We often suspect there’s more useful nonprofit research than we can find. For those of us trying to make our way through the thicket of nonprofit research, help is on the way. For Valentine’s Day, the research librarians at IssueLab compare love and nonprofit research, finding unusually seductive research reports and blowing kisses where deserved:
Think about it: the folks producing nonprofit research aren’t just talking about social problems, these are folks who are working to solve social problems! Their research is up-close, on-the-ground, and written expressly to move our collective thinking forward on some of the toughest social issues. No wonder “we heart nonprofit research” all year long, not just on Valentine’s Day.
Sure, the nonprofit sector produces its fair share of incomprehensible and rarefied white papers — but is there any research out there that can be truly loved?
Here we dangle in front of you a selection of work from the IssueLab collection to tempt you to dig deeper into the heart-shaped box of research on our site:
Certificates of merit for explaining a complex issue in a single glance: love at first sight:
Sometimes it’s not enough to read about why you should care about something, you need to see it (which explains the limitations of online dating). These two reports are great examples:
- Creative Columbus: A Picture of the Creative Economy of Central Ohio: Try looking at the data visualizations and infographics and don’t even read the report, and see how much you learn about the economy of this city and the skillful use of visuals.
- Long Island Index 2008: Check out the graphic on page 12 that shows the depletion of available housing since 2000: this visual tells us reams about this community in a single glance.
Most Intriguing Research Titles:
We see more than 3,500 research reports each year . . . so the title makes a difference in what we read first. Everyone: stop naming your reports “Building Bridges …” or “Beyond …” These come-on lines are old and empty!
Some of the most intriguing research titles we’ve come across include:
- We’re Education … You’re Semiconductors
- Reading, Writing, and Breathing
- Whispers in the Classroom
- Flame Retardants in the Bodies of Pacific Northwesterners: A Study of Toxic Body Burdens
Instead of using the catchiness of the title to select what research you’re going to read, you may want to start using IssueLab by browsing research in the issue area you work in. From there, you can click on other related titles that have been similarly categorized to see research from organizations you may have never even heard of.
Love comes from unexpected places
Check out our grassroots-conducted research.
It isn’t just think tanks and big national nonprofits who are producing valuable research. In fact some of the most interesting work is coming from less well known sources. That’s the beauty of using IssueLab’s interdisciplinary library. We pull research from organizations large and small, tackling hundreds of different topics, and using a diverse range of methodological approaches. Come on, be a little explorative – I bet you’ll find something new.
Share the love
If your organization produces research you can create a free account at IssueLab, post your research, and share the love. IssueLab disseminates your research through news feeds, e-newsletters, content partnerships, social media channels, and targeted online outreach.
Staff Picks for Valentines
Here is some “most favored research status” reports from our staff. And don’t forget: if you have a report that IssueLab can help disseminate, send it our way.
Gabi’s pick: Behind every successful woman is a domestic worker?
Home is Where the Work Is from the Data Center
The work and lifestyles of New York professionals are crucially supported by 200,000 domestic workers, whose experiences are often hidden from view. This report shines a spotlight on their stories, describes their critical role, and documents the challenges domestic workers face in securing safe workplaces and livable wages. I picked this report in part because of how the data was gathered: the first ever industry-wide analysis of domestic workers by other domestic workers, based on 547 worker surveys, 14 worker testimonies and interviews with 7 employers.
Luise Barnikel’s pick: Data — not just rhetoric — supports a collaboration
Falling Through the Cracks from The Institute For Children And Poverty
This short report topped my list because it uses demographic data about children in the New York City ACS (Administration for Children’s Services) system to demonstrate that the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) could be more effective by targeting earlier stages. Instead of just a rhetorical call for inter-agency collaboration, this study provides the data for how resource coordination between these two agencies could lead to lower rates of homelessness and child neglect. With 87% of NYC government layoffs being implemented in child protection and homeless services, efficiency couldn’t be more urgent.
Stacy Kessler’s pick: today’s punk show analog
Sites of Resistance: All-Ages Music Venues in their Local and Theoretical Contexts from All-Ages Movement Project
This report brought me back to my teenage days going to punk shows at “all-ages venues,” which sounds a lot cooler than the equally accurate “standing around in a gym at the local JCC.” These were important, fun, and formative experiences for me. It’s fascinating to see an academic analysis ofÂ where and how these venues spring up, and the role these sites can play within a community: hotbeds of creativity, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement among teens. It’s nice to see some attention paid to these places and their import.Â
Lisa Brooks’ pick: Copyrights, oh my!
An Evaluation of Private Foundation Copyright Licensing Policies, Practices and Opportunities, Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Yesterday I heard that Men At Work (’80s pop band) is being sued for copyright infringement. Allegedly Men At Work’s 1981 song, “Down Under,” includes a four-bar instrumental segue from a 1930’s children’s song you might remember: “Kookaburra.” While this report doesn’t discuss pop music copyrights, it does a nice job of surveying nonprofit licensing practices, framing the picture, naming the players, and suggesting some ways forward. We have a long way to go as a sector with copyrights and it’s good to read how we are starting to describe and grapple with this issue.
And in conclusion: we hope you enjoyed this Valentine’s Day trip to Nonprofit Research Land. We heart nonprofit research! Do you?
Gabi and the IssueLab staff
IssueLab is both a searchable archive of more than 3,000 research reports (with more added daily) and an advocate for open licenses and access throughout the nonprofit sector. In addition to using it to find relevant research, consider adding your own research work to the archive so that more people will find it!
Asking the right questions will get you the right answers, as opposed to vague responses. Those who get involved like to know that they are part of a greater cause, so if they see how the change is being made, be it by charts, tables or the like, they are more likely to continue getting involved. They like to know they are a part of the greater cause. http://www.3minutecharity.com is a great site to get ideas of how to better keep track of organization activities, and makes it easier to have data to share with donors.
The problem with nonprofit research is that it so seldom asks the right questions. There are a million stories about a successful program and another million stories about a huge problem. In neither case is the research very helpful to anyone else than for the organization that did it and the funder that funded it. I’m sick of people saying the problem is that we aren’t interested in research. We would be interested in research if it said something concrete and was across more than one or three organizations.
We couldn’t agree more about the need for nonprofit research to be both relevant and useful to practitioners!
Of course a certain amount of it, like any research, is actually intended for a small audience, (for instance people who run programs like the one evaluated in the report or funders who are considering funding work on a very specific niche issue), and that’s ok. It doesn’t all need to speak to everyone.
But that said, I think your frustration is a common one and comes from a couple of places:
First, we need a better way to locate and identify those research reports that are most relevant to our work. Until we can do the equivalent of a literature review on nonprofit research we will always end up sifting through a bunch of "irrelevant" reports to find what we need. (Which is of course why we started IssueLab, why we encourage practitioners like you to tag and review the research they read, and why we advocate for meta-data standards for the sector.)
And second, more research needs to be written with the audience in mind. I could talk until I am blue in the face about this (and have), but this is why we need to have communicators at the table with researchers when studies are developed and written. Luckily we are seeing more and more of this happening.
The rub is that we are all responsible for making it happen.
Research users need to tell researchers what they need and speak up when we find something useful! Funders need to fund more research that has clear intentions and purpose. And researchers need to keep their audience in mind when they produce their reports. After all, knowledge sharing is a collective effort.