I started CAASI in the Fall of 2019 in an effort to integrate student’s desires for participation in social justice with their university education. I realized many students didn’t just want to think about societal change on a grand scale, but wanted to take action within their local communities in ways that felt impactful.
As someone who was trained in mathematical social science, I had often felt a large gulf between the things I studied and the realities I observed around me. Teaching and service brought me in contact with many other students who felt the same way, be it an undergraduate in English, a Masters student in Public Administration, or a PhD student in Data Science. It sometimes feels as if the choice is either to stay with our respective discipline and stand on the sidelines of social justice, or to jump into these efforts directly at the expense of using our academic skills.
CAASI, the Center for Analytical Approaches in Social Innovation at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) at the University of Pittsburgh, aims to bridge this gap. We work together with community organizations to identify needs that can be addressed by bringing together human-centered and analytical approaches. Sometimes these collaborations take the form of traditional research - in our signature initiative Grief to Action, it becomes a form of direct action.
Grief to Action is an incubator for student-driven, community-co-developed data science for social justice (“DS4SJ”) projects. We start from understanding the problem through our ongoing community conversations every Friday noon (now in its third year). We follow project scoping with an invitation to faculty and staff across campus (SCI, Katz, GSPIA, DSAS) to work together, distributing tasks across capstones and class projects across campus. CAASI’s extraordinary student project managers coordinate and integrate these subprojects into a coherent whole, then bring them back to the community for feedback and testing. With the help of our network, we continue to iterate and improve upon these prototypes semester by semester until the community finds the output useful. You can see some examples of what we do on our Initiatives page: the Allegheny County Policing Project, the 412Connect community asset scavenger hunt, and our recently launched Affordable Housing working group. You can also our research output in the Publications page.
In today’s society, it is becoming exceedingly easy to become overwhelmed with the state of the world. At CAASI, we find hope by working on small things together with great care. Navigate to “How to get involved” page to take the first step and join us.
Dr. Sera Linardi