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Applied Research Methods in Public and Nonprofit Organizations


Mitchell Brown
Kathleen Hale



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  1. 1.1 The Research Process
  2. 1.2 Inside the Steps of the Research Process
  3. 1.3 Top Ten Information Sources from Google Search for “Homeless Women”
  4. 1.4 Typical Research Roles Covered by IRB Requirements
  5. 1.5 Decision Tree for Planning a Research Process
  6. 1.6 Decision Tree for Typical IRB Review Process
  7. 1.7 Research Process Outline Worksheet
  8. 2.1 List of Selected Scholarly Journals for Applied Research in Public Service
  9. 2.2 Examples of Scholarly Sources Used in Case Studies
  10. 2.3 Journal Article Worksheet
  11. 2.4 Deductive and Inductive Approaches to Theory
  12. 2.5 Theory-Fact Relationships in Deduction and Induction
  13. 2.6 Time Horizons and Outcomes in the Theory of Change Model for the Community Garden Case
  14. 2.7 Logic Model/Theory of Change to Increase Democratic Functioning Through Voting
  15. 2.8 Program Evaluation Logic Model for Study of Community Organizations
  16. 2.9 Decision Tree for Using a Theory of Change Model
  17. 2.10 Annotated Bibliography Entry Worksheet
  18. 2.11 Logic Model Worksheet
  19. 3.1 Common Sources of Secondary Data
  20. 3.2 Decision Tree for Selecting Research Design Type
  21. 3.3 Decision Tree for Choosing a Sampling Strategy
  22. 4.1 The Field Data Collection Process
  23. 4.2 Decision Tree for Data Collection Strategy
  24. 5.1 Approaches to Question Wording
  25. 5.2 The Influence of Word Order and Response Set Choices
  26. 5.3 Illustration of Ordered Scales
  27. 5.4 Illustration of Likert Scale
  28. 5.5 Decision Tree for Choosing Paper or Web-Based Survey Approach
  29. 6.1 Qualitative Data Display Illustration: Discussion of Partners in Statewide Needs Assessment
  30. 6.2 Illustration of Coding for Quantitative Analysis
  31. 6.3 Graphic Display of Descriptive Statistics
  32. 6.4 Codebook Example for Election Administration and Technology Project
  33. 6.5 Proposed Theory of Change Model Developed from Statewide Needs Assessment Case
  34. 6.6 Decision Tree for Approaching Qualitative and Quantitative Analyses
  35. 7.1 SWOT Analysis Display for the Community Garden Case
  36. 7.2 Gantt Chart Example for Statewide Needs Assessment
  37. 7.3 Planning Process Example for National Replication of the Statewide Assessment
  38. 7.4 Budget Summary and Budget Narrative
  39. 7.7 Decision Tree for Approaching a Presentation


  1. 1.1 Association of College and Research Libraries Information Literacy Standards and Benchmarks
  2. 1.2 Top News Sources by Media Type
  3. 1.3 Case Comparison of Research Question, Theory, Reasoning, and Tools
  4. 2.1 Case Comparison of Approaches to Theory, Literature, and Hypotheses or Research Expectations
  5. 2.2 Case Comparison of Concepts and Operationalization
  6. 3.1 Measurement and Intervention Sequence for Major Forms of Experimental Design
  7. 3.2 Major Forms of Quasi-Experimental Design
  8. 3.3 Approaches to Nonexperimental Data Collection
  9. 3.4 Case Comparison of Research Designs
  10. 3.5 Case Comparison of Sampling Strategies
  11. 4.1 Case Comparison of Case Selection Methods
  12. 4.2 Illustration of Content Analysis Strategy for Examining Innovations in Voter Guides
  13. 5.1 Index of Engaged Healthy Living Activities
  14. 6.1 Frequency Distribution Example: State Requirements for Certification of Election Equipment
  15. 6.2 Illustration of Calculation Matrix
  16. 6.3 Measures of Central Tendency and Dispersion by Level of Measurement
  17. 6.4 Bivariate Tests by Level of Measurement
  18. 6.5 Illustration of Bivariate Crosstab Table for Soft Skills Class
  19. 6.6 Multivariate Tests Based on Dependent Variable Measurement
  20. 6.7 Relationship Between Soft Skills Course Participant Background and Course Attendance to Posttest Performance
  21. 6.8 Case Comparison of Use of Qualitative Analysis
  22. 6.9 Case Comparison of Use of Quantitative Analysis
  23. 6.10 Codebook for Soft Skills Class
  24. 7.1 Illustration of Table Format and Style
  25. 7.2 Case Comparison of Types of Writing and Presentations

For James

You helped make possible this and so much more.

