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Scope of work

Revised, July 2012

Revised Scope of Work for the Social Observatories Coordinating Network (SOCN)

This application proposes a Research Coordinating Network, the Social Observatories Coordinating Network (SOCN), to work with the scientific communities in the development and planning of a set of observatories for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Sciences that will transform SBE science. The major objective of the Social Observatories Coordinating Network (SOCN) is to continue exploration of ideas regarding the potential form and functioning of a network of social observatories and to actively engage individuals and groups across the SBE research community in this process. The SOCN will work with disciplinary and interdisciplinary groups to ensure that they contribute to the design of these proposed observatories and that the scientific questions meet their needs. Dissemination of what we produce will play an important role, particularly at national professional meetings and other scientific conferences. The final product will be a report to NSF outlining the different points of view of the various scientific communities and the consensus emerging from the three years of discussion. We also foresee one or more synthesis articles in a journal(s) widely read across the sciences to alert and engage the community.

The two major tasks we will address are the following:

Task I: Discovery and Consensus Building, 9/2012 - 8/2014

1. Hold a Sequence of Meetings. The first full network Steering Committee meeting will be held September 13-14, 2012 in the Washington, DC area. The task of this meeting will be twofold: 1) To plan a set of workshops to address issues related to theoretical foundations, research approaches, data, and analytic methods appropriate for a network of observatories, and 2) to divide among members of the SOCN the set of meetings/workshops that members of this RCN will organize to introduce the observatory concept, to engage the broader disciplinary and interdisciplinary communities, and to obtain feedback.

a. Invited Workshops on Key Issues. The network will hold two invited scientific workshops in 2013, focusing on theoretical approaches, research approaches, data, and analytic methods. One workshop will be held in conjunction with a mid-year Steering Committee meeting in spring 2013 and the other held in conjunction with the second year Steering Committee meeting in September 2013. We will identify and invite scholars to these meetings who can add expertise and perspectives to those currently present in the SOCN to help develop the intellectual rationale and structure for social observatories.

b. Scientific Community Workshops. In Year 1 the network will roll out a set of small focused workshops and roundtables in the different substantive academic communities, including anthropology, economics, geography, political science, psychology, and sociology, as well as interdisciplinary groups such as the Society for Risk Analysis, the American Association for Public Opinion Research, and the Joint Statistical meetings of the American Statistical Association. These workshops and roundtables will be held in conjunction with professional meetings and led by SOCN members. Network members will propose a workshop or set of workshops that fits the above scientific communities. We have budgeted for 6 such workshops to be held over the first two project years. It is proposed that these workshops be broadly advertised in the discipline, free, open to all, but registration will be required to ensure follow up by the SOCN and continued engagement in this enterprise after the workshops. We will hold a special session at each workshop to obtain input from students and/or involve them in the general sessions at these meetings to ensure their input and to engage them from the start in this exciting development. We will ask participants to submit two-page summaries of their ideas. As described above, the purpose is to facilitate two-way exchanges among those working to advance planning for social observatories and participating scholars who may contribute ideas toward that end. In addition, this will provide a preliminary mechanism for encouraging multidisciplinary research by involving discussants from multiple disciplines in each workshop. The NSF program officer(s) will be invited to attend these meetings. A recorder will take notes and prepare a report to be disseminated and posted on the SOCN web site immediately after the meeting.

2. Dissemination. The network will establish a web site presence through the Maryland Population Research Center web site for dissemination of documents that have been generated to date on the thinking behind the observatories’ network, for dissemination of input coming from workshops and meetings in 2012-15, and as a limited access site to upload working documents and meeting materials. A position paper that will be widely distributed will be prepared during the first project year that will serve to inform the community about this development and to seek their input.

Task II: Synthesis (09/2014-08/2015)

  1. Scientific Community Workshops. Three scientific community workshops will be held in the third project year due to scheduling issues and the lead time required for getting on the program of some annual professional meetings. See above for details of what these workshops seek to accomplish.
  2. Synthesis Meeting. A fourth Steering Committee meeting and conference will be held in May 2015 in the Washington DC area. The primary objective of this final meeting will be to disseminate what has been learned from the scientific community workshops that would inform the design of the observatories. A secondary objective is to depict how the SBE community sees the value of these observatories for transforming the path forward to meet the challenges of new media, big data, and the design of appropriate cyberinfrastructure in the service of society and the advancement of science. Besides steering committee members, this conference will invite key leaders in the broader scientific community to discuss the recommendations in the final report. Following the meeting, manuscripts will be prepared and submitted to scientific journals based on the recommendations of social, behavioral, and economic scientists for developing observatories for the 21st century.
  3. Final report. A final report with recommendations for the Observatory project will be presented to NSF at the end of the 3-year SOCN project, August 2015.