Ethnographic methods have shaped the bulk of my research on the behavior of domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). I use in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, participant-observation, archival analysis and intensive fieldwork in all of my projects. More than many other research approaches, these methods are well-known to generate holistic and nuanced view of organizational satisfactions, frustrations and limitations. For these reasons, I continue to use ethnographic tools in all my projects. Since earning my doctoral degree, I have completed five new and distinct research projects that have yielded journal articles, book chapters, a book (in progress) and a teaching case. I elaborate on the content of the three dominant themes of my research:
1. NGO-GOVERNMENT RELATIONS: The principle of pursuing applied research found its first expression in my dissertation research on NGO-government relations in urban India. I examined two decades of multifarious relations between three leading housing NGOs and five governmental agencies negotiating to shelter the millions of Mumbai’s slum and squatter residents. This historical analysis linked research on the urban political economy of housing to research on organizational life cycles and strategic institutional change and made contributions to three bodies of scholarship, namely institutional isomorphism (download), NGO-government interaction styles (download), and NGO development strategies.
Upon landing my first teaching position in Michigan, I began building a U.S.-based research agenda on nonprofit-government relations. West Michigan is home to vibrant faith communities. In keeping with my intent to be useful to the community where I lived and worked, I studied the factors causing differences in the performance of small faith-based nonprofits contracted by the federal government to deliver social services over a period of five years. The longitudinal data I collected, contributes to neo-institutionalist arguments that attention to capacity and on capacity builders of faith-related nonprofits may explain the variable performance of this breed of organizations in public service delivery (download).
2. NGO-NGO RELATIONS: Besides work on NGO-government relations, a second stream of research examines NGOs as they interact with their peers. I completed a study of 138 cases of formal collaborations comprising joint programs, administrative consolidations and mergers among NGOs across the U.S. I analyzed the case narratives of each such collaboration to examine how its members describe the circumstances surrounding their formation. This is a phase critical to the long-term success of collaborations, but often escapes individual and collective memory once implementation unfolds. I find that contrary to existing scholarship, it is factors internal to the NGOs, rather than external pressures that are more contiguous predictors of formal NGO collaborations. I offer NGO leaders, funders and policymakers with practical insights on how to support formal collaborations given the particular nature of NGO interests that drive entry into different types of collaborative arrangements (download). This same dataset is driving my current research on Illinois-based nonprofit organizations that are collaborating under mutually competitive conditions.
3. NGO-COMMUNITY RELATIONS: My work in East Africa, in India and the United States focuses on community perception of NGO effectiveness. I was invited by the founder-leader of a young U.S.-based international NGO (INGO) that works to empower women across the developing world. In particular, the leader wanted me to examine the evaluation practices of her INGO in a region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) notorious for bloody militia conflicts. Ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted in the U.S. and in the DRC proposed that use of an ethical evaluation framework (download) offers INGOs the best means to satisfy accountability demands and mitigate or avoid potentially serious, even fatal, errors. This very project is developed as a teaching case reviewed and hosted by Rutgers University’s Cases & Simulations Portal (download). I also created a video (view, password-protected) that accompanies the teaching case.
My most recent work is a study in Mumbai, India that integrates face-to-face audio-taped interviews with 20 women and 11 focus group conversations with a total of 100 women—all between the ages of eighteen and sixty five years. These women were forcibly displaced and resettled in a site chosen and designed by a housing rights advocacy NGO. Drawing on these conversations and participant observation, I am working on a book (under contract) titled Defying Plans? Women Negotiating Place in a Megalopolis. One recently published article in the journal World Development, that emerges from this work, focuses on the resilience of women and answers the question: In the face of a lifetime of adversity and poverty, what are the factors that enable some women to more quickly weather the disruptions in livelihood after residential relocation? (download) .
Another work recently published in the journal Religions, addresses the cognitive process that influences individual donors who choose to keep up their financial support to Christian faith-related international NGOs (INGOs) in the United States. The article(download) reviews literature on Christian giving to international causes, INGO management, donor retention and the logic of self-perception to develop a series of propositions on how existing donors are likely to evaluate their repeat giving decision.
Besides peer-reviewed journal articles, I have sole-authored other publications comprising a chapter-length entry on NGOs published in The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia on Race, Ethnicity and Nationalism (download), a book chapter on leading nonprofit partnerships with government (download), and several professional reports.