Thank you.

March 12, 2014


First and foremost, we thank our students in various undergraduate and graduate research methods courses over the past several years. Their feedback on exercises, instructions, and general understanding of the text was essential in shaping this book. Graduate research assistant Andrew Sullivan and undergraduate research assistant Shelbie Keel assisted with the glossary. Graduate research assistant Tameka Davis helped us with a careful reading and final edit of the text. Most important, John Powell Hall piloted earlier versions of book chapters in several undergraduate research methods courses and solicited and collated feedback from students. We thank him for his thoughtful commentary throughout the process. We also owe a special thanks to Gerry Gryski, who during his tenure as department chair provided critical administrative support in the form of summer resources that allowed us to pilot and coteach a new field research seminar to graduate students and a few very hardy upper-division undergraduates.

We are indebted especially to our own teachers over the years who taught us how to be engaged and quality researchers. We count faculty who taught us in formal classroom settings and faculty and practitioners who taught us by example. The critical feedback and collegial support they provided helped positively shape our understanding and practice. Along the way, we also learned the power and limitations of applied research and hope to pass our understanding along through this book.

The book would not be possible without the unflagging energy and support of our editor, Alison Hankey, and her belief in our concept. We also extend our sincere appreciation to Rob Brandt, Nina Kreiden, Michele Jones, Diane Turso, and the entire team at Jossey-Bass/Wiley. Anonymous reviewers provided critical commentary and guidance that shaped the final manuscript, and we thank them for their thorough and thoughtful feedback and suggestions.

We also thank our colleagues with whom we have dissected various strategies for teaching students how to become engaged in the communities around them through research and analysis. We hope that this book makes a contribution to that conversation.

Not least, we thank our families for their forbearance during the project; they know how much we love this work, which they make all the more enjoyable through their patience and support.


Mitchell Brown, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Auburn University, and teaches in Auburn’s MPA program and PhD program in public administration and public policy. Brown’s broader research agenda focuses on the empowerment efforts of marginalized communities, which she pursues particularly through applied research. With Dr. Kathleen Hale, she is codirector of the Community Governance Research Project, an initiative designed to investigate the politics and policies surrounding critical contemporary governance issues using a lens that looks at the intersection of the government, nonprofit, and private sectors. She is the author of numerous articles in the fields of political science, public policy, public administration, and pedagogy. She is the recipient of the 2013 SGA Outstanding Faculty Award for the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University, the 2009 Distinguished Diversity Researcher Award through the Research Initiative for the Study of Diversity and the Office of the Vice President for Research at Auburn University, and an Outstanding Service Award in 1998 from the Center for Mental Health Services, among others. She currently serves on the boards of the Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention, Auburn University Women’s Resource Center, and the Journal of Political Science Education, among others.

Kathleen Hale, JD, PhD, is an associate professor and MPA program director at Auburn University, where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in public administration, nonprofit studies, and public policy. Her work focuses on applied research about the capacity and outcomes of intergovernmental and nonprofit organizational arrangements. She is the author of How Information Matters: Networks and Public Policy Innovation (Georgetown University Press, 2011), winner of the Best Book Award from the Academy of Management Public and Nonprofit Section, and honored by the National Media Award from the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. She is the coauthor and coeditor of Scholarship in Action: Communities, Citizens, and Change (Common Ground/World University Press, 2013), and the recipient of the 2012 Award for Community and Civic Engagement from Auburn University and the 2012 Award for Excellence in Teaching from the American Political Science Association. Her research has appeared in numerous public administration, public policy, and nonprofit journals. She is currently a member of the board of directors of the Alabama Association of Nonprofit Organizations and of the Election Center, a national professional association devoted to the improvement of the public administration of elections. Together with Dr. Mitchell Brown, she directs the Community Governance Research Project, devoted to applied research questions.