Research

Organizations are often core sites for the production and perpetuation of social inequality, yet they can also be vehicles for social change. My research draws on organizational theory and network analysis to examine the social, political, and economic impact of community-based organizations. I give particular attention to service provision and advocacy as well as social diversity within and among such organizations. Collectively, my research advances understanding in the areas of organizational behavior, management, leadership, diversity, inequality, and civil society.

Social Diversity and Organizational Outcomes

Although many organizations aspire to be socially diverse, most tend to remain relatively homogeneous. Furthermore, despite the strong emphasis on becoming diverse, diversity’s consequences for organizational outcomes remain unclear. My primary stream of research examines the causes and consequences of diversity within organizations; I seek to explain how some organizations become diverse and how diversity influences their outcomes. Specifically, I analyze how community-based advocacy organizations navigate internal social differences and leverage those differences to enhance their effectiveness.

Analyses for this research are based on data I collected for the National  Study of Community Organizing (NSCO). The multi-level NSCO survey achieved a response rate of 94%—gathering data on 178 organizations and demographic information on the 4,145 member institutions and 2,939 board members affiliated with these organizations. I supplemented the NSCO survey data by collecting ethnographic and interview data from  several organizations that participated in the survey. Analyzing data from the NSCO, I have published one book, five articles, and one book chapter and I have six manuscripts under review (6 sole authored and 7 co-authored). The NSCO research project and its publications have received awards from the American Sociological Association, the American Political Science Association, the Academy of Management, Organization Science / INFORMS, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the National Communication Association, and the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action.

I combined data from the NSCO with qualitative data to co-author the book, A Shared Future (University of Chicago Press). This book explains how socially diverse civic organizations navigate differing perspectives on universal versus targeted policies, and it finds that when organizations engage this tension effectively, they can increase their mobilizing capacity and bolster their political efficacy. This book received the 2016 Outstanding Book Award from the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action. I also published an article in Sociological Methods & Research that describes several response enhancing strategies and explains how they were implemented in my national study. The article also conducts nonresponse bias analyses on several important individual and organizational characteristics and it provides evidence that surveys of community organizations with a relatively low response rate risk overestimating the proportion of organizations led by people who are white, U.S. born, college-educated, and full-time employees. This article was selected for the 2014 Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings.

To expand upon my research, I collaborate with ethnographers who study community organizations, and my goal is to publish 6 articles that draw on the strengths of combining qualitative and quantitative research. The first of these collaborations has been published in the American Sociological Review. In this article, my co-authors and I combined data from the NSCO with ethnographic data to explain how civic organizations with racially and socioeconomically diverse boards draw on cultural practices to bridge social differences. This article received the 2015 Dennis Gouran Research Award for an Outstanding Article on Group Communication from the National Communication Association and the 2016 Clifford Geertz Best Article Award from the American Sociological Association. My other collaborative projects include: 1) a manuscript under review that analyzes immigrant rights organizations to demonstrate how cultivating a “representative group style” can influence an organization’s ability to involve a diverse base of constituents and 2) a manuscript under review that shows how leaders of color within predominantly white organizations use a “critical standpoint” to help their organization address racial inequality.

Related Next Phase of Research: Internal Dynamics of Organizations

Despite the ubiquity of community-based organizations, little is known about goes on inside them and how their internal dynamics influence organizational outcomes. While ethnographies of organizational micro-contexts can provide detailed insights into the internal dynamics of organizations, such studies are not designed to demonstrate the distribution of characteristics across large numbers of organizations. In contrast, large-scale data collection techniques like survey research cannot attain the insights into internal dynamics that extended observations can. To help bridge the gap between in-depth ethnographies and large-scale survey studies, I collaborated with Matthew Baggetta to develop a research project that applies an innovative data collection method —systematic social observation—to organizational settings. This method gathers detailed information about organizations’ internal dynamics at a relatively large scale by using multiple trained observers and carefully constructed protocols to collect rich, comparable data from several observable settings. In 2017, we were awarded a $144,000 federal research grant to conduct a pilot study using the systematic social observation method among three types of community-based organizations in Indianapolis: chambers of commerce, community organizing groups, and neighborhood councils. This project aims to understand what goes on inside such organizations —specifically with respect to space, interaction, leadership, and deliberation—and how these internal dynamics influence their approach to setting and achieving organizational objectives.

