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Kim Lucas, Associate Director of Civic Research at BARI

Kim Lucas, Associate Director of Civic Research at BARI

This month we welcome Kim Lucas the Associate Director of Civic Research at BARI and the Professor of the Practice in Public Policy and Economic Justice in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. Follow along to learn about her work, its impact, and what’s on the horizon.

What is your research background?

I’m trained in a few ways. Formally, I’m a qualitative economic sociologist–I think about the value of things in the world that can’t be quantified, counted, or observed, like what it means to feel safe or seen in different spaces, or the ‘invisible labor’ that gets done in plain sight (like child care). I’m trained to question why we do things the way we do them and how we might consider new ways of doing things. I also have a very strong background in child development (shout out to Tufts UEP!), and my research combines these two areas.

Informally, I’ve spent a lot of time with young people of all ages, but mostly with very young people (I’m talking about children ages 0-5). I spent a few years working as an early educator, and since then, young children have been teaching me things that I carry into my work all the time. Most recently, my 2.5 year old niece has opened my eyes to art, creativity, and the process of making. If you want to see some of her pieces, swing by my office.

What has your research been on and its impact?

Right now, I wear two hats focused on both ends of the education spectrum. In one hat, my work on early childhood policy has generally focused on exploring the weirdness that is the child care market. I wrote my dissertation focused on a very specific subset of child care suppliers (aka family child care providers) and their approach to running small businesses. I’ve also done work focused on child care demand (aka families) during COVID-19 in Boston. Some of my dissertation research influenced what is now the Child Care Entrepreneur Fund and some of it also brought the City of Boston an OpenIDEO grant to explore the potential for child care-focused affordable housing.

In the other hat, I’m focused more on creating infrastructure to bridge the power, resources, and networks that are inherent to institutes of higher education (aka colleges and universities) to be policy levers for both local policymakers and the residents and neighbors who live, work, and play alongside these colleges and universities. My ‘publications’ in this area look more like artifacts: the Civic Research Agenda that I co-created while at the City of Boston, the Open Data documentation I kicked off also at the City of Boston, and the current work I do alongside MetroLab Network and NSF in supporting funding structures that incentivize academics to do more civic research.

What should the broader community take from this research?

The common thread across all of my work is that nothing good is ever accomplished alone. My work is only as good as those I work with. I am only as good as those I surround myself with. And so I like to think that IF (and that’s a big if!) I have produced anything of value, it’s because WE are producing it. The only piece of work I’ve produced by myself is my dissertation, and if I’m being completely honest, the family child care providers at the West Zone family child care group took me in while I was still figuring out my topic and cheered me on as I collected data, analyzed it, and wrote it all up. And that’s true of all of the work I’ve done–and my approach to any new project. None of it was or will be possible without collaboration, and collaboration isn’t possible without authenticity, respect, and trust. 

How do you see your research contributing to the BARI mission and vision?

BARI already has a great reputation for supporting civic research and civic data projects, not just from NU, but from any of Boston’s other 33 colleges and universities as well. I think my work and networks provide an opportunity to expand BARI’s offerings, potential, and reach.

What research projects or collaborations are on the horizon?

TONS of things! I’ve got four projects at various stages and a collaboration I’ve been trying to get off the ground:

  • I’m currently a Visiting Fellow at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston; I’ll be focused on doing a landscape analysis of publicly-funded retirement plans for early educators.
  • I’m also trying to marry my early childhood and higher ed interests in two ways: (1) by exploring the possibility of starting up a cross-institution early childhood research collaborative and (2) by kicking off work on an early childhood Civic Research Agenda through BARI and funded by the Miller Foundation.
  • I continue to work with my old organization, MetroLab Network to support the Civic Innovation Challenge, which is now in its second iteration.
  • Finally, I’ve been trying to see if my niece might want to do a collaborative piece with me, but 2.5 year olds are pretty tough to get a hold of. I’ll keep trying, though.