First post about my PhD

I’ve decided to start blogging about my PhD studies in hopes that it will provide an outlet as well as keep me engaged in the process. I hope you find it interesting.

Last October I successfully passed my comprehensive exams and became a PhD Candidate. Sounds so prestigious, but in reality it was the most humbling experience I have gone through. It was tough and I’m glad it’s over. This post isn’t a reflection on that process, as I seem to have blocked most of it from memory, lol, but rather I wanted to discuss my dissertation topic.

During my doctoral studies I have focused on nonprofit management and administration. Generally speaking I have been interested in Organizational Practice, but I have specifically been interesting in technology, capacity building, and leadership. I have decided to look into the area of Sustainability and have embarked on an extensive review of the literature to decipher what this means. So far I am more confused than enlightened. Some of the things I have grappled with this week are fairly basic. For instance:
-How is Sustainability defined?
-Are there certain dimensions to sustainability?
-How is sustainability different from capacity building?

I just realized I should specify that when I am interested in sustainability, it is not environmental sustainability, although that is extremely important. I am more concerned with how a nonprofit organization maintains its sustainability or its ability to keep its doors open.

Okay, so as I have looked through a bit of the literature I have only found a few clear cut examples of sustainability.
–Financial Sustainability
–Programmatic Sustainability

As I have looked at the literature I am seeing a few other dimensions that may also impact sustainability.

Once I settle on several dimensions of sustainability, I hope to uncover how technology can impact these dimensions. I have already seen how under financial sustainability aspects such as online marketing and other technological tools can be important. Currently I am thinking of designing a study that either surveys nonprofit organizations about these dimensions/aspects, or an intervention study on how to measure these dimensions/aspects with technology. This is where social media comes in.

I did some qualitative research previously looking at how nonprofits are using social media for capacity building and one of the questions that emerged was how to measure the impact of an organization’s use of social media? Beth Kanter provides some great insight on how to measure ROI. However, I am not aware of any empirical evidence to support these ideas. I am confident that it is emerging in the literature, but this is why I feel it can be important to conduct this type of a study. Providing nonprofits with evidence of what actually works is critically important in times of economic uncertainty, for securing funding, and maintaing sustainability.

Well this post is getting a bit long, but this is the start of my dissertation. I hope you find some value in what I present here as well as grapple with my ideas and comment with some of your own. I look forward to your conversations.


About jimmysw
Associate Professor of Social Work with a focus on the Future of Social Media, Social Work Education and all things technology.

2 Responses to First post about my PhD

  1. njsmyth says:

    Your work on sustainability is very important, especially now. We need to understand what this concept means, how to operationalize it, and how to measure it over time. I’m reminded of Jim Collin’s book from Good to Great where he defined the characteristics of companies that move from being good to being great and then who sustain that greatness. I’m assuming you know that work, but if not I would strongly recommend that you look at it. While it’s about the business sector, his methodology would be of interest, and his findings might get you thinking too. While I know that all business concepts don’t translate to the nonprofit sector, I also know that innovation comes from reading outside your gets us out of our mental boxes.

    Your comment about blocking out your comps made me chuckle. I recall going through “post-comps mind mush” after my comps and have very little memory of that time, too. It was months before my brain started to clear again.

    • jimmysw says:

      Thanks for your comments. Yeah the comps process is something else 🙂

      I have heard of Jim Collin’s, briefly, so I will have to check out that book. It is very true about reading outside your discipline. I think it can also promote your own creativity because it gets you thinking from a new perspective.

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