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Social science goes high tech to boost collaboration

That's the basic goal for the new Social Science Research Commons

Social scientists unite!

That's the basic goal for the new Social Science Research Commons (SSRC) on the IU Bloomington campus. The SSRC is the culmination of five years of planning to stimulate, coordinate, and sustain social science research on the Bloomington campus. The university wants to provide social science faculty and graduate students with a place to meet, share their research interests, and develop new research projects -- in many cases, across traditional disciplines.

"We're giving researchers an accessible space to collaborate," said James Walker, the interim director of the SSRC. "The SSRC will enhance communication regarding a variety of services already available on this campus."

Renovations of the physical space in Woodburn Hall 200 were complete in August, and the SSRC is now fully operational. It features the latest communication and research technology, so researchers can meet and work together in person, as well as collaborate with colleagues around the country and the world.

"There may be hundreds of people on campus who deal with health policy, for example," said Walker, who is also a professor of economics. "Many of them work alone or in small groups and very few cross disciplinary boundaries. Part of our ultimate goal is to promote inter-disciplinary discussion. We can't force it, but we definitely want to encourage collaboration and a team approach to social science research."

Not only can interdisciplinary research lead to new ideas and approaches to research, it can also be beneficial when applying for external grants -- an important element of research at any university.

"The bottom line is that many funding organizations encourage a multidisciplinary approach on grants," said Emily Meanwell, the associate director of the SSRC. "We want to provide support and services that assist social scientists in becoming even more competitive when applying for grant funding."

The SSRC is a partnership between the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR), the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology.

James Russell, the director of leveraged resources in the College of Arts and Sciences IT office, has been central to the design and implementation of the SSRC.

"We wanted to do two things with the technology in the SSRC: create a flexible environment where everything can be repositioned to suit researchers' needs, and use SMART technologies -- systems that give us the most efficient ways to provide a collaborative environment."

SMART technologies employ large interactive displays, the SMART Meeting Pro whiteboard application, and Bridgit conferencing software to allow the SSRC to share and take control of users' desktops, and access 16 separate meetings simultaneously.

"We wanted to create a petri dish to allow the most productive research to grow," Russell said. "We see the SSRC as a set of research-related services that can branch out all over campus."

The SSRC is working with other groups on campus that provide services to researchers in order to generate additional support and establish an environment convenient and conducive to research collaboration. These groups include OVPR's Proposal Development Services and the Office of Research Administration.

The SSRC also houses Research Analytics and the Indiana Statistical Consulting Center (ISCC) -- two groups whose research services advance IU's missions for research, education and external engagement. Research Analytics, a unit of University Information Technology Services, provides consulting services related to analytical tools and methods for research, and is responsible for the administration and support of statistical software. As a unit of the Department of Statistics, ISCC provides consulting and educational outreach in foundational and advanced statistical methods for the IU research community.

The SSRC facilitates workshops, seminars, and colloquia that bring together interested graduate students and faculty from across campus. The SSRC Workshop in Methods, for example, focuses on research methodology. Other seminars and discussions have brought together researchers from Bloomington and other campuses around topics such as the science of team science and complex systems research.

"We are still discovering the many ways that the SSRC can enhance and support social science research on the IU Bloomington campus," Walker said. "We are creating opportunities that will introduce the facility to faculty and graduate students on campus."

For more about the Social Science Research Commons, including upcoming events and contact information, visit ssrc.indiana.edu.