Publication Date

2016

Degree Name

MA in Sustainable Development

First Advisor

Nikoi Kote-Nikoi

Abstract

This paper examines how integrating systems thinking into nonprofit work and evaluation metrics can help to advance an organization’s mission and clarify that mission to the public. The researcher will utilize her practicum site at Salvation Farms, a small nonprofit in northern Vermont, as a case study to observe the extent to which this organization utilizes systems thinking and how current evaluation metrics can be improved to more effectively inform and involve the community. Salvation Farms’ mission, after all, is to build greater resilience into Vermont’s food system through agricultural surplus management.

The researcher offers a literature review on systems thinking and performance measurement and analyzes the results of a mixed methods evaluation of 8 participants through interviews, surveys, and focus groups to answer the research question: to what extent can systems thinking and approaches help redesign performance measurement at Salvation Farms and ultimately help to clarify its mission to the public?

Initial findings indicate that while Salvation Farms is growing its programs and community presence, there is still only a superficial understanding of its work, both by those close to the organization and by the general public. Often Salvation Farms’ specific programs are more easily understood or relatable than the overarching philosophy of resource management. This suggests that, even though Salvation Farms is having a meaningful impact on the community, the organization can expand its evaluation metrics, further define its indicators for success, and connect more with state-wide and regional partners to further clarify its role in Vermont’s food system. Improving the systemic linkage with other stakeholders, including the immediate community Salvation Farms operates in, will not only help the organization grow but also help advance the conversation in Vermont regarding how to strengthen the food system.

Disciplines

Agricultural and Resource Economics | Entrepreneurial and Small Business Operations | Management Information Systems | Management Sciences and Quantitative Methods