Social work professor Kristina Jaskyte is in the midst of a three-year NSF-funded project dealing with innovation in non-profit organizations. She discussed the progress of the research with Columns.
Columns: What’s the goal?
Jaskyte: I’m trying to find out what factors contribute to organizational innovativeness in non-profit organizations. The major independent variable is organizational culture. Building on business, government and cognitive anthropology literatures, I developed a complex conceptual model, and I am using the cultural consensus model to measure important dimensions of organizational culture. Organizational culture has been defined as values, norms or assumptions shared by employees, but very few empirical studies have actually measured cultural consensus-the degree to which employees share those values. A predominant approach has been to ask the executive director, or upper-management employees, “What do you think the organization’s values are?” I believe that all employees and board members should be included to get an accurate assessment not only of the values that are shared, but also of the extent to which they are shared. Therefore, in my study everyone in the organization gets a survey and is asked to fill it out.
Columns: In any organization the points that people care about are going to vary.
Jaskyte: Yes. That’s another important dimension of organizational culture I assess-its structure, or the existence of subcultures. The software I’m using allows many different “tricks.” You can look at the spatial distribution of individual coefficients and see how close or far employees are to each other, which indicates the similarities or differences in their perceptions. I also look at groupings based on gender, job title, age, or professional affiliation to see whether the participants’ perceptions of the culture are different.
Columns: You’re using surveys to categorize the organization?
Jaskyte: Surveys constitute one of the three components. The first component is a visit to each of the participating organizations to interview their executive directors about the organization’s activities within the last two years. When I go, I also have surveys for employees and board members that I leave with the executive director to distribute. Finally, I ask executive directors to fill out a leadership survey that contains basic demographic questions.
Columns: What kind of questions do the surveys ask?
Jaskyte: There are three major instruments in that survey. One measures organizational culture, and contains 25 value statements. Participants are asked to rate how characteristic these are of the organization. Other instruments in the survey measure transformational leadership, formalization, centralization, environmental turbulence and communication.
Columns: This takes time on the part of the participants, too.
Jaskyte: The executive directors of all four state offices have been very supportive. One of the major requirements for this grant was to show that it was going to be a partnership project between a university and a non-profit organization-not just a basic research project. In my proposal I had to identify how the organizations would benefit from participating. Thus far the benefits have been mutual. Last spring I brought the executive directors of CIS organizations in Georgia to Athens for a half-day workshop. I also developed a Web site for this project, with information about participating organizations and links to sites related to innovation and creativity.
Columns: What organizations are you working with?
Jaskyte: They are non-profits called Communities in Schools. The study involves CIS organizations in four states: Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida, a total of 122 organizations. They work in collaboration with schools, providing tutoring, mentoring, and a variety of other programs for kids.
Columns: Will you come to conclusions about organizational innovation?
Jaskyte: Since there isn’t much published in the non-profit area on innovation, the study will provide some insights. Most of the innovation theories come from the business field and some from public administration. Very few studies tested them in the non-profit sector. This study will give us a better understanding of different factors that contribute to innovativeness in non-profit organizations. If the culture, for example, contributes to innovativeness in non-profits, then we can think about how we can go about changing the culture, transforming an organization to make it more supportive of innovation.
Columns: So this project could help the CIS program as well.
Jaskyte: Definitely. CIS is already getting great publicity from the articles discussing the project as well as from the project Web site.
Columns: And when this is done and all published, what comes next?
Jaskyte: I’ve been researching this topic for almost four years, and I think I am ready to shift my focus to new areas of interest-my most recent interest is partnerships as sources of innovation. I would also like to do more trainings for the executive directors and board members of non-profits on how to change the culture of their organization, leadership style, or whatever it is I find to be important factors affecting innovativeness. Really, I miss practice. While I know that I’ll continue my work in the innovation field, instead of doing more basic research I would like to apply what I have found in my studies in practice.