As readers of this blog know, I pretty much ponder those questions 24/7. (Stating the obvious: I'm a governance geek.) The questions I ask often fly in the face of contemporary governance scholarship in one critical way: the answers can't be quantified.
Next month, four members of the Study Group on Governance Relationships and Dynamics present a colloquium at the 2010 ARNOVA (Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action) Conference, titled "New Directions in Nonprofit Governance Research." My part of the presentation is described this way:
I'll be discussing ways in which qualitative approaches - such as case studies and narrative inquiry - can be used to explore those pressing governance questions that get to the essence of what enhances of inhibits effective board experiences and commitment. These are the kinds of questions that drive the emerging Study Group on Governance Relationships and Dynamics agenda.
This presentation will argue for research that explores the routines and practices that make up the work of nonprofit governance. There is a critical need for understanding the day-to-day challenges to effective governance. There is an equally critical need to understand the processes that build commitment, factors that promote mission focus in board activities and deliberations, and features that create an environment where that work is sustained. Research questions centering on these issues have the potential to both contribute to governance theory and inform board practice. Engaging in this work will require different questions and different ways of exploring the internal work of nonprofit boards. Such research opens the door to collaborative inquiry with nonprofit boards and their leadership, resulting in richer data for analysis. While quantitative methods such as survey research can contribute to this discussion, they do not provide access to examples of effective or problematic practices, nor do they facilitate access to those processes that may be largely tacit. Qualitative approaches such as action research introduce opportunities to discover, explore and analyze those factors that may provide the greatest explanatory power to scholars and practitioners.
Of particular personal interest are questions of governance practice, especially those that invite collaborative inquiry - researcher and boards working together to develop and ultimately answer with an eye toward improving practice.
I have my own thoughts about the questions we need to be asking in collaboration with board members; but I'd really like to gather examples from the field that I can share, not only with the colloquium audience but with peers and partners engaged in developing a practice-focused governance research agenda.
My question for readers is this: What are your questions about nonprofit governance that need to be asked but can't be quantified?
A couple of examples from my research agenda may give you an idea of the kinds of questions I hope to gather from nonprofit boards and those who work with them:
How does learning occur within the routine context of nonprofit board meetings ('plain English' version of my research question)?What questions do you have about nonprofit governance - about board members and their work - that require qualitative approaches to exploration? What do we need to be asking, with boards, to enhance effectiveness? Where should governance scholars be focusing more energy in service to impact governance practice?
How do new board recruits move from rookie status to active, engaged veteran members (exploring a phenomenon called legitimate peripheral participation)?