Special Projects

Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP)

AISP logo

AISP is an initiative funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation through grants to University of Pennsylvania Professors Dennis Culhane, School of Social Policy and Practice, and John Fantuzzo, Graduate School of Education. AISP aims to encourage social innovation and social policy experimentation so governments can work better, smarter and faster.

Since 2009, AISP has been a national leader in the field of Integrated Data Systems (IDS), linking administrative data across agencies to help governments and researchers to better understand the complex needs of people and communities. Today, AISP focuses on developing the capacities of state and local jurisdictions to build IDS, demonstrating uses of IDS for policy and program reform, and identifying opportunities for innovation in the field. Our network of IDS sites comprises over 26% of the US population and continues to produce ground-breaking social science research and document best practices for data sharing and evidence-based policymaking. AISP is committed to amplifying their impact and providing consultation, training, and technical assistance to new sites eager to harness the power of integrated data.

For more on AISP’s research, services, and staff, visit https://www.aisp.upenn.edu and sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR)

The Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) to the United States Congress is a collaboration between SP2 professor, Dennis Culhane (co-PI), Abt. Associates (co-PI), and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Since 2007 Culhane has worked with Abt. and HUD to provide an annual estimate of homelessness in the United States that also includes information on demographic characteristics, service utilization, and special populations (e.g., veterans, families, single adults) of individuals experiencing homelessness. The report utilizes administrative data from each community’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS), the national point-in-time count of all people experiencing homelessness during the last Wednesday of January, and data on each community’s shelter and housing availability. In addition to the report, Culhane and colleagues also provide technical assistance around homelessness data utilization to communities across the country.

Critical Policy Studies

Critical Policy Studies logo

The Initiative on Culture, Society, & Critical Policy Studies focuses on the critical inquiry of power, governmentality, and their methodologies and produces and supports scholarship that works critically between the calculation of policy and the incalculable possibilities of justice. With a focus on the enumerating acts of governmentality in computational culture, the Center is also a major intellectual hub at Penn for works on digital cultural studies and the critical analysis of data analytics for power and critical interventions.

The initiative promotes research that is informed by critical theory (broadly conceived) and conducts (new) materialist analyses of the ways in which policy is enabling and constraining, forming and shaping bodies, places, spaces, and power relations in society. As a cultural studies initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, the initiative is made up of faculty from the several different schools across campus and hosts a regular workshop series where faculty and graduate students are invited to read text together, present new or developing work, or participate in the discussion of invited lectures from preeminent critical scholars. The initiative seeks to produce new and innovative scholarship on critical methodologies and policy studies via peer-reviewed research publications, policy reports, a speaker series on “Control Societies: Technocratic Forces and Ontologies of Difference”, and training via postdoc fellows and PhD students.


Health Ecologies Lab

Health Ecologies Lab logo

The Health Ecologies Lab in the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania is comprised of a group of students and scholars united around research, projects, and curricula to focus on diverse social and environmental factors affecting health and well-being. We seek to develop a shared vocabulary and to encourage space within the university for critical thought and reflection with students and scholars from the humanities, social policy, and medicine. What can medicine and its understanding of health learn from social policy and the humanities? How are acts of care understood and enacted across disciplines and institutions?

Our reading groups bring students and scholars from various disciplines together and welcome multiple voices, from patients and caregivers, to providers and policymakers. Our public programs and collaborative projects aim to leverage this collective knowledge to empower individuals to live healthy lives, and to compel institutions and structures to respond and engage.


Penn Restorative Entrepreneurship Program (PREP)

In the spring of 2015, Dr. Charlotte Ren launched and served as founding faculty director of a new program: Penn Restorative Entrepreneurship Program (PREP), which was geared towards helping formerly incarcerated individuals become socially responsible entrepreneurs.

Currently led by Dr. Chao Guo, PREP offers a small group of previously incarcerated people 10 weeks of intensive training on how to start and run a small business. This intensive curriculum training is included as part of a Special Topics course (SWRK 798) entitled “The Social Entrepreneurial Approach to Community Reintegration.” Participants are chosen based on survey and interview results and are taught by select students from various schools at Penn who are enrolled in the course. After the curriculum training, PREP provides a support system, including consulting, registration help, possible funding opportunities, and civic engagement activities, to help budding entrepreneurs turn business ideas into reality.

Valuable as they are, most of the existing reintegration programs have focused on job placement as the main route, but these reintegration efforts have not lived up to our expectations. Through PREP, we hope to develop and demonstrate a sustainable and replicable model to effectively transition formerly incarcerated individuals back to the community.

The launch of PREP is made possible with strong and persistent support from SP2. It also benefits tremendously from its field partner—Rescue Mission of Trenton—and several partners at Penn, including the SP2 Goldring Reentry Initiative (GRI) and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative. The Rescue Mission of Trenton, a 100-year-old public charity located in Trenton, New Jersey, provides a variety of support services to formerly and currently incarcerated individuals.


