Social Science Research Council’s “To Secure Knowledge” Task Force Issues Final Report

As Infrastructure for Social Research, Including Data Collection and Analysis, Undergoes Major Transformations, To Secure Knowledge: Social Science Partnerships for the Common Good Offers Recommendations to Ensure Quality and Accessibility

NEW YORK (September 11, 2018) – To Secure Knowledge, a task force of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), releases its final report at a livestreamed event in New York City September 17. To Secure Knowledge: Social Science Partnerships for the Common Good explores the ways that accelerating technological and institutional changes have impacted social science research. In an era of funding challenges, misinformation campaigns, and post-truth culture, when personal data is collected at a rate previously unimaginable, maintaining the public’s trust that research is protected, accurate, transparent, and unbiased is essential to social progress and democratic life.

For more than nine decades, the SSRC has helped to set the standard for social research excellence. Current SSRC research projects address issues of peace and conflict, mis- and disinformation and its effects on democracy and elections, disconnected youth, and more.

In recent years, the public face of social science research has become increasingly politicized, government funding for research is under challenge, and the private sector has realized that personal data can be a highly lucrative revenue stream. Simultaneously, revolutionary new digital technologies have transformed the quantity of data that is collected across society, but thus far there has been no equivalent revolution around data privacy and integrity, nor for standards for its analysis.

To address these concerns, the SSRC convened a group of nine experts from a range of fields—public and private, academic and philanthropic. After 18 months of discussion and debate, including consultation and guidance from a broad array of scholars and institutional leaders, the To Secure Knowledge Task Force’s final report will be released on September 17. The SSRC will amplify and activate its recommendations in the months to come.

The report asserts that we need new institutional arrangements and funding models to propel social science research, including a framework for researchers, nonprofit organizations, policymakers, and businesses to collaborate in order to ensure the highest standards for research, accountability, and public trust.

SSRC president Alondra Nelson notes that the impetus for the Task Force was a commitment to ensuring that rigorous social science research continues to be produced and made available for the common good.

“Access to both new and historical social science research is essential for world-class scholarship and informed public debate, which in turn influences policy decisions,” Nelson said. “The report and the recommendations of the To Secure Knowledge Task Force will prove integral to enabling social researchers to produce and disseminate high-quality research that benefits the lives of individuals and their communities.”

Comprised of individuals from across fields and disciplines, the Task Force was co-chaired by Bernadette Gray-Little, chancellor emerita of the University of Kansas, and Ira Katznelson, Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History at Columbia University and immediate past president of the SSRC.

“For the federal government and the public which it serves and for social scientists, this Task Force had an important mission, and following serious, deliberative discussions, we feel strongly that its recommendations will make a crucial impact on research and society,” said Gray-Little. “I am proud to have had the opportunity to contribute to this effort.”

Katznelson said the report is timely. “The changing research environment means that the academy needs to deepen its connection to other key sectors of society in order to produce knowledge that benefits the common good,” he said. “A new research compact will secure knowledge for future generations of citizens, and help ensure that innovative, quality research can be brought to bear on crucial questions confronting humanity.”

The report’s key recommendations include the following:

  • Create new funding partnerships that facilitate coordination between government, the private sector, the academy, and philanthropy.

  • Encourage experiments in cross-sector data sharing, such as the Social Data Initiative, in which the SSRC is a partner.

  • Develop new approaches that ensure data is protected and safely made available to researchers, while also improving and standardizing best practices for ethical data research.

For more information on the To Secure Knowledge Task Force, please visit

Dewey Blanton
SSRC Communications