Laura Beals on How Nonprofits can Support Academic Research Requests

Hello! I am Laura Beals and I am an internal evaluator at Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JF&CS). JF&CS is a large nonprofit social service agency located just outside of Boston, MA. As we are surrounded by 58 institutions of higher learning, we have many opportunities to leverage students and faculty in order to increase our evaluation capacity.

At Evaluation 2013, I presented with Jennifer Lowe, Director of Research at Crittenon Women’s Union, about how our organizations handle collaborations with students and faculty:

Beals 1

In this post, I am focusing on the process we have at JF&CS for evaluating (pun intended!) requests that come into the agency from students and faculty.

Lessons Learned:

  • Requests for research can come in many forms; examples of requests include:
    • Students or faculty requesting staff assistance to distribute flyers or notify agency clients of the availability of a research project.
    • Students requesting access to agency staff or clients to observe a program session, distribute a survey, or take part in an interview for a class project.
    • Students or researchers asking for access to agency administrative or managerial staff to study nonprofit management practices.
    • Academic researchers wishing to gain access to client data or to current clients for scholarly research governed by an Institutional Review Board (IRB).
    • Practitioners or researchers wishing to gain access to clients to validate a clinical evaluative tool.
    • Nonprofit collaborations with students or faculty can have many benefits; for example:
      • Capacity: Tackle a project that might have been on the back burner
      • Knowledge: Learn more about the nonprofit and the field in which it operates
      • Inspiration: Be inspired by the methods or tools used
      • Reputation: Improve the nonprofit’s reputation through collaborations with well-known researchers or universities
      • And can also have many risks, for example:
        • Ethics: Clients may not be treated in an ethnical manner
        • Privacy: Client data privacy may be breached (e.g., HIPPA)
        • Resources: Staff or facilities may be overburdened
        • Reputation: The nonprofit’s reputation may be damaged through bad collaborations

Hot Tips:

  • Research requests from students or faculty can be a great way to increase nonprofit evaluation capacity, but there should be a process in place for reviewing and approving to ensure that the benefits outweigh the risks.
  • At JF&CS, students or faculty with a research request must complete an application; all requests for research are then reviewed by our internal evaluation and research department. Depending on the level of risk, varying levels of senior leadership need to approve.

Rad Resource: The handout from this session, which details this process in more detail, is available here in the AEA Public elibrary.

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