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For human development researchers in the Department of Psychology at Cornell University, opportunity cost was more than a research topic; it had become a significant challenge to their work. The amount of time required to find participants for a study and manage their data was detracting from research productivity.

“Several labs in the psychology department wanted a joint database for managing recruitment of research participants,” said associate professor Audun Dahl. “The problem was finding a good solution for such a database. We asked colleagues at several other universities, and no one had an ideal solution.”

Dahl’s Developmental Moral Psychology Lab is part of Lifespan Labs at Cornell (LiLaC), a group of research labs that study all stages of human development from infancy through adulthood. Their studies take place in a variety of settings including local museums and homes, the Cornell campus, and online spaces. The breadth of their topics and locations required a technology solution that could handle complexity and variety, ensure absolute privacy for the subject and research data, and be simple enough for research assistants and student workers to use for scheduling or rescheduling appointments.

For the faculty, staff, and graduate students at LiLaC, a partnership with Cornell Information Technologies (CIT) meant sharing the load allowed the researchers to tap into expertise and leverage systems in Cornell’s existing infrastructure for maximum cost efficiency.

“One group at another university had used Salesforce, then found the cost had become prohibitive,” Dahl said. “Our IT person got in touch with the Salesforce team at Cornell, and that opened the door to solutions we hadn’t dreamt of.”

Assistant Director for Enterprise Applications Vicky Mikula is proud of her CIT team’s efforts to help the researchers find the best solution. She said, "The LiLaC participant solution, powered by Salesforce, represents a shift from a manual, decentralized process to a unified solution that centralizes participant recruitment, makes it easier for our faculty to cultivate external collaborations, and elevates their overall research productivity to new heights.”

Adopting the university’s Salesforce platform empowered the LiLaC researchers to tackle business challenges through innovative, low-code, and data-first strategies. Mikula said, “The alignment of business requirements matched the features and functionality inherent in this chosen license type. We strategically crafted our solution to leverage a cost-effective licensing model, mitigating the risk of exceeding budgetary constraints.

“In contrast to some universities that opted out of Salesforce due to elevated license expenses, we successfully delivered a solution at a more economical cost point. This approach not only met the financial objectives but also ensured the fulfillment of essential business needs.”

Under the direction of Marianella Casasola, the Play and Learning Lab views play as a window into early cognition and learning. Casasola, Psychology Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs in the College of Human Ecology, saw the research participant database issue from two perspectives –the frustration of an individual researcher and the budget sensitivity of an administrator– and was pleased to discover a satisfying solution to both.

She said, ”This solution has exceeded my expectations of what was possible, and the Play and Learning Lab could not be happier with the results.”

Dahl said he feels confident the new solution will empower the LiLaC lab teams to focus on the meaningful work of research studies rather than the tedious task of managing participant data across distributed labs.

“I think the process prompted us to think through how we recruit research participants—and that was helpful. Now, we have a great solution that makes it much easier to coordinate recruitment efforts across laboratories, schedule research participants, and view information about research appointments. We have more time to do what we are at Cornell to do: study how children develop.”


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