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In their discussions, members of the Task Force took particular notice of the long-term developments, described below, that have produced deep challenges for the social sciences.Focusing on new possibilities to advance social knowledge, this report calls for a new “research compact”—which would emerge from reimagined collaboration among researchers, institutions, policymakers, and the private sector—to improve the pursuit of social knowledge and its potential to contribute to the common good.For decades, the social sciences have generated knowledge vital to guiding public policy, informing business, and understanding and improving the human condition.
Instead, we have issued a call to forge a new research compact to harness the potential of the social sciences for improving human lives.
That compact depends on partnerships, and we urge the key players in the construction of social science knowledge—including universities, government, foundations, and corporations—to act swiftly.
And we have generated recommendations to address these issues.
Our core finding focuses on the urgent need for new partnerships and collaborations among several key players: the federal government, academic institutions, donor organizations, and the private sector.
This question has guided the Social Science Research Council’s Task Force.
Following eighteen months of consultation with key players as well as internal deliberation, we have identified both long-term developments and present threats that have created challenges for the social sciences, but also created unique opportunities.Though this report focuses principally on the United States, the issues it addresses resonate in other parts of the world as well.The Task Force consulted many constituencies and conducted intensive internal discussions over the course of eighteen months (see the appendix regarding the consultation process).The report emphasizes both protective and proactive dimensions of “securing knowledge.” We seek to safeguard social knowledge by upholding the essential principles that must be in place to produce excellent research and inform public action.Concurrently, we want to seize possibilities to enhance social knowledge and its contributions to improving the human condition, and thus promote an expansive vision for the social sciences.4 Both tasks are urgent and timely.That foundation needs a redesign in order for the social sciences to continue helping our communities address problems ranging from income inequality to education reform.To build a better future, we identify five areas of action: Funding, Data, Ethics, Research Quality, and Research Training.It chronicles changes to the post–World War II institutional framework that helped launch today’s social science, explores the current research ecosystem and how it has been destabilized, and proceeds to identify five key areas for thoughtful intervention: The United States possesses a vibrant system for social science research.Built during the second half the twentieth century, it connects universities, government institutions, firms, and foundations.In each area, our recommendations range from enlarging corporate-academic pilot programs to improving social science training in digital literacy.A consistent theme is that none of the measures, if taken unilaterally, can generate optimal outcomes.