Congregation-Based Social Service Provision and Political Participation

Religious congregations are the most ubiquitous type of nonprofit organization in the U.S., and they play a significant role in addressing social needs through acts of service and political engagement. As a second major stream of research, I examine congregation-based service provision and political participation. Analyzing data from the National Congregations Study, I have published six peer-reviewed articles (3 sole authored and 3 co-authored) and I have two manuscripts under review.

My award-winning article published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion examines factors influencing congregations’ responsiveness to social issues by analyzing black churches and their responses to people living with HIV/AIDS. The analysis finds that externally engaged black churches, especially those that collaborate with secular organizations, are more likely to sponsor an HIV/AIDS program. Building on this research, I published a co-authored article in the American Journal of Health Promotion that examines all types of congregations and other health-related programs. Another co-authored article published in Psychiatric Services specifically assesses the prevalence and predictors of mental health programming among U.S. congregations. The findings indicate that greater coordination between congregations with programs that support people with mental illness and mental health providers could foster more integrated and holistic care, which in turn may lead to improved recovery outcomes.

In addition to examining congregations’ service provision, my research examines their political participation. My article published in the journal Religions analyzes the three waves of data from the NCS to provide the first longitudinal analysis assessing how congregations’ involvement in service provision and political participation has changed over the past three decades. The analysis finds that since the 1990s, the percentage of congregations participating in service-related activities has been substantial and increasing, while the percentage of congregations participating in political activities has been less substantial and decreasing. This decline in political participation has implications for the role congregations play in addressing social needs. Relieving immediate needs through service provision without also pursuing long-term solutions through political participation can limit congregations’ ability to comprehensively address social needs.

Related Next Phase of Research: National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices

Although a tremendous amount of research has been dedicated to analyzing congregation-based service provision and political participation, minimal data exist on the finances of the congregations organizing these activities. Furthermore, even though congregations are the most ubiquitous civil society organization in the U.S. and nearly one third of all charitable giving goes to congregations, little is known about how congregations receive, manage, and spend their financial resources. To fill this data gap and also to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the social and political impact of congregations, I collaborated with David King to propose a research project that examines the finances and economic practices of U.S. congregations. In 2016, we were awarded a $104,102 planning grant from the Lilly Endowment to develop our proposed project. In 2017, we were awarded a $1.6 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to conduct the National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices (NSCEP).

The NSCEP aims to provide a comprehensive assessment of the economic practices of congregations in the U.S. by examining their theological, cultural, and practical orientations toward money and by generating a deeper understanding of how congregations receive, manage, and spend their financial resources. Data collection will include a nationally representative survey of approximately 3,000 congregations, open-ended interviews with 50 congregation leaders, and on-site observations of 10 congregations. By focusing explicitly on the economic practices and impact of congregations, the NSCEP will provide important data for understanding the financial state of congregations as well as the economic scale of their social service provision and political activity. I have a co-authored manuscript under review that provides a broad overview of existing research on the economic practices of U.S. congregations.

Interorganizational Networks and Organizational Action

As a third stream of research, I analyze the relationship between interorganizational networks and organizational action. In my award-winning article published in Management and Organizational Studies I analyze the collaborative partnerships organizations form to provide social services, and I find that an organization’s network ties are significantly associated with the number and types of programs it offers. In addition, I have two co-authored working papers that analyze outcomes associated with different types of interorganizational collaborations. The first paper shows how politically-oriented civic organizations can increase their strategic capacity by forming cross-sector collaborations. The second paper finds that politically progressive evangelical organizations are more likely to collaborate with secular organizations than with interfaith organizations.

Related Next Phase of Research: Indiana Data Partnership Project

To conduct a statewide analysis of interorganizational networks and service provision, I collaborated with a team of researchers to launch the Indiana Data Partnership project. In 2018, we were awarded a $3 million planning grant from the Lilly Endowment to develop a working model of a collaborative decision-support framework using two test case issues: opioid addiction and workforce development. As a co-PI, I am leading the network analysis component of this project to identify organizational pathways associated with successful issue resolution. The aim of the planning grant is to develop a scalable model that can be proposed and implemented as a full-scale project to help address Indiana’s 10 most pressing challenges, which include issues related to healthcare, education, and food security.

Research Summary

Collectively, my research is theoretically driven, methodologically innovative, and substantively relevant. It aims to better understand how community-based organizations with a diverse leadership team and diverse external networks can maximize their social, political, and economic impact. My research record, which includes one book and eleven peer-reviewed articles, $5 million in external funding, and fourteen national awards, demonstrates my productivity as well as the quality, scope, and significance of my work.

Research Statement

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