Our research seeks to uncover how people interact within civil society organizations and how those interactions can strengthen organizations, promote civic engagement, and improve quality of life in communities.
Civil society organizations are organizations that are neither businesses nor part of government. This broad range of organizations includes things like hobby clubs, veterans associations, arts groups, religious congregations, chambers of commerce, community organizing groups, alumni associations, political advocacy groups, neighborhood associations, and charities.
We study what goes on inside civil society organizations using an innovative adaptation of the data collection technique known as systematic social observation (SSO). Trained observers attend meetings, events, and activities of organizations and use a specially designed form to record comparable, quantitative data from each gathering. We are particularly interested in four organizational dynamics: interaction among participants, the exercise of leadership, the ways groups deliberate and make decisions, and the way physical environments influence activity. This new approach to measuring what happens in civil society organizations will provide insight on how organizations can conduct their activities in ways that lead to greater civic engagement, endurance, and effectiveness.
Our current study, under way in Indianapolis, serves as a pilot to test this innovative approach to data collection before we embark on a nationwide study.