Beckman Fellow 2007-08

Michelle Shumate



The number of nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has increased by more than 40 percent worldwide over the past two decades. Increasingly, businesses and governments are calling on NGOs to help provide both global and local solutions to the world’s problems, including HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases, and sustainable development.

While scholars generally agree that the number, influence, and interconnectedness of NGOs is increasing, currently there is little theory and research available to explain the influential ecology of forces affecting their organizing. During her Center appointment, Professor Shumate intends to fill that research gap by developing an evolutionary/ecological theory of NGO organizing and then testing her model using archival data from the Yearbook of International Organizations, news sources, and historical records.

The project uses (co)evolutionary theory to explain the dynamics of NGOs as path-dependent, interdependent, and transcending national boundaries. As such, changes in one NGO may lead to cascading changes among other agents in the NGO network. Further, historical shifts in communication about these world problems, including NGO and news media discourse, may lead to dramatic shifts in the NGO community. Finally, shifts in national and international policies regarding both world problems and the role of NGOs may influence NGO organizing. Professor Shumate theorizes that these changes have an effect on the NGO founding rate, NGO dissolution rate, and the network of cooperative relationships among NGOs. These (co)evolutionary processes, much like biological processes, are simultaneously bottom-up and top-down. Her research will address both types of processes, preferential alliances, contingencies, and the outcomes of interorganizational relationships among NGOs.

Professor Shumate expects the project to result in at least two manuscript articles suitable for communication and organization journals. She also plans to incorporate early results into a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation’s Innovation and Organizational Change Division.