Press Releases

Friday, January 04, 2008

New Investment to Help Support SSRC’s Study of Katrina Impact

Gates Foundation joins four other foundations with $1.4 million grant

The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) today announced a $1.4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support a large-scale research initiative documenting the human impacts of Hurricane Katrina. Organized by the SSRC’s Task Force on Hurricane Katrina and Rebuilding the Gulf Coast, the project aims to conduct the broadest and most thorough examination of the disaster and its aftermath to date—and which further promises to be, in the words of Task Force chair Kai Erikson, "one of the most comprehensive social science studies of any disaster in human history."

One of the nation’s leading sociologists, Erikson is an authority on the social consequences of catastrophic events. He takes the view that Katrina can, and should, be as instructive as it was destructive: "We have to do our best to learn from it—both because that is the only way we can be of any real help to the persons who suffered from it, and because we need to be better prepared for the inevitable next time."

Four other major foundations—Russell Sage, MacArthur, Ford, and Rockefeller—are already supporting the work the SSRC initiated two years ago. For SSRC President Craig Calhoun, this new investment provides further corroboration of the importance of the work the SSRC started in the immediate wake of the Katrina disaster, gathering together experts and holding the Web forum Understanding Katrina. "A project of this magnitude," said Calhoun, "simply would not be feasible without this kind of a concerted effort within the philanthropic community."

Importantly, this funding will enable the Katrina Task Force to put greater emphasis on meaningful dissemination: to ensure that the knowledge the project produces ends up in the hands of those who need it, as soon as feasible. Under Erikson’s direction, the project researchers will participate in a new kind of reporting process—one that could break new ground by changing the pace and face of social science. For instance, the Task Force will issue research bulletins for a broad audience, including community leaders, political actors, and journalists.

"The pace at which most social science research proceeds now has to be measured in years," Erikson said. "What we are proposing here would enable interested parties to enter the research process itself, in a sense, so they can learn from it as it proceeds and apply that knowledge to their work." Funding for the Task Force will support projects that strive to achieve this goal, including the Katrina Research Hub, an online network of researchers and institutions who can collaborate to enhance their knowledge and research on the Gulf Coast crises.

"This research is critically important for both the region and the nation as a whole," said Hilary Pennington, director of U.S. Special Initiatives at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "The findings and resources from SSRC will not only help the recovery process underway but also aid our country’s response to any future disasters."