Fellowship Opportunity: Summer Institute for Behavioral and Social Scientists


Organizations and Their Effectiveness

June 27 through July 8, 2016

Robert Gibbons, Economics and Management, MIT
Woody Powell, Education and Sociology, Stanford University


The CASBS 2016 summer institute, Organizations and Their Effectiveness, will take place from June 27 through July 8, 2016 at the Center on the Stanford University campus. Ten fellowships will be awarded to cover tuition, room and board, and travel. The deadline for applications will be in early January; decisions will be sent mid-February 2016.


Organizations are all around us: not just firms, plants, and work groups, but also hospitals, schools, and governments. Furