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NORC researchers collaborate How people use prescription medicine determinesif it is a source of the healing or a source of abuse NORC conference room chair Homeless man Boy receiving a vaccination NORC's work supplies insight for informed decisions.

Special Populations

Sometimes visible to us, but more often hidden in plain sight, special populations inhabit the margins of our society, each with a unique set of needs. Ethnic minorities, veterans, disabled people, prison inmates, refugees and immigrants, children, and the elderly all face complex challenges as they strive to attain the advantages that other groups enjoy. Recent political events have added more pressure, such as increased U.S. military operations that have produced more veterans with special needs. Meanwhile, the weakening of traditional sources of economic stability, like home ownership, places special populations at even greater risk of hardship.

NORC helps government and organizations understand, evaluate—even manage—the programs and interventions that support these special populations and improve their circumstances. We have worked in this area since the 1950s, concentrating at that time on rural residents and welfare recipients. In the mid 1970s, NORC partnered with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on a longitudinal study to evaluate the efficacy of the Experimental Housing Allowance Program. The 1980s brought new insights about disadvantaged ethnic groups when NORC partnered with distinguished sociologist William Julius Wilson on the Urban Poverty and Family Life Survey of Chicago. More recently, NORC leveraged its extensive work on the National Immunization Survey (using the State and Local Area Integrated Telephone Survey data collection mechanism) to develop separate surveys on adoptive parents and children with special needs.

Today, NORC’s work emphasizes healthcare and other issues that touch multiple special populations. For example, our work with the Department of Veterans examines healthcare access for rural veterans living far from urban veterans’ hospitals. We also designed a multi-mode data collection and feasibility study on the natural history of children born with Spina Bifida; served as a partner on the highly complex, award-winning HIV Cost and Services Utilization Study; and continue to serve in an information management role for the Traumatic Brain Injury Technical Assistance Center.

Key to any work on special populations is knowing the right questions to ask and asking them in a highly sensitive manner. NORC brings this expertise, a broad understanding of quantitative and qualitative methodology, and deep knowledge about health information technology to uncover the insights that lead to effective decision making and planning.

Specific areas of expertise include:

Representative Projects

Assessment of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Housing Needs. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has contracted with the Urban Institute and its partners, among them NORC at the University of Chicago, to conduct an assessment of housing needs in tribal areas in the United States.  More

Conversion of Criminal History Records into Research Databases (CCHRRD). For years, BJS has used information stored in the nation’s automated criminal history records to assess the officially-recognized, law-violating behavior of various samples of individuals.  To do recidivism studies, BJS has provided state criminal history repositories with identifying information on study subjects and has requested each participating state repository to extract selected information on each subject’s criminal justice activities, thus creating a reporting burden for participating repositories. In addition, the structure and content of the data extracted from these repositories varies from state to state requiring customized software to transform each state’s data into a commonly-formatted, researchable database.  In light of these challenges, only two national recidivism studies of released prisoners have been performed by BJS to date; the first in 1983 and the latest in 1994.  More

General Social Survey (GSS). Since 1972, the General Social Survey (GSS) has been monitoring societal change and studying the growing complexity of American society. The GSS is NORC’s longest running project, and one of its most influential. More

National Immunization Survey. The NIS, administered by NORC since 2005, monitors childhood immunization coverage for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This household survey screens more than 6 million sampled telephone lines yearly. The NIS Provider Survey requests permission to contact eligible children’s medical providers, and sends these providers an Immunization History Questionnaire. Household and provider data are combined to produce timely estimates of children’s vaccination coverage rate for national, state and local areas. A companion survey, the NIS-Teen, monitors vaccination coverage among teenagers aged 13-17 years. More

The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office): Developing a Brief Community Policing Self-Assessment Tool. This project will produce a brief self-assessment community policing instrument for police departments to evaluate their implementation of community policing.  This tool will facilitate internal planning, and inform training and management initiatives toward the full adoption of community policing. More

See all Special Populations projects


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