Knowledge Integration Initiative

Knowledge Integration Initiative

Our Goal: The Knowledge Integration Initiative (KII) seeks to expand the body of evidence that is used to inform policy and practice in the human service field. Through collaboration with human service practitioners, policymakers, and communities, we seek to discover, document, and refine practices that blend research evidence with what we call craft knowledge: knowledge that is often invisible and consequently under-valued by funders and policymakers, but is essential for effectively addressing intractable and complex social problems.  

Background: KII grew out of informal conversations among a group of scholars at a conference on nonprofit organizations in 2018 (see bios below). Trained in different fields and disciplines, we each expressed concern about the increasingly narrow range of evidence considered in funding and policy-making, particularly within the human services context.  We knew from our own research that although evidence generated from randomized controlled trials was important, it was not the only knowledge that was needed to support social change. Concerned about the possible consequences of these policies for organizations, frontline staff and most importantly the individuals and communities that are supposed to benefit from human services, we began KII to discover, document, and support practice and policy improvements that are grounded in multiple ways of knowing.

Our Idea: For the last 60 years, social policy has swung between the quest for greater certainty through the application of technical knowledge and the recognition of the limits of such knowledge. We see this pattern repeating today. On the one hand, we have a movement for evidence-based policy that rewards human service organizations for using “evidence-based practices,” i.e., those that have undergone testing with randomized controlled trials (RCTs), where all variation aside from the intervention is controlled in order to determine whether the intervention caused any observable outcomes in the treatment group. On the other hand, the ongoing difficulties of successfully replicating RCT-tested social interventions across different contexts reminds us that technical knowledge has limits and that not all social change is legible in the same way. As an alternative, scholars point to craft knowledgeas key drivers of effective social change practice.

Yet, as much as this non-technical knowledge is recognized as important, particularly in complex contexts, we still do not fully understand this knowledge domain, including: how it develops, how it works, when it works, and why. The purpose of KII is to help develop and theorize this knowledge, in order to discover how it may be harnessed to complement, extend, and improve social intervention practices, including those that are evidence-based.  Without better theories about this knowledge domain, akin to the theories we have about technical knowledge, social policy and practice will continue to swing on this pendulum and we will not leverage the different kinds of expertise needed to address the complex social problems facing communities.

Biographies: Our initial team includes:

Lehn BenjaminDr. Benjamin is an Associate Professor at the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University (IUPUI) and has spent almost 25 years conducting research on evaluation in the nonprofit sector, examining how and why our evaluation models fail to fully account for what happens in nonprofit organizations and the consequences for social impact.  

Mary Kay Gugerty: Dr. Gugerty is the Nancy J. Bell Professor of Nonprofit Management at the Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington-Seattle. Dr. Gugerty’s research examines evaluation and impact measurement in the social sector; advocacy, accountability and voluntary regulation programs among nonprofit and NGOs; and community-based organizations and rural development in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nicole Marwell: Dr. Marwell is an Associate Professor at the School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago. Dr. Marwell has over 20 years’ experience conducting research with nonprofit organizations and government agencies to understand how their work shapes the political economy of urban neighborhoods, cities, and the larger environments in which they are embedded.

Jennifer Mosley: Dr. Mosley is an Associate Professor at the School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago. Dr. Mosley studies the interface between human service nonprofits and public policy, demonstrating the myriad ways that service providers contribute to, shape, and implement social policies for the most vulnerable.

Jodi SandfortDr. Sandfort is a Professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, and the Director of the Future Services Institute, a research to practice center that seeks to advance human services into the 21st century.  Dr. Sandfort’s research and teaching focus on improving the design and implementation of social policy, particularly those serving low-income children and their families.