Choosing problems of practice to research
The problems we work on have three things in common.
- Individuals and institutions. First, we work are problems that stem from institutions that may dehumanize people, and undermine the agency or motivation of individual actors within the institutions. As our society has grown more technologically advanced, we have developed many innovations, but our interactions have grown less rooted in our common humanity. As a result, too many people are left behind, or they disengage. Too often, this process is inequitable and leads to racial and socioeconomic disparities. Therefore, we work on problems related to the behavior of institutional gatekeepers (e.g., teachers, police, managers) and the agency of people affected by those institutions (e.g., students, civilians, employees).
- Potential for scale. Second, we work on problems with a potentially massive market. Each kind of institution we target affects millions of Americans per year. Therefore, the solutions we develop and evaluate have the potential to change our entire society, if we are successful.
- “High-hanging fruit.”Third, each of the problems we work on has a history of unsuccessful innovations and seems intractable, making them the opposite of “low-hanging fruit.” But these are precisely the kinds of problems that need a dedicated, robust, and well-staffed research infrastructure. If TxBSPI continues to discover relatively light-touch and simple solutions that merit further testing, it could show that change is possible, scalable, and cost-effective, and inspire others accordingly.
Through a year-long planning process, TxBSPI scholars articulated core values that guide their work:
- Amplifying diverse human potential. We prioritize the professional growth and advancement of Institute staff. We invest in the mentorship, training, and scientific acculturation of the next generation of scholars, so that we can grow and develop our own staff. We furthermore have a shared responsibility for a culture of mentoring among all members of the staff, and we seek to be proactive in maintaining and continually-improving that culture.
- Statistical and methodological rigor. We aim to produce solid findings that will stand the test of time. We do so in part by being “heterogeneity-attuned,” which means that we pay careful attention to the samples included in our studies, and the inferences that we draw from them. In addition, we seek to apply the latest advances in statistical analysis, including Bayesian and machine-learning methods, to avoid over- and under-stating our findings. With these methods, we aim to place our studies in the leading scientific outlets, so that our findings can be widely disseminated.
- Adding value to practice partners. We map our flagship projects backward from high-leverage problems of practice. In doing so, we form partnerships with the institutions, and individuals within them, who stand to benefit from our work (e.g. schools, universities, police departments, businesses). We use these partnerships to ground our research in the lived realities of the systems we work with, for example by co-developing interventions and measures with people outside of academia. Then we feed data and actionable insights back to our institutional partners.