Social Policy Institute launches at Washington University

Universitywide institute to advance the influence of research in innovating policy solutions

Michal Grinstein-Weiss (right) is director of the newly established Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis. The institute, which seeks to develop research-based policy recommendations and solutions, formally launches Sept. 24. (Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)

Inequities and inequalities are ever-evolving and surfacing in our society, presenting a shifting landscape of challenges and problems. Gaps in our social, economic, education and health systems all pose specific challenges on regional, national and global scales.

To address these challenges, Washington University in St. Louis will bring together the best research evidence from disciplines across the university to solve real-world challenges — which sums up both the mission and the vision of the new Social Policy Institute. The institute will serve as a hub for policy-focused efforts universitywide.

“Over the past decades, research has well documented the range of disparities in financial opportunities, housing, education and health that adversely affect the well-being of individuals and communities. What is needed now is to move from documenting disparities to finding and implementing solutions to the inequalities at the root of those disparities,” said Michal Grinstein-Weiss, the Shanti K. Khinduka Distinguished Professor at the Brown School, who will serve as director of the Social Policy Institute.

“It is our responsibility, as part of a leading research institution and as world citizens, to leverage our findings and effectively apply what we learn from research so we can discover and implement innovative ways to eliminate or reduce inequities,” she said.

In addition to collaborating and partnering with Washington University faculty, research centers and institutes already engaged in policy work, the Social Policy Institute will partner with corporate leaders and government officials, private foundations and think tanks to develop strong research partnerships at the local, state, federal and global levels. The institute’s work extends across a wide range of areas, delving into business, social work, engineering, design and liberal arts. Its multidisciplined, holistic and innovative approach is grounded in its ultimate goal of translating research findings into actionable policy to benefit communities in St. Louis, the nation and across the globe.

“The Social Policy Institute will enable us to continue strengthening Washington University’s capacity and capability to engage in empirical research and cross-sector collaborations,” Chancellor Andrew D. Martin said. “With nonprofit and industry partners, we’re investing in evidence-based policy ideas for people in the St. Louis region, the United States and beyond.”

The Social Policy Institute will officially launch at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, with an event in Hillman Hall featuring a remarkable group of speakers, including Richard Reeves, a  Brookings Institution senior fellow in economic studies, and Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University.

Afterward, Nisha Patel, managing director of narrative change and national initiatives at the poverty-fighting organization Robin Hood, will lead a panel of corporate and community partners from Intuit Inc., Centene Corp. and the St. Louis Federal Reserve, who  will offer thought-provoking perspectives on how cross-sector partnerships can find sustainable solutions to some of society’s most challenging problems.

“Frequently, research findings haven’t had the expected impact on policy because the evidence has not been given to ‘the right people, at the right time, in the right way’ — that is, translated into accessible information and delivered to those who can influence policy design and decision-making,” Grinstein-Weiss said.

“The institute is eagerly looking forward to serving as a hub for the work that faculty, students and the various university centers are already doing to address social policy,” she said. “We see one part of our mission as supporting and facilitating these ongoing efforts as well as using our network of contacts and resources to help broker future multidiscipline, cross-sector partnerships that will help to ensure research evidence is transformed into policy and programs that benefit our campus, communities and world.  We know we will be stronger in this effort together.”

The launch event will take place from 3-6:15 p.m. in Hillman Hall’s Clark-Fox Forum and is open to the Washington University community.  Click here to RSVP.

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