INCITE is descended directly from the Bureau for Applied Social Research (BASR), established by Paul F. Lazarsfeld at Columbia University in 1941. Lazarsfeld and his colleagues created the Bureau to provide infrastructure for empirical social science research. It was instrumental in developing a great deal of the ideas and methods used in current social science research, such as that found in the work of Robert Merton, Elihu Katz, Peter Blau, Charles Kadushin, C. Wright Mills, in addition to Lazarsfeld himself and many others.

After Lazarsfeld passed away in 1976, the Bureau was renamed The Paul F. Lazarsfeld Center for the Social Sciences (PFL-CSS), in his honor. Subsequent directors Harold Watts, Jonathan Cole, and Harrison White continued Lazarsfeld’s work, employing PFL-CSS to advance and support social science research throughout the University. In 1999, the Center was incorporated into the Institute for Social & Economic Theory & Research, which became the Institute for Social & Economic Research & Policy (ISERP), where PFL-CSS retained its own research and education initatives.

In 2012, INCITE was launched and incorporated relevant research, education, and training initiatives from ISERP and PFL-CSS. To continue honoring Lazarsfeld and his contributions, INCITE has launched the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Lecture Series.