Center for Social Research

Now in development: the Kent County Deliberative Poll


Civic-minded friends, watch this space for news about our newest initiative, the Kent County Deliberative Poll®, inspired by and intended for local implementation in cooperation with James Fishkin and the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University.

Please extend a warm welcome to Project Coordinator Allison Rudi, who will be contacting a broad coalition of community partners and research organizations (including you) to advise, sponsor, conduct and benefit from this combined research and civic education project. This fall, we’ll be working on coalition-building, branding and design, fundraising, research design, project planning and budgeting, development of unbiased reading materials, recruitment of expert deliberative-democracy moderators, student involvement, and more.

Questions? Want to get in on the ground floor? Contact Allison by email or call CSR at 616 526-8934.

Posted by Neil Carlson on Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 10:33 AM
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Final CSR Summer Training Opportunities

CSR is closing up another year of summer training for our staff and students. As with last year, these training sessions have been and will continue to be open to Calvin faculty, staff, and students, as well as some of our clients.

With a only a few sessions left, consider attending if any would be a good resource for you or your department. All training sessions will be from 1pm-4:30pm in North Hall 180.

Please click on any of the sessions you are interested in attending, and you will be taken to the corresponding Eventbrite page.

Thursday 8/15Tableau II
Thursday 8/22Qualitative data collection
Tuesday 8/27Quickbase
Posted by Traci Montgomery on Monday, August 12, 2013 at 03:36 PM
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Research Tip: Designing Surveys Using Tables

Survey design is an integral part of our work here at the CSR. From the programs we evaluate to the research we conduct, the survey is still one of the leading measurement tools used for social research.  While surveys have undergone serious electronic transformation with the introduction and increasing capabilities of various software programs, paper surveys are still in high demand from our clients.

Because of the high quantity of paper surveys that we design, the CSR is constantly looking for ways to improve them for our clients. One survey design trick that consistently benefits us is putting the entire survey into a (partially) invisible table.

Why do we put our surveys into tables?

Tables are typically seen as data displaying devices, because this is the reason that researchers typically need them. However, tables become more useful when their function is understood as displaying information in a visually organized and understandable way. Researchers aim for this same organization and clarity in their surveys. Tables can create a clean, uniform survey layout while concurrently grouping similar survey elements together for greater comprehensibility.

How we put surveys into tables:

To put a survey into a table, we start by creating the table at the beginning of the survey building process. The amount of rows and columns can always be adjusted at any time to fit the contents of the survey. Then, we input all of our survey information.

Once complete, we decide which borders are helpful in creating an organized, understandable layout.

While putting a survey into tables may not be best way to design every survey, tables are a useful design tool for researchers to have at their disposal. Not only do surveys with unstructured layouts look clumsy, but they can also cause participants to answer questions inaccurately, creating validity problems within the research experiment. Therefore, to execute the best survey research possible, we at the CSR endorse the use of tables.

Posted by Michael Kelly on Monday, August 05, 2013 at 04:44 PM
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A CSR “So Long” to Three of our Valued Researchers

March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection. March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life’s path.
-Khalil Gibran

As we near the end of summer, CSR must say goodbye to three of our employees as they say goodbye to Calvin College and embark onto exciting, unknown territories.  Today we recognize Tom Sherwood, Zig Ingraffia, and Dan Molling, thanking them for their contributions to CSR and wishing them the best of luck in their new endeavors.

The first to leave CSR this summer was senior student research assistant Dan Molling. During his two years with us, Dan particularly enjoyed working on projects with Professor Jonathan Hill of the Sociology Department as well as projects with the CRCNA. After working two full years at CSR, Dan was offered a position as a Research Associate with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Missouri. Dan accepted the position and is currently working with urban economist Jordan Rappaport, assisting him in a variety of policy work. In the future, Dan plans to pursue his Ph.D. in Economics, then either continue working for the Federal Reserve, work for an international institution like the International Monetary Fund or World Bank, or become a professor.

Four-year employee Zig Ingraffia, who worked as both a student research assistant and a research specialist, also leaves CSR this summer. He has been our lead researcher evaluating various programs for the Believe 2 Become and Gatherings of Hope Initiatives, both funded by the DeVos Foundation. Zig leaves CSR to attend graduate school at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio to pursue a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology, focusing on social research. He will be researching with Dr. Keith Markman studying social judgment and behavioral decision making with further specialization in counterfactual thinking and debiasing. After that, Zig hopes to pursue further careers in academia, desiring that no matter what he is involved in, it will always involve learning.

Finally, Tom Sherwood, research associate and fearless leader to our student research assistants, is also moving on from CSR this summer. Because of his supervisory role, Tom has been involved in an abundant number of projects during his time here. He also played an integral role in bringing the survey design software system Qualtrics to CSR. Tom ventures next to the University of Michigan to obtain a Master of Public Health degree, focusing on health management and policy. After this, Tom plans to seek a career with NGOs that focus on global health issues, hopefully working with technology.

The combined effort that these three individuals have contributed to CSR during their time here is—dare we say
it—immeasurable. We thank them for their loyalty, we admire their abilities, we will miss their geniality, and we will, albeit impatiently, wait for their updates and visits. They have accepted their charges, and now we salute them as they continue forward to their indubitable victories.

Posted by Michael Kelly on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 12:55 PM
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Project Overview: Summer Learning Academy 2013

The CSR’s goal to revitalize our weblog to be current and more informative leads to a new type of post: a Project Overview post. There are several projects occurring simultaneously at CSR, so the idea behind project overviews is to give our readers a better understanding of the types of projects that we are involved in, while also thanking our clients for working with us.

Over the past 2 years, the DeVos Foundation has partnered with CSR to evaluate the effectiveness of programs that are integral to their Believe 2 Become initiative, some of which include their Baby Scholars program, Gatherings of Hope program, and Summer Learning Academy program. However, since the Summer Learning Academy programs have taken precedence for us during this time of year, it is opportune to coincide the beginnings of our project overviews with this academic initiative.

The Summer Learning Academy (SLA) programs provide nearly 2,000 students in the Grand Rapids community with a free opportunity to prevent summer learning loss. SLA programs welcome students from Pre-K to 12th grade and are available to both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking families. While the wide-reach of the SLA programs is already exemplified in their age and language inclusivity, the programs also attempt to extend their reach beyond socioeconomic status, as all 31 of their programs are free for the students who participate.

In addition to countering summer learning loss and integrating inclusivity, another goal of the SLA programs is to encourage students of all ages to consider attending college. With the research-based belief that the importance of a college education is increasing in our country, the SLA programs seek to cultivate two beliefs in students: that attending college is both desirable and attainable. One of the main ways that SLA programs foster these beliefs is by allowing the students to experience different colleges firsthand, with fieldtrips and tours of different campuses around Michigan.

For our 3rd year, CSR is simplifying the evaluating and analyzing processes for the SLA programs by creating and distributing surveys, collecting survey responses, and presenting that information graphically. We have created five types of surveys—pre- and post-surveys for the students, and post-surveys for the parents, program staff, and the program directors—using MS Word and the online survey design software Inquisite. Paper surveys are then distributed to and collected from the 31 SLA programs by CSR’s undergraduate Research Assistant staff throughout the summer.

After all the survey data is compiled, cleaned up and filtered, we can then export it into our visual analytics program, Tableau, to visually portray any data trends. These visual representations are helpful because they have proven to be more accessible to wide audiences, especially those outside of the social research domain. Finally, these graphics are placed into reports, along with written explanations, and returned to the DeVos Foundation for their internal review.

CSR’s involvement with SLA, then, aims to truthfully assess whether the programs are meeting their goals and report that information back to both the programs and their funders. While the specific outcomes of our research must currently remain internal, so far the SLA programs have had several positive influences on students, and are on a trajectory to keep improving.


Immerwahr, J. (2002, May). The affordability of higher education: A review of recent survey research. In Higher Education. Retrieved June 11, 2013, from

Lewin, T. (2010, September 21). Value of college degree is growing, study says. The New York Times, p. A18, from

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. (2008, August). The Growing Importance of Higher Education. Retrieved July 11, 2013, from

Summer Learning Academy. (2013). In I believe I become. Retrieved July 10, 2013, from

Posted by Michael Kelly on Monday, July 22, 2013 at 08:47 AM
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