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Universtiy News

Social Science Research Center:
Helping Nonprofits Help Others


March 4, 2004

Greg Robinson
Greg Robinson

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 potential problems.

“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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