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Research and Documentation


The Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University is the research and documentation partner for the Leadership for a Changing World program. The research and documentation team will work closely with the Leadership for a Changing World awardees to understand their histories, challenges, and approaches and to redirect attention to the communities of practice in which leadership takes place. By working with awardees to document their leadership stories - in conjunction with research partners around the country – the research and documentation team hopes to advance both scholarly and practitioner understandings of emerging models of leadership. Thinking of the future awardees as partners in the research and documentation process, the research and documentation team is committed to giving voice to practitioner perspectives.

Research and Documentation Approach

We perceive leadership as a dynamic process in which people come together to pursue change, and in doing so collectively develop a shared vision of what the world should look like, making sense of their experience and shaping their decisions and actions. Our contextualized approach to the study of leadership demands a method of co-production - - a participatory approach in which all parties involved in the research process are considered co-researchers rather than being objects of study. We therefore plan to craft a research strategy by working together with the awardees of the Leadership for a Changing World program, as well as with other practitioners and researchers, to create grounded accounts of how social change leadership processes work.

To do so, we will develop a qualitative research design utilizing a combination of research methods, in particular ethnography, narrative inquiry, and cooperative inquiry, all guided by an appreciative inquiry perspective. We hope that the lens with which we are looking at leadership will provide important contributions to the leadership studies field by shifting the focus to the process of leadership, which we view as collective, social, and embedded in community.

(This is an excerpt from the paper, "Perspectives on Leadership: Our Approach to Research and Documentation for the Leadership for a Changing World Program" that provides further detail.)

Theoretical Perspectives

The research and documentation effort is a multidisciplinary attempt to contribute new insights into the leadership literature by focusing on a type of leadership that has not been sufficiently considered as a source of knowledge before within this literature. The researchers are drawing in particular on new leadership theories that pay attention to the role of culture and meaning-making as well as to the interconnections between leaders and communities. In addition, they draw from theories on social change ranging from social movements and collective action theory to accounts of activism and community organizing, as well as multicultural insights coming from scholars concerned with the role of social change leadership within ethnic and feminist communities.

Researcher and Documentation Team

The Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University is the research and documentation partner for Leadership for a Changing World. Professors Sonia Ospina and Ellen Schall are co-principal investigators.

Selected Readings

  • Couto, R. (1993). Narrative, Free Space, and Political Leadership in Social Movements. The Journal of Politics, 55 (1), 57-79.
  • Drath, W., & Palus, C. (1994). Making Common Sense: Leadership as Meaning making in a Community of Practice. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.
  • Meindl, J. (1995). The Romance of Leadership as a Follower-Centric Theory: A Social Constructionist Approach. Leadership Quarterly 6 (3), 329-341.
  • Morris, A., & Mueller, C. (Eds.). (1992). Frontiers In Social Movement Theory. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.
  • Reason, P. (1996). Three Approaches to Participative Inquiry. In N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Robnett, B. (1998). African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Spontaneity and Emotion in Social Movement Theory. In K. Blee (Ed.), No Middle Ground: Women and Radical Protest. New York, NY: New York University Press.
  • Teske, R., & Tetreault, M. A. (Eds.). (2000). Conscious Acts and the Politics of Social Change: Feminist Approaches to Social Movements, Community and Power. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.
  • Tierney, W. (1996). Leadership and Postmodernism: On voice and the qualitative method. Leadership Quarterly, 7 (3), 371-383.



Background Approach Team Selected Readings Research Insights & Papers


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