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Giving Back to the Research Community

Giving Back to the Research Community

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

community members in a morning workshopDurham residents and area researchers have done so much for social science. From participating in the ResearchMobile’s traveling research lab to collaborating on external projects like the Durham Neighborhood Compass, community members have contributed a great deal to social science research at Duke. To give back, SSRI recently hosted a day of data skill building for community members and nonprofit staff.

The day’s events were designed with their work in mind and included workshops, a lunch with guest speaker Brian Southwell, host of WNCU-FM’s The Measure of Everyday Life, and individual project consulting.

Attendees chose from a rotation of three morning workshops and seven afternoon workshops, selecting the topics that aligned best with their needs.

Workshop topics included best practices for designing surveys, how to conduct in-depth interviews and focus groups, and how to think about and use data critically to name a few.

Facilitated by Duke faculty, SSRI staff, and postdoctoral associates from SSRI affiliates, workshops offered community members an opportunity to step away from their day-to-day while also thinking about how to approach it more effectively.

It was a truly interdisciplinary gathering with facilitator backgrounds ranging from applied physics and cultural anthropology to mathematics, geography, and educational psychology. Each facilitator contributed valuable expertise.

Brian Southwell speaks to event attendees at lunch Southwell spoke to attendees during lunch about bridging social science and community action, a topic that brought together theory and implementation.

Guests had many opportunities to network and discuss the day’s events over meals and breaks. Conversations often turned to strategies for how to incorporate their new knowledge into their work. Their enthusiasm and commitment to their work was clear.

“I’m excited, this is really important to the work that we do,” said Michelle Laws, director of Program Development, Outreach, and Research at the Community Health Coalition.

“It’s helping us make sure we’re getting the best out of the data we collect and using it in a more effective way. I have a PhD in social and behavioral science, but it’s always good to make sure that you stay fresh,” she added.

Laws attended Evaluation: Using Data as Evidence to Prove and Improve as well as Using Mapping to Understand Your Community. The two workshops targeted areas of interest for her work with community health disparities.

Brian Southwell holds a Q&A during lunchElizabeth Brown, data and research specialist at the Emily K. Center also attended the evaluation workshop.

“We’re always looking to expand our evaluation capacity and know exactly the impact we’re having with the kids in our college access program,” she said. “I thought it was a really good overview of what evaluation is, why you should do it, and some of the common problems that people run into.”

For some organizations like the Partnership Effort for the Advancement of Children’s Health (PEACH), a Durham nonprofit that primarily deals with lead contamination in Durham homes, multiple staff members attended the day’s events.

“We’re doing interviews and surveys with community residents and collective impact meetings. […] We’ve done a lot of outreach, but we wanted to be more formal in the way we collect information,” said Lenora Smith, PEACH executive director.

“We have years of information that we’ve been collecting. Our data is a story we can tell,” she added.

From Bass Connections to faculty projects, community has certainly shaped SSRI’s research stories. Any opportunity to give back and help shape their stories in kind is a welcome one.


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