Small decisions towards social justice: How leaders of not-for-profit social services can be supported to include social justice in decision-making
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Citation:Robinson, B. (2023). Small decisions towards social justice: How leaders of not-for-profit social services can be supported to include social justice in decision-making. (Unpublished document submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Professional Practice). Otago Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga, New Zealand. https://doi.org/10.34074/thes.6190
Permanent link to Research Bank record:https://hdl.handle.net/10652/6190
This thesis explores how leaders of not-for-profit (NFP) social services in Aotearoa New Zealand can uphold social justice in our leadership practice. NFPs in Aotearoa New Zealand must confront some distinct challenges if they want to uphold social justice. There is little large-scale philanthropy in Aotearoa New Zealand and a dependence on government contracts. NFP organisations and their leaders therefore face the daily possibility of mission and culture drift as they struggle to meet government operating requirements and measures of success. These requirements and measures can create tension with and prioritise other outcomes over social justice. The research question for my thesis asks how I can support myself and other NFP social service leaders to include social justice in our leadership practice and in particular, our decision-making? Exploring this question of the relationship between social justice and the practicalities of leadership is important to the achievement of social justice. It is my experience as a leader focused on social justice that a more just and equitable society is created not only through big policy and economic shifts, but also through daily small decisions by organisations who work to support vulnerable individuals and communities. Daily decisions demonstrate, or not, the focus on social justice and can help to determine whether a context is shifted towards something more just. The application of ‘positive for social justice values’ is identified as an important focus in this thesis. There are many discussions in the literature about how leaders can and should use values, and multiple training opportunities. However, leaders of NFPs, due to the complexity, and busyness of their roles, and often a lack of budget, may not be able to use these resources. I was interested to discover what might be practice-useful in daily leadership life. To explore my research question, I used a range of qualitative methodologies and methods. Using evocative autoethnography, I critically reflected on my own experience as a leader, and wove this throughout the thesis, in a practice-reflection-research loop in which my practice impacted on my research and my research on my practice. To gain data and perspective beyond my own experience, I interviewed 16 NFP leaders, and explored with them how they understood the task of leading social justice and what helped them to do so. Using narrative rich methods, I created a factual/fictional story to both communicate the findings of my interviews and demonstrate one answer to my research question – the usefulness of story as a supportive decision-making tool. Three practice stories show the progression of my thinking about the place of values, and of story, within social justice focused leadership and decision-making. A story tool, used in my own practice, and also workshopped with leaders, arises out of and is included within the factual/fictional communication of findings. ‘Positive for social justice values,’ deeply held and used in daily leadership practice emerged as a key finding of the research. When as leaders we lead and decide through values, we create the space for social justice of occur. ‘Positive for social justice’ values link vision and pragmatism, supporting a visionary-pragmatic approach that is required by leaders who want to consistently shift their contexts towards justice. To uphold values, leaders need practice-useful tools to support them ‘in the moment.’ Story emerged from the research as a useful tool to support leaders to uphold values in their decision-making and as a contribution to research itself. This thesis might therefore be useful to other NFP leaders, boards of governance or anyone working within the NFP sector who seeks to uphold social justice-orientated values within the pressured, complex and competitive environment in which such organisations now exist. While my aim has been to understand how NFP leaders can be supported, there is potential for this work to go beyond the NFP sector to leaders in other sectors who have an orientation towards social justice. This thesis also contributes through its creative approach to communicating data analysis using factual/fictional story, which makes research potentially more accessible and usable in practice situations.
Keywords:Aotearoa, New Zealand, social justice, Not-For-Profit organisations, social services, decision making, leadership
ANZSRC Field of Research:350708 Not-for-profit business and management, 440712 Social policy
Degree:Doctorate of Professional Practice, Otago Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga - NZ Institute of Skills and Technology
Supervisors:Malcolm, Margy-Jean; Mann, Samuel
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