As our world experiences unprecedented social and economic changes, policy-makers will increasingly turn to world-class research institutions in search of ways to understand and address those changes.
Last week, Western unveiled the Network for Economic and Social Trends, a flagship research and policy alliance in the Faculty of Social Science positioned to address these challenges through multidisciplinary research, national and international collaborations, and training of the next generation of leaders.
Housed in the newly renovated Social Science Building sixth floor, the network looks to produce ‘research with relevance’ to promote and inform social and economic policy.
“We have a number of research centres within the Faculty of Social Science, but collaboration across the centres was not that common. This will now provide more opportunities for collaboration and cooperation, building on our already existing strengths,” said Psychology professor Victoria Esses, the inaugural Director of NEST.
The goals of NEST are to use advanced data creation, management, and analytic techniques to provide theoretically driven and evidenced-based research to inform social and economic policy. Its research will focus on issues related to educational attainment, poverty, inequality, immigration, diversity, population change, local government, urban affairs, and community development.
“The research we do will have direct relevance to economic and social policy within Canada and internationally,” she said at the network’s opening even Friday.
The six research centres making up NEST include:
- Centre for Computational and Quantitative Social Science;
- Centre for Human Capital and Productivity;
- Centre for Research on Social Inequality (formerly the Centre on Population, Health and Aging);
- Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations;
- Centre for Transitional Justice and Post-Conflict Reconstruction; and
- Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance.
Along with the ‘original six,’ several Western centres outside the faculty will also be affiliated with the network, including:
- Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion;
- Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction;
- Statistics Canada Research Data Centre;
- Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing; and
- Centre for Building Sustainable Value.
“I love collaboration. This will bring together so many perspectives when it comes to dealing with real issues in the real world,” said Esses, noting the centres, individually, already influence policy, but as a group will have more of an impact. “There will definitely be strength in numbers. By pooling our intellectual and physical resources, we will have more of an impact than any one researcher or research centre alone.
“From ideas come research projects, from those research project will come recommendation for policy change.”
Through conferences, speaker series, workshops, working papers and policy briefs, NEST will reach policy-makers, think tanks, academics and media members with interest in social and economic policy, said Social Science Dean Bob Andersen.
“We’re already one of the best social science research centres in the country – now NEST will take us even further,” said Andersen, excited to see NEST begin working after three years of planning. “Things like economic development, prosperity, educational attainment, migration; you require effective policy to address these, and other issues. It requires rigorous empirical social science research, which is NEST.”
He added, in the political age in which we live today, where it’s hard to determine a truth from a lie or fact from fiction, social scientists are uniquely qualified to set the records straight. It’s time for NEST, Andersen said.
“By promoting our initiatives and forging partnerships inside and outside Western, NEST will increase our research profile in the international academic community and with policy makers in Canada and elsewhere,” said Andersen, adding the goal is to make a difference. “We have challenges facing democracy today. All of these issues can have serious consequences and require our attention. By bringing together faculty and graduate student, across all our disciplines, NEST will make a difference.”