The Ph.D. program at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy trains future scholars and professionals on conducting original research on philanthropy and related topics. During their first two years, students take courses on campus to prepare for their qualifying exams and to begin formulating their dissertation and future research goals.
Students in Dr. Laurie Paarlberg’s course PHST-P 790 Advanced Research Seminar last spring conducted original research studies and prepared presentations for faculty members about current research interests and projects.
Two students shared their research projects, the future direction of their projects, and takeaways for nonprofit practitioners.
Andy Williams focused on development perspective, and how evangelical organizations versus non-evangelical organizations focus and frame their programs on empowerment or on provision. Interested in the tension between paternalism and empowerment in development work, Williams hypothesized that an organization’s secular or religious identity impacts its development perspective. By analyzing various organizations’ mission statements, Williams found that religiosity, specifically evangelical or non-evangelical identity, does impact mission.
How did this study fit into Williams’ research interests?
“This research brings together several threads of interest to me, including ideological aspects of humanitarianism and religion in the philanthropic sector. Regarding the former, I will continue to work on things such as paternalism and agency. As many people recognize, lack of agency among beneficiaries reduces the fit and efficacy of relief and development efforts. As such, research into the causes of paternalistic versus empowering humanitarianism is important.
“In addition, religion and humanitarianism have a long history. Religion plays a role among funders, actors and beneficiaries. Greater research into the ways that religion motivates and impacts relief and development is needed. In particular, this research suggests that religion as a category is insufficiently precise, at least to understand some phenomena. The differences between religious non-evangelical and evangelical categories are, at times, wide. Moreover, some of the relevant findings here regarding evangelical perspectives may be unexpected. That is, some of our ways of thinking about religion and evangelicals needs more nuance and study,” he explained.
Williams also shared how this research can impact nonprofit professionals.
“For practitioners, this research suggests an important way in which development perspective is communicated. To the extent an organization has a provision or empowerment development orientation, it is likely reflected in core documents and statements (e.g. mission statement). In turn, these sorts of organizational artifacts reinforce that perspective. One implication is that including empowerment and agency of beneficiary communities in organizational discourse is a proactive step toward more effective humanitarianism.”
Dana Doan conducted research on implicit bias. Specifically, her research sought to understand whether and how an intervention designed to raise awareness about implicit biases might influence participant perceptions, actions and decisions.
As part of the study, individuals serving on one or more search committees at a public university were asked to take part in a two-hour workshop, where they explored the meaning and real world consequences of implicit biases along with strategies for confronting implicit biases in life and work, with a specific focus on the hiring process.
To evaluate this intervention, Doan used a mixed-methods study, which included multiple pre- and post- workshop surveys that were disseminated to all workshop participants and in-person interviews conducted with a purposefully selected sample of workshop participants.
The majority of participants said they benefited from the workshop, which helped to raise awareness or merely remind them to be conscientious about implicit biases. Several participants pointed out that the workshop played a role in “level setting,” or agreeing as a group that implicit bias exists and protecting processes and procedures that are intended to reduce or confront these biases.
While implicit bias is not the focus of Doan’s dissertation research, she says it plays a critical role in all of the issues we study and in the way we ultimately decide to study a particular issue. “My dissertation research focuses on evaluation and the constituent experience of receiving help. So, although I am not specifically focusing on implicit bias, I expect that keeping these biases at the forefront of my mind will strengthen my research design and improve the validity of my research outcomes,” Doan said.
Doan is also determined to continue linking research and practice through her work.
“I came to the PhD program at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in hopes that I could promote and contribute to equitable research partnerships between academia and practice. I think this is important because scholars and practitioners offer one another complementary skills that are needed to produce research that can make a difference. I already sent a draft of my research findings to the nonprofit that designed the implicit bias workshop and I am preparing a report to the people that requested the workshop as well the participants. Their feedback matters as much to me as the feedback I received and hope to receive from my professors and peers.”