October 22, 2020 | Publications

Computational social science for nonprofit studies: Developing a toolbox and knowledge base for the field

Authors: Ji Ma, Islam Akef Ebeid, Arjen de Wit, Meiying Xu, Yongzheng Yang, Rene Bekkers, Pamala Wiepking

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How can computational social science (CSS) methods be applied in nonprofit and philanthropic studies? This paper summarizes and explains a range of relevant CSS methods from a research design perspective, and highlights key applications in our field. We define CSS as a set of computationally intensive empirical methods for data management, concept representation, data analysis, and visualization. What makes the computational methods “social” is that the purpose of using these methods is to serve quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods social science research, such that theorization can have a solid ground. We illustrate the promise of CSS in our field by using it to construct the largest and most comprehensive database of scholarly references in our field, the Knowledge Infrastructure of Nonprofit and Philanthropic Studies (KINPS). Furthermore, we show that through the application of CSS in constructing and analyzing KINPS, we can better understand and facilitate the intellectual growth of our field. We conclude the article with cautions for using CSS and suggestions for future studies implementing CSS and KINPS.

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