The efforts of George Hastings brought together three groups of the 1850s to form the NAPSS: the Society for Promoting the Amendment of the Law, the National Reformatory Union, and the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women (the Langham Place Group). It took as model the British Association for the Advancement of Science, holding an itinerant annual meeting, which provided a forum for social reformers.
The objectives of the Association was defined as "to coordinate the efforts of the experts and the politicians". One factor in the eventual decline of the NSPSS was that the objectives of medical reformers changed. Legislation and the efforts of central government to improve public health became less important to them.
Its first secretary was Isa Knox.
Twenty-eight Social Science Congresses took place:
A committee of the Association produced Report on Trade Societies and Strikes (1860). This report was highly regarded: the Webbs later called it "the best collection of Trade Union material and the most impartial account of Trade Union action that has ever been issued". There were contributions by three Christian Socialists (Thomas Hughes, John Malcolm Forbes Ludlow, and F. D. Maurice). Hughes was one of two secretaries to the committee (with P. M. Rathbone). The committee included the Liberal politicians William Edward Forster, and Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth, 1st Baronet. There was one trade unionist as member, Thomas Joseph Dunning.