New Jersey: A Hub for Education in Social Research and Data Analysis

In an era that emphasizes big data and evidence-based decision making, New Jersey is a leader in research and data analytics for social policy, private sector data consulting and research education. New Jersey’s close proximity to New York City makes it an ideal location for research organizations and data firms to set up their headquarters or open affiliated offices, and the wide range of research degrees offered in New Jersey colleges and universities creates many opportunities for students to collaborate with them. Let’s take a look at some of the most exciting research organizations, data consulting firms, and educational programs in New Jersey.

Driving Social Science and Business Intelligence

Social policy research organizations and institutes can be found all over the state. Mathematica, for example, began as a small research firm in New Jersey in 1968. They carried out the very first large-scale experimental social research project in the United States. Now, with more than 1,200 employees, Mathematica provides the research that public-and private-sector partners need to improve programs, refine strategies, and enhance understanding in order to make informed, data-driven decisions. New Jersey is also home to respected research organizations such as The Hastings Center, Environment New Jersey, New Jersey Policy Perspective and ETS. Some research centers are affiliated with universities while others rely on grants and fundraising.

In the private sector, companies such as PRS IN VIVO have been providing insight and consultancy to marketers at some of the world’s largest consumer product goods companies to improve their shopper and consumer experiences by using the power of data derived from behavioral science based methods for almost 50 years. Other companies such as Kantar, Ipsos and Azure Knowledge are also active in New Jersey, using survey research, machine learning and data analytics to serve an array of diverse clients.

Market research companies and social policy strategists alike have transformed the ways that they develop recommendations for their clients in recent years. Educated guesses about the direction of markets, the appeal of a product to consumers, support for a change in our laws such as the legalization of recreational marijuana or the recent requirements of masks in public to slow the spread of COVID-19, have been replaced with informed decisions based on hard evidence that comes from data.

It is also clear that data now come from all different places. Every time we make a purchase, post on our social media, or use our phones we create useful information that can be used not only to understand consumer behavior, but also inform social policy. Just think about the ways mobile phone location data have been used to examine people’s ability to relocate and social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

University Talent Partners with Industry

In order to meet these needs, New Jersey colleges and universities have added many new degree programs that emphasize research and data analytics. For example, my institution, Montclair State University,  offers master’s degrees in Business Analytics, Data Science and Social Research and Analysis.

I direct the Master of Arts in Social Research and Analysis. In that program, students learn to write and administer surveys, interviews and focus groups. We also help students to learn cutting edge data and text mining techniques with programs such as and SPSS, R, Qualtrics and INVIVO. Our students can also customize their degree for careers in social policy, data consulting and other fields.

Students in data programs like these learn to assist clients by extracting data from web analytics, point of sale devices, loyalty programs, customer comments, satisfaction surveys and more. Organizing and managing that data are complex tasks that require specialized training in business analytics or data science. The ability to analyze the data and create visualizations that are easy for clients to understand comes from knowledge of statistics and analytical software programs.

Making decisions based on research findings might be the most important step in the consultation process and students learn to do that as well. For example, Seton Hall University is home to a Market Research Center that is highly competent in helping clients make evidence-based decisions. Their students engage in partnerships with many local companies to provide customer insights that come from qualitative and quantitative data gathering efforts.

Every organization is sitting on a gold mine of data. They need people who can sift through it, separate out what is valuable, and turn it into insights that leaders can act on. New Jersey has a rich supply of talent that can do just that.

Christopher Donoghue, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the MA in Social Research and Analysis at Montclair State University.

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