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Engaging Academia to Shape Policy

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cyndi-lucas-head-shotSpecial to the Philanthropy Journal

By Cyndi Lucas

Social psychologist Kurt Lewin once said, “Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.” That idea is the guiding principle for the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI). SPSSI was founded in 1936 at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to bring social science research to bear on social problems. Now located in Washington, DC, the organization is made up of more than 3000 academic, social psychologists and allied social scientists committed to the use of empirically sound data to solve today’s social problems, ensure social justice and improve the human condition. SPSSI focuses on using sound science to create sound policy.

spssi-logoThroughout its 80-year history, SPSSI has been involved in bringing science to bear on a broad range of social issues, beginning with a special emphasis on the three P’s: peace, prejudice, poverty. Over the years, member interests have expanded to include a wide array of social issues, including: disparities in health and housing, origins and solutions to terrorism, reproductive rights, bias and discrimination and to inequality in all its manifestations.

SPSSI members have shared an intense desire to engage in socially relevant science to ensure that psychology does not remain aloof from the major problems of the day. SPSSI affords social and behavioral scientists opportunities to be engaged in policy and to apply their research expertise, knowledge, and insights to the critical problems of today’s world by providing a path for them to contribute to the public good while still fully engaged in academia. SPSSI encourages public education and social activism on social issues and facilitates information exchange through its scholarly journals (Journal of Social Issues, Social Issues and Policy Review, and Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy), book series, social media, and blog. SPSSI also conducts regular educational seminars on Capitol Hill, and sponsor an annual conference.

spssi-article-image-2As subject matter experts, SPSSI emphasizes the importance of putting members center in the development of the content of social media posts, blog series and the content of their scholarly journals. SPSSI members share their research as topic specific education seminars on Capitol Hill where experts on climate change, health disparities or LGBT rights share the latest research and take questions from legislative staff. As Sound Science/Sound Policy suggests, ideology takes a backseat in the development of public policy recommendations as SPSSI members draw conclusions based on the empirical data drawn from the social science research of its members.  This allows SPSSI to work with policy makers across the political spectrum and persuade others to join the cause based on where the research leads them.

To ensure the longevity of the mission of the organization, SPSSI is attentive to the needs of early career scholars. SPSSI provides early career scholars with opportunities to apply for funding to support research. To encourage early career scholars to apply scholarship to public policy firsthand, SPSSI offers two public policy fellowships annually to support work on Capitol Hill or in an Administrative agency. Supporting early career scholars to grow through experience and mentorship enables SPSSI to continue to put a research focus on policy decisions.

spssi-article-image-1Alexandra Rutherford, a former historian for the society, says “SPSSI has been a major force, not only in supporting research on social issues, but in disseminating this research to maximize its social relevance and policy impact.” One of SPSSi’s earliest efforts was a statement on Psychology and Atomic Energy issued in 1946. This document was a six-point plan for the nation to prevent war and promote peace through research and development of atomic energy in the service of “human welfare.” SPSSI’s rich history also includes important milestones such as an address by Martin Luther King Jr calling on psychologists to study racial divisiveness, the first use of psychological science at the Supreme Court in 1989 and an official statement condemning the involvement of psychologists in torture interrogations.

Through the SPSSI’s international membership, they have been able to to extend the Society’s mission to the global arena through recognition as an NGO at the UN with representatives in New York and Geneva. Since, 1987 the organization has also been granted consultative status to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

SPSSI is committed to strategically leveraging resources to promote the public good and social justice through science, practice, and policy that can change attitudes, behaviors, and social systems in positive ways.


Ms. Lucas joined SPSSI in October 2016 as the Communications Director.  A veteran of communications and outreach on campaigns, on Capitol Hill and in various non-profit organizations, Ms. Lucas has worked in the DC Metro area since since 1999. A graduate of Loras Collage with a BA in Sociology and International Studies, she has also completed some Master’s degree coursework in Management at UMUC in Adelphi, MD. Striving to influence public policy through effective advocacy at the grassroots and grasstops level is her primary motivation for keeping communication fresh, concise and targeted to the appropriate audience and promoting the work of SPSSI and its members in the media.

One response on “Engaging Academia to Shape Policy

  1. Jamilia S. says:

    Great article! Enjoyed reading.

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