Program for Religion and Social Policy Research

PRSPR logo

The Program for Religion and Social Policy Practice is a research, education, and policy program dedicated to understanding the nexus between organized religion and the provision of social services. We aim to 1) contribute new knowledge on the scope, nature, and practice methods of religious-based social services, 2) develop methods for studying congregations and religious-based organizations, and 3) equip future cadre of social service practitioners and researchers in the integration of social work and religion.


SexGen Policy Lab

The SexGen Policy Lab brings together the scholarship and advocacy of Amy Castro Baker, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, and Amy Hillier, PhD, MSW, Associate Professor. The lab aims to build and disseminate knowledge at the intersection of critical theory, gender, and sexuality with a distinct emphasis on applied policy, economic, and housing research. Our work positions social science research on gender beyond risk and into a posture of resilience and strength to be leveraged for social change, social supports, and policy innovation.  We re-conceptualize policy work as needing to occur across the public and private institutions that inform and infuse the lives of people experiencing marginalization in society and the housing economy— particularly those of LGBTQ youth who are most vulnerable. The lab provides methodological and theoretical scaffolding while serving as a research hub for Penn students, faculty, and community partners who co-create our research efforts. Funding for the SexGen Policy lab was generously provided by the Penn Futures Project and an alumni gift to the School of Social Policy and Practice.

Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP)

SIAP logo

SIAP is a research group at Penn School of Social Policy & Practice founded in 1994 by Mark J. Stern, PhD.  SIAP conceptualizes the arts, culture, and humanities as integral to urban vitality and social wellbeing and develops ways to measure the impact of this sector on community life.

Cultural opportunities represent an important dimension of social inclusion and community wellbeing. The arts provide a resource that people can use to make sense of the world as it is and to imagine the future.  Communities with a vital cultural life also enjoy a variety of “spillover effects,” including stronger community and civic engagement, improvements in public health and social stability, and economic revitalization. SIAP’s mission is to understand and document these connections and the role that public policy and philanthropy can play in encouraging them.

The Social Impact of the Arts Project is a recognized innovator in the development of empirical methods to study links between cultural engagement, community change, and social wellbeing. The team uses the tools of social research, including statistical analysis and qualitative investigation, to identify social impacts at the neighborhood level. SIAP pioneered the use of geographic information systems (GIS) as a strategy for integrating data on cultural assets with other socio-economic data.  SIAP also developed methods for collecting and integrating data on different forms of cultural engagement, which contributed to cultural asset mapping methods that have gained wide emulation. Most recently, SIAP has developed a neighborhood-based, multi-dimensional index of social wellbeing that integrates the arts and culture as a dimension of wellbeing.

SIAP conducts project-based inquiry in metropolitan Philadelphia and other U.S. cities with support primarily by external private and public funders. The SIAP website posts work-in-progress and makes completed work available for public use in downloadable PDF format.


Social Justice and Arts Integration Initiative

This initiative, a collaborative effort between the School of Social Policy & Practice and university and community partners, makes the bold claim that the arts are an indispensable means and method of imagining justice and making democracy. Through public programs, community engagements, and educational opportunities, the initiative will deepen and expand the University’s efforts to generate social justice projects for and with the people of Philadelphia, and will share the stories and histories of justice struggles in Philadelphia with publics around the world.

We take our departure from W.E.B. DuBois, the world historical figure, who began his groundbreaking work in Philadelphia with The Philadelphia Negro, and went on to nearly a century of extraordinary reimaginings of the conditions for the possibility of freedom and justice globally for people of African descent. In his seminal The Souls of Black Folks, Du Bois posed two questions that ground the work of the Initiative — especially in our appreciation for real world suffering that demands justice — “How does it feel to be a problem?” and “What must be done?” At once analytic, deeply empathetic, and visionary, Du Bois’ questions serve as a call to let suffering speak and to realize justice for all.

We imagine the work of social justice and the arts as a bridge across ideological and other divides. The Initiative seeks to expand access in our work by advancing a spirit of collaborative experimentation and inclusive, democratic values. We invite you to join in our work.


SP2 News

book cover of "After Campus Sexual Assault: A Guide for Parents"

Faculty & Research

New book offers lessons for parents on discussing campus sexual assault

In the guide for caregivers whose child was sexually assaulted on a college campus, Susan B. Sorenson provides advice and...

Chad Lassiter

Alumni Stories

Chad Dion Lassiter, SP2 Alum, Receives 2021 Social Worker of the Year Award

On October 26th, the National Association of Social Workers, Pennsylvania Chapter, presented Chad Dion Lassiter, Penn’s School of Social Policy...

Ezekiel Dixon-Roman sits at a table with a laptop and speaks to an audience

Faculty & Research

Ezekiel Dixon-Román on the Facebook whistleblower

In a Senate hearing earlier this month, former Facebook project manager Frances Haugen testified against the tech giant, saying that...

cover page containing title of report

Faculty & Research

New Research Underscores Role Museums, Libraries Play to Create Healthier, More Equitable America

The Institute of Museum and Library Services, in partnership with Reinvestment Fund, have released a new study, Understanding the Social Wellbeing...

Discover More