supported and nonprofit agencies,
and organizations and scholars with empirical data that is critical
in developing and evaluating programs, advocating for change or
making sound policy decisions.
Under the guidance of Gregory Robinson, center director,
the data will be gathered, analyzed and compiled into reports. Are
any trends emerging? Do there seem to be areas of consensus among
different groups of people? What observable patterns are present?
And what might this information mean to the client requesting it?
“Through the work we do at the center, we can
help organizations make changes that improve the lives of others,”
said Robinson. “Whether it’s looking at the potential
for new job markets or helping underserved children receive needed
medical care, providing clients with good, solid data and statistical
analysis enables them to better perform their obligations to their
communities. The information we gather not only indicates where
needs may be present but also may point out more effective methods
to deliver such services.”
This level of detail can prevent costly mistakes.
Many organizations, while well intentioned, may not always realize
“For instance, one of our healthcare clients
wanted to provide medical care to underserved, low-income families.
Unfortunately, the chosen location was many blocks away from any
bus route, and the target population may not have access to transportation
that would allow them to utilize these services,” Robinson
explained. “Once they’re aware of this potential problem,
our clients can look at other options – such as mobile clinics
or providing certain services at schools or churches or other areas
where the target population might gather. Or perhaps they can train
community members to spread the word about healthy lifestyle practices.”
At any given time, the center may be handling dozens
of requests for data and statistical analysis. Over the course of
a year, the center generates hundreds of thousands of dollars from
grants and contracts by organizations that want to gauge community
needs, perceptions, opinions and outcomes.
Some of the center’s more recent contracts
and grants have included $30,444 from Cal State Long Beach to provide
research survey and data interpretation; $10,157 for a private high
school assessment (for a church-affiliated sample); $7,500 from
the Vietnamese Community of Orange County Inc. with a matching $7,500
from the American Cancer Society to study breast cancer programs
among the Vietnamese in Orange County; and $167,863 from the American
Academy of Pediatrics to conduct research on child safety issues.
In recent months, the center was awarded two contracts from the
Orange County Business Council: $26,243 to conduct a resident survey
in the Santa Ana empowerment zone and $39,932 to conduct an accompanying
phone survey of businesses in the empowerment zone.
“We often work with clients to determine their
information needs and to suggest research methods that will produce
answers within the constraints of their budgets,” he said.
“Some of our clients are quite sophisticated and others need
more assistance. By providing research services solidly gounded
in currrent best practice scientific methods, we can help them achieve
their outcomes more effectively and efficiently.”
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