There’s a new resource in the quest for equality and inclusion.
“Our goal is public service through public information,” says Breanca Merritt, director of the newly formed Center for Research on Inclusion and Social Policy—known as CRISP.
The Indiana University Public Policy Institute created CRISP to serve as a centralized resource for reliable, nonpartisan data and research on the interrelated issues that make up the elements of social policy, such as education, poverty, and housing.
While most university research centers traditionally focus on a research agenda and producing peer-reviewed publications, CRISP’s mission is to inform and educate the public about the many factors that contribute to the social policy conversation.
“A lot of the issues that create disparities are about more than just that one discipline,” Merritt says. “It’s about the confluence of many other issues. Working to reduce disparities is a very complex task because you really have to tackle problems across a multitude of areas. CRISP is where all that research comes together.”
CRISP’s analysts will provide on-going research and evaluation on a variety of inclusion-based topics through issues that are timely and relevant to Hoosiers.
“We’re already working on briefs about international immigration to Indiana, as well as eviction trends around Indianapolis,” Merritt says.
Merritt uses Indianapolis as an example, saying that while the city hasn’t always been quick to talk about disparities or how to properly address them, leaders are making progress.
“The city is moving in the right direction, but they don’t have one place to get all the information they need about the causes and connections between these issues,” she says. “CRISP fills that important void for the city and the community.”
Merritt says by filling that void, CRISP can open eyes to the complexity of multifaceted issues like poverty and racial equity, and the role policies can play in both hurting and helping those affected.
“I think the language of American culture—at large—is a very individualistic,” she says. “Regardless of whether things are going well or poorly, it’s put on the individual, not the system. The truth is, a lot of people can work multiple jobs and it’s not enough. That’s an issue with the system, not the individual.”
When legislators, community leaders, and neighbors have a better understanding of social issues, Merritt says it provides an opportunity for our communities to move forward collectively.
“We can lead conversations about disparity and inequity in a way that’s neutral and less emotional than those who focus on advocacy,” she adds. “Talking through research presents a neutral ground to clearly see the differences that exist so we can address them and succeed together.”
Not only does CRISP provide critical information to the community, it gives students a unique opportunity to work alongside analysts, develop data-centered reports, and work with clients and partners.
“SPEA students major in making a difference,” Merritt says. “Increasingly, ‘making a difference’ means you’re accountable to funding organizations, government, and other agencies. To get a job in today’s workforce, especially in a nonprofit environment, you have to know a little about how data works. You have to know who your stakeholders are and how to tell a story that compels them to support your cause. We help students learn how to do that.”
Merritt points out that the student positions at CRISP aren’t only for SPEA majors or those who are passionate about data. Their research assistants come from a variety of schools.
“You don’t have to be a numbers person to do this,” she says. “We want students who are passionate about their community and who want to learn.”