How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

Structural Racism in Research: Urban’s Bold Statement

On its 50th anniversary, the Urban Institute has issued a remarkable statement on how structural racism has shaped its research agenda and practices over those 50 years — even to the present day — and how it is moving specifically to address that racism.

I recommend it to everyone in research — researchers and communicators alike — as a model for how to talk about these issues, an invitation to think about how they inform your own practices, and as a first step toward better positioning your research and research-driven organization.

Part historical overview, part accounting and apologia, part manifesto and vision statement, the statement (written by Urban’s Cameron Okeke and Nancy G. La Vigne) captures what seems to be a slowly evolving organizational realization that Urban’s research agendas and practices have perpetuated racism even while studying it.

I think Okeke and La Vigne get the tone of this statement close to perfect for the identity of a research organization — sober, declarative, transparent, determined to improve but also fully aware of the challenges of confronting them, and devoid of breast-beating.

From a communicator’s standpoint, the most remarkable thing to me is how much this statement is about Urban’s evolving understanding of its audiences — about the process of researchers grappling with understanding that their audiences reach well beyond the research community and that those entail new sets of responsibilities.

This is positioning work in the best sense: understanding the intersection of what you research and whom it is intended to benefit and inform, and putting that into language that then becomes your compass — as an individual researcher and as a research organization.

To paraphrase Cameron Okeke in the below thread: Research institutions have to ask themselves: Who do we serve?

And asking “who do we serve” is, ironically, the first step toward more effective branding.