Thursday, November 19, 2009

Take-Away Points from Colloquy: “Challenges of Developing New Theory in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Studies”

Guest Blog post from Taylor Peyton Roberts, University of San Diego.

Chair: Margaret Harris
Presenters:Jeff Brudney, Bob Donmoyer, Angela Eikenberry, Paul Kabalo, Lucas Meijs, Laurie Paarlberg, Jo Anne Schneider, Nidhi Srinivas

Although this session was so rich with discussion that it would be impossible for me to do it justice in a blog, the meeting was such a thought-provoking treat that I have been inspired to collectively summarize some key highlights:

• In nonprofit research, borrowing from theories of other disciplines requires accurately interpreting the languages of those disciplines.

• There is great value in adopting a pluralist view in the field, as opposed to a positivist view.

• Leave open the possibility for interpretation. Meaning is constructed.

• Include qualitative studies in your lit reviews, not just quantitative studies.

• The nonprofit sector may lack evidence-based practice for four reasons:
  • much atheoretical work exists,
  • many studies are disconnected geographically,
  • qualitative studies (i.e., those that examine process) are lacking, and
  • academic work needs to be more accessible to practitioners.
• Attempts to develop a theory before historical research is examined are pretentious.

• Three challenges to nonprofit theory are:
  • disciplinary chauvinism,
  • the gap between nonprofit theory and practice
  • the failure for US scholars to pay attention to work from other countries.
• Theory is general, but practitioners must make situation-specific decisions.

• For practitioners, theory must be used as a tool for thought.

• We should create theory that addresses practical problems. Two possible approaches could be:
  • the use of thick descriptions (anthropology),
  • relying more on logical reasoning and case-studies (law).

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