Social Science Research and Evaluation Scientific Advisory Group

The mission of the Social Science Research and Evaluation Scientific Advisory Group (SSRE SAG) is to work with AZA and its members to promote and support social science-based research and evaluation in advancing understanding of zoo and aquarium audiences and developing strategies to meet organizational and field-wide impacts.

Understanding the wants, needs, and expectations of guests and community members is a critical part in assuring accurate and effective messaging in areas including animal care and welfare, in situ and ex situ conservation, educational programming, diversity and inclusion, community engagement, and more. The SSRE SAG will provide ideas, resources, collaborative opportunities and dialogue to all departments across facilities to support and advance the field of social science research and evaluation within AZA member facilities and across AZA professionals.

The SSRE SAG is overseen by the Research and Technology Committee (RTC).


  • Advance the role of social science research and evaluation within the AZA-accredited zoo and aquarium community.
  • Create new avenues of dialogue across the AZA and its members regarding relevant topics in visitor studies, education, community engagement, conservation, et al.
  • Serve as a conduit to best practices in social science research and evaluation methodologies.
  • Encourage, propose, and support social science research and evaluation through collaborative opportunities among AZA-accredited facilities.
  • Develop the SSRE SAG as a continued collaboration between the AZA and the Visitor Studies Association (VSA).


  • Promote emerging research and methodologies from the field of visitor studies, education, and community engagement to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums.
  • Provide expert advice, resources, and consultation to AZA committees in need of social science or evaluation expertise as well as to AZA members interested in advancing their own practice. These resources could include:
    • Question and instrument development.
    • Methodological best practices.
    • IRB and other human subject protections, ethical guidelines, and suggestions for trainings.
    • Meaning-making and reporting of findings.
  • Support ethical, inclusive, and culturally-responsive practices in social science and evaluation in zoos and aquariums.
  • Champion and track research prioritized by the AZA Social Science Research Agenda (SSRA).

Structure & Membership

The SSRE SAG is composed of zoo, aquarium, museum, and consulting professionals with expertise in evaluation, education, psychology, sociology, statistics, and data visualization. It is overseen by the Research and Technology Committee. Shelly Grow of AZA is staff liaison to the SSRE SAG.

The SSRE SAG Steering committee is:

Amy Niedbalski, Saint Louis Zoo, Chair & Liaison from  Diversity Committee
Kathayoon Khalil, Zoo Advisors, Vice Chair & Liaison from Conservation Education Committee and SAFE People Advancing Conservation Together PACT
Marley Steele-Inama, Denver Zoo, Secretary
Amanda Lindell, UC Davis, Liaison from AZA Conference Program Committee
Autumn D. Russell, Akron Zoo
Brian Johnson, Inform Evaluation & Research
Claire Lannoye-Hall, Detroit Zoo
Emily Kalnicky, Partnership for Public Service
Fran Mast, Museum of Science & Industry, Chicago
Jerry Luebke, Luebke Consulting
Kathryn Owen, Kathryn Owen Consulting
Kelly Riedinger, Oregon State University
Mary L. Jackson, Woodland Park Zoo
Megan Anderson, National Aquarium in Baltimore
Nette Pletcher, Pathways Collaborative
Nicolette Canzoneri, EnvARK Innovators
Nichole L. Nageotte, Cleveland MetroParks Zoo
Robert Max Lakes, Alexandria Zoological Park
Shelley “Shuli” Rank, Wildlife Conservation Society
Stephani Reynolds, Kansas City Zoo, Liaison from the Ambassador Animal SAG

AZA Committee Liaisons to the SSRE SAG:

Anna Young, Otterbein University, Liaison from Wildlife Conservation Committee
Betsy Herrelko, Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, Liaison from Animal Welfare Committee
Fatima Ramis, Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens, Liaison from Membership Committee
Jennifer Gauble, Saint Louis Zoo, Liaison from the Trends Committee
Joy Kubarek, Inform Evaluation and Research, Liaison from the Conservation Education Committee and SSRA

The Social Science Research Agenda

The SSRE SAG is tasked with ensuring that AZA’s most recent Social Science Research Agenda (SSRA) is championed and tracked. The SSRA “is intended to be a compass to guide the next decade of social science research by and about zoos and aquariums in the AZA community” (Kubarek, Ogden, Grow, Rutherford, 2020). The full SSRA can be found here. The key research agenda questions are:

  1. How can zoos and aquariums help build a more equitable society through critical reflection on their internal operations, culture, and communications? How can zoo and aquarium diversity, equity, access and inclusion (DEAI) efforts support this?

  2. What is the role of zoos and aquariums in communities, including in the context of striving for environmental and social justice?

  3. What is the role of zoos and aquariums in contributing to social change toward conservation?

  4. What is the role of zoos and aquariums in contributing to the development of a person’s intellectual, social emotional and physical well-being?

  5. How can zoos/aquariums maximize their systemic impact on conservation?

Get Involved

Interested in becoming an SSRE SAG member?

If you are interested in becoming involved with or obtaining more information about SSRE SAG, please contact Amy Niedbalski, Chair.

Questions about research, evaluation, and collaboration?

Contact Shelley “Shuli” Rank.

Want to learn more about the field?

Join the SSRE SAG Network to engage in conversation with peers and for access to resources.

The Human Dimension of Zoos and Aquariums

Interested in receiving the SSRE SAG’s bimonthly electronic news bulletin, including access to recent research, resources, events and conferences, and career opportunities?

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