For social science research, CSU faculty can now pick IRISS

Faculty who need to conduct focus groups, design a survey for a research project, or carry out other types of social science research now have a place on campus to turn for help.

A relatively new institute at Colorado State University is offering a host of services related to all types of social science data collection, from program evaluation and interviews to social network surveys. The Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, or IRISS, was started in July 2017 by faculty from the Department of Political Science and the Department of Sociology. One of the co-founders, Associate Professor Jeni Cross of sociology, says it’s an institute that faculty from many other disciplines have requested.

Jeni Cross facilitating
Cross during a facilitation session

“Faculty from across the social sciences have been asking for this for a long time,” Cross says. “By no means is it our idea; faculty across campus have been expressing the need for years. Most of CSU’s peer institutions have a similar institute.”

Historically, some faculty have contracted with similar institutes at other colleges and universities when they needed assistance with social science research, according to Cross. But now that CSU has IRISS, faculty can pay less for the services, and the institute’s offerings are conveniently located on campus.

Variety of services

Cross, who co-directs the institute with Professor Kyle Saunders of political science, says that in addition to survey design and consulting, IRISS offers services for social network analysis (see related event described at right), program evaluation and the “science of team science,” a national effort to improve interdisciplinary scholarly work.

“It’s about helping the members of a multidisciplinary team achieve something bigger than they can do on their own,” Cross says.

Hannah Love facilitating
Sociology Ph.D. student Hannah Love, who specializes in the growing field called the “science of team science.”

So far, IRISS clients have included on-campus and off-campus partners, including Larimer County Extension, where IRISS is planning to conduct a community needs assessment. In another case, IRISS was contacted by a faculty member in the Department of Psychology who needed trained Spanish-speaking interviewers for a research project. The institute can be especially valuable for faculty outside of the social sciences who may not be familiar with the best way to design a survey, or when focus groups might be a better choice than a survey, for instance.

Growing facility

IRISS is funded as an “emerging innovations core facility” by the Office of the Vice President for Research and has also received financial support from the College of Liberal Arts dean’s office.

Guest speaker: Jesse Fagan

“Self-driving organizations: Organizational decision-making using machine learning and email data”

• Wednesday, April 3
• Noon to 1 p.m.
• Michael Smith Natural Resources Building, Room 345

On April 3, IRISS will host a free, public lecture by CSU alumnus Jesse Fagan of the University of Exeter Business School in the United Kingdom, an expert on social network analysis.

In his talk, Fagan will discuss several current projects using the network and contents of millions of emails from four different organizations to predict organizational attitudes and outcomes. He says artificial intelligence may soon be used to help managers of organizations make better decisions.

Fagan, who earned his Ph.D. in business administration from the University of Kentucky, has published research on a host of topics, including anthropological studies of World of Warcraft gamers, inter-organizational networks, and emergency-room substance-use screening. He has consulted for nonprofits, large corporations, state agencies and schools to help them understand how the links that bind individuals together affect performance, safety, and satisfaction, among other factors.

Jesse Fagan
Jesse Fagan

While it currently has some office space in the General Services Building, Cross says plans call for expanding its facilities to accommodate things like video interviewing, a computer lab with analytics software, and coding equipment.

Cross says the institute is expected to see its volume of work triple in its third year, and IRISS could eventually become established by the Office of the Vice President for Research as a “foundational core research facility” as its value to all CSU faculty grows. The institute’s projects are handled predominantly by social science faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, postdoctoral students and social science research staff.

“IRISS aligns with many of the College’s areas highlighted for strategic investment — for example, interdisciplinarity team science, data analysis, data collection, data visualization, student involvement in the research enterprise, and the like,” said Michael Carolan, the college’s associate dean for research and graduate affairs. “It will also help catalyze collaborative efforts that will bring further visibility to the type of scholarship and methodological tools that are to some degree unique to the liberal arts.”

The institute’s rates vary by service, but are lower for CSU faculty than for off-campus clients. For more information, visit