What Have We Studied? What Have We Found? A Systematic Review of the NGO Literature

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Date(s) - 03/21/2017
12:00 pm - 1:15 pm

IUPUI University Hall, Room 3011


Developing countries have seen a proliferation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) providing humanitarian relief, services and development assistance in the past thirty years. With this growth has come a nascent social scientific literature describing, analyzing and critiquing these organizations. We are motivated by concerns that 1) scholars, policymakers, and practitioners make contestable claims about whether or not NGOs are “good” or “bad,” but few turn to the literature to identify a consensus view in the existing evidence, and 2) the study of NGOs has been fragmented across disciplinary lines, slowing the development and synthesis of knowledge.

This project responds to these concerns by conducting a multi-method systematic review of the social science literature on NGOs. Using content analysis and topic modeling on the population of more than 3,000 social science articles published in English between 1980 and 2014 alongside a qualitatively coded random sub-sample of ~300 articles, we identify the major themes in the literature on NGOs in international development, disciplinary norms in topics and research methods, and how both of these have changed over time. In doing so, we note topical and geographic areas of particular research saturation, as well as major gaps in knowledge. Finally, we assess the positive and negative claims scholars make about NGO effects, and the evidentiary base for these claims.

The Philanthropy Research Workshop is the new name for the workshop formerly known as WIMPS, a venue for presenting academic research prior to publication. The purposes of the workshop are to help students and early career faculty develop as scholars, to build a sense of community and shared knowledge, and to build the research reputation of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Instructions for remote access are available here.

Kate Harris