February 08, 2022 | Matt Kucinski

Five people seated and standing around a table review dozens of sticky notes.
Center for Social Research staff collaborate on a project.

This spring, Calvin’s Center for Social Research (CSR) will become its own legal entity independent of Calvin University. The move positions CSR to serve a broader range of clients and grow in ways it couldn’t as part of the institution.

“For a very long time, CSR has been one of the university’s most entrepreneurial and creative organizations. It has been a hub of intellectual ferment, community partnership, and professional development for students and employees,” said Noah Toly, provost of Calvin University. “At the same time, it has developed in directions that require greater entrepreneurial freedom, access to capital, and agility, and this move will open up new horizons for the center. So, while Calvin and CSR have been good for each other, we’re also supportive of positioning the center to flourish in new ways.”

A transition

“We have loved our community at Calvin, and it will be bittersweet to leave,” said Neil Carlson, CSR’s director. “Our work has been steadily producing new research engagements and technology development opportunities that would require overly complex support from the university in order for us to take them on.”

Among short-term tasks facing CSR are continuing regular research operations while developing a new brand and creating legal and financial infrastructure. “Fortunately, we have been operating as a de facto consulting firm since 2004, so we have a lot of resources that we can simply move over,” Carlson says. “Though the transition will be challenging, we’ll provide better service to all as a new organization. I’m grateful to my teammates for planning to stay together and to Calvin leadership for their support.”

A trusted guide

In 1970, CSR was created by the department of sociology to respond to an increasing number of community requests for research assistance. More than 50 years later, the center still serves the needs of the campus, but is increasingly providing wisdom-driven social research and development to clients in the public sector, nonprofit, religious, and business world.

Throughout its history, CSR has helped both its on- and off-campus clients to better understand a wide array of projects, from surveying religious leaders to mapping community food systems, from evaluating international microfinance programs to analyzing the future of work in Michigan. The team has prioritized excellent research, professional development for students, and collaboration with community partners across sectors. In the past ten years, CSR has conducted 167 research projects and supported almost 200 more, employed 57 student researchers, and worked with more than 500 external organizations, often serving community network conveners like KConnect, the Essential Needs Task Force, Talent 2025, and First Steps Kent.

An ongoing partner

“It’s been a real privilege over the years to work with incredibly bright, generous, and hard-working faculty partners on projects of their own design and on projects for which our CSR team recruited faculty to be principal investigators,” said Carlson. “We hope to continue these kinds of collaborations and are excited to see how our new status will allow greater opportunities for us to expand our work to serve more community partners.”

The university will facilitate this otherwise budget-neutral transition, which will be completed by April 30, 2022, but it is also committed to ongoing collaboration.

“We continue to view the Center for Social Research as a trusted partner and key collaborator moving forward, and we are excited to see how this arrangement allows the center to thrive in new ways,” said Toly.

As Carlson and the CSR team prepare for the transition, they are eager to discuss ideas and partnerships with present and potential stakeholders. Readers can expect a longer News & Stories profile of CSR later this spring. To connect with CSR, contact csr@calvin.edu.

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