The Executive Officers Column
An Assessment of National Social Science Advocacy
As ASA works to advance the interests of academic, scientific,
and practice-oriented sociology in national policy arenas,
it needs strong and effective friends in the nations capital to
help us ensure a positive environment for science in general,
the social sciences in particular, and an appropriateor, at
least, adequatefederal investment in the sciences of human
behavior. Our primary Washington friend is the Consortium
of Social Science Associations (COSSA), a welcome partner in
a town renowned for raw politics. While ASA promotes and
defends the discipline of sociology and increases its visibility,
COSSA reinforces our efforts and takes the lead when lobbying
is needed. COSSA collaborates with us and others to foster research-facilitating policies,
communication, and mutual support among all the sciences as well as to educate
the elected, appointed, and career federal officials who control and direct the nations
federal research enterprise, including data collection and analysis in the federal mission
agencies (e.g., census, criminal justice, labor, and educational statistics).
Social Sciences Best Friend in Washington
COSSA was founded in May 1981 by social science societies, including ASA and the
Social Science Research Council, in response to the then new Reagan Administrations
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) proposal for dramatic cuts in the social and
behavioral science program of the
National Science Foundation (NSF).
While the issues needing social science
advocacy are ever-changing, and the
political context evolves daily, there
has been scarcely a moments lull since
the Reagan years. COSSAs plate has
increased in size and complexity because of need
and its history of success, its seasoned and experienced
leadership, and the widespread perception of its effectiveness.
Ten science associations incorporated COSSA in 1982, registering it with the IRS as a
501(c)(6) organization, allowing it to both lobby and educate. COSSA quickly advanced
beyond protecting funding to monitoring all federal agencies that support social and
behavioral research and to advocate for a non-politicized research agenda. COSSAs
mission is to serve as a bridge between the academic research community and the
Washington policymaking world. Many ASA members keep abreast of these activities
through the biweekly newsletter, the COSSA Washington UPDATE. This informative
newsletter is electronic, and the ASA Executive Office can ensure you are on the mailing
Evaluation of COSSA
Has COSSA done its job? True to form, social scientists hold their organizations
accountable. COSSAs board and executive committee (on both of which ASA has a seat)
has initiated several self evaluations, the latest beginning in late 2004. The objectives
were to conduct a program review to assure COSSA is performing as intended; an external
assessment to see how constituent groups and target audiences perceive COSSAs
work; and strategic planning to identify emerging challenges and organizational priorities
while recognizing COSSAs resource constraints.
I chaired the Sub-Committee on Self-Assessment of the COSSA Executive Committee.
Interviewing a broad range of external stakeholders, we obtained views about COSSAs
effectiveness and mission. At the 2005 COSSA Annual Meeting, constituents and Board
members discussed these issues, and the Executive Committee discussed the input at a
full-day retreat. The assessments defining parameters were: mission clarity, inclusiveness,
and relevancy; goal- and resource-consistency of practices and policy focuses;
range and effectiveness of alliances; impact intensity, location, and potential; resource
leveraging and expansion possibilities; leadership of COSSAs governing body and utilization
of its governance structure.
The COSSA Executive Committee and Board concluded, among other things, that the
core missionTo promote the value of social and behavioral science research to policymakers
and the public with the goal of enhancing federal supportshould continue
and that COSSA has been effective. Stakeholders unanimously agree that COSSA is the major player for the social and behavioral science community on key science policy, and
it is the central resource for detailed knowledge about relevant federal science matters.
But to address ever-more serious future challenges, COSSA should enhance some
strategies as resources permit, especially those that aggressively, proactively, and
visibly make the case that social and behavioral science research is vital to the nation
and to informed policymaking. Its main federally focused advocacy should remain a
major strategy, but COSSA will be considering advocacy targeted at specific members
of Congress, tapping social and behavioral scientists in such educational campaigns.
We know sociologists will be responsive when ASA seeks help with this or with a
future COSSA Congressional Visits Day. Many sociologists have already participated
in COSSA Capitol Hill briefings co-hosted by ASA, and this activity will continue.
COSSA is expected to add advocacy for science training programs to its mission, an area
relevant to ASAs Minority Fellowship Program. The self-assessment also determined
that increasing alliances with natural and biomedical science advocacy groups, as well
as those of the physical sciences, engineering, higher education, and industry, contribute
significantly and strategically to COSSAs visibility and effectiveness. This was evident
in mid-2006 when NSFs social and behavioral science program was challenged by
Senator Kay Hutchison, and they came to our support.
Footnotes, of course, has highlighted many of sociologys successful COSSA collaborations,
and while there is not room here to detail all the assessments recommendations
and praise for COSSA, I urge you to visit the COSSA website www.cossa.org to learn
more about sociologys good friend in Washington.
Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer