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An Interview with
Sherrie S. Aitken, Ph.D.
Chair of the Board


Dr. Sherrie S. Aitken is a recognized leader in the government contract industry. Since founding CSR in l978, she has earned a reputation in the consulting field for integrity, accountability, and solutions. During the last 34 years, Dr. Aitken has managed more than 75 projects to evaluate health and human service programs, to build databases that support policy decisions, and to oversee the development of innovative approaches to marketing and communication of key government messages.

In building CSR, Dr. Aitken combined a solid scientific background with a savvy business sense. Her principles continue to drive CSR today. And her values remain at the heart of our corporation—listen to the client; respond promptly to all requests; and use innovative, well-tested methods for every project we undertake. We sat down with Dr. Aitken to ask her about her work and about CSR and its special niche in the consulting marketplace.

Question: Dr. Aitken, how long have you worked in the consulting industry?

Dr. Aitken: I began my career working for the U.S. House of Representatives from 1965 to 1969, followed by a 1-year consulting assignment with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. I then joined the ranks of a small consulting firm that conducted evaluation research in the child and family support area. For 9 years I conducted site visits and field research in the cities of Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta; in Metropolitan neighborhoods in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Indiana; in rural Appalachian Kentucky; and on Indian reservations in North Carolina, Oklahoma and Washington State. In 1978, I took that experience with me to open the doors of CSR, Incorporated.

Question: Why did you form CSR, Incorporated?

Dr. Aitken: After spending more than a decade in and around government, I saw the need for an organization that could work side by side with government clients to help them develop viable solutions to meet their own legislative and regulatory mandates. By that time, I had worked with a wide range of government-funded programs serving children, youth, the unemployed, and educators; workers on the frontlines of drug and alcohol treatment and prevention; social workers in the child welfare system; and program operators and planners working to address the needs of our growing elderly population. I witnessed first hand the overwhelming social, health, and economic problems faced by these program organizers. With CSR, I wanted to be able to provide strong methodological solutions that could be applied in these very different program settings and, ultimately, to support research that would inform and improve practice.

Question: You actually began your career as a social scientist. And, in fact, you’ve done a lot of work in the field, pioneering a number of evaluation methods. What work have you found most rewarding?

Dr. Aitken: I was fortunate to become involved in program evaluation research in the early days of the field’s development. I studied for both my master’s and my doctorate in the evening while working full time in the consulting field. This gave me the opportunity to bring my own experience into the classroom, and from the classroom back into the field. I was able to create new methods for evaluating multisite, community-based projects; to implement quasi-experimental studies to respond to community concerns about human research; and to integrate qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis procedures to strengthen study results. Looking back, I am especially pleased with this work because it has helped policymakers, program planners, and service providers put their research into practice, enabling them to really make a difference in people’s lives.

Question: As a woman business owner, how have you seen the opportunities in this industry change for women over the past 30 years?

Dr. Aitken: Women have always been on the frontlines as teachers, nurses, social workers, and care givers. I’ve had the privilege of working with many of these women, engaging them in the process of planning, evaluating, and managing their programs, which has translated into more efficient and improved services for their clients. Many of these women pioneered new standards and approaches that supported solid policy decisions and improved the Federal Government’s approach to serving our citizens. I am proud to recognize these women and their successors as my colleagues.

Question: What was the most challenging task asked of you by a client?

Dr. Aitken: Over the past 30 years, CSR has held approximately 300 contracts, grants, and related procurements with a broad range of Federal, state, and local government agencies and nonprofit organizations. That’s a lot of work, and it’s involved many interesting and unique assignments.

Our work is rewarding but certainly not without challenges. Like the time we planned for special security for then First Lady Barbara Bush to enable her to safely attend a special conference commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Head Start program. And then there were the long hours spent working in the urban neighborhoods of Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston and traveling the back roads of Appalachian coal country late at night to facilitate citizen meetings. This extra effort ensured that people from the community were well represented, even those living in high-crime and isolated areas.

Question: How do you rate CSR’s success? In other words, how do you know when CSR is dong a good job?

Dr. Aitken: We listen carefully to our clients. And we’ve earned superior ratings for our contract performance on almost every award fee evaluation we’ve received—an evaluation used to assess the quality of our work. Our clients return to us year after year because they know that our first commitment is to support their organizations’ mission and to provide highly tailored attention and service. Our approach to working with our clients is guided by our dedication to integrity, accountability, and creative solutions. This approach has earned us the respect of our clients, expressed through hundreds of congratulatory communications and outstanding reports that grade our past performance on timeliness of delivery, quality of service, technical support, employee attitudes, and cost control.

Question: As we wrap up this interview, can you summarize what you believe is CSR’s key strength? What can CSR offer that no other firm can?

Dr. Aitken: Unlike other government contractors in the small business arena, CSR has a highly diversified portfolio of clients and practice areas. Our reputation is not limited to expertise in a single subject area, such as education, criminal justice, health, or child welfare. Rather, we have distinguished ourselves over the years by developing and maintaining an interdisciplinary team that offers practical solutions to complicated health and human service issues—solutions that require the integration of state-of-the-art knowledge from diverse fields and a collaborative approach to designing and implementing projects. Our staff members have unique backgrounds, skills, and experience—creating the synergy necessary for success in this industry.

We also offer highly tailored services to our clients. We communicate directly with them. We listen to their needs. And we respond in a heartbeat to changes in project needs and schedules. Our small size, our excellent staff, and our streamlined management structure are truly what set us apart.

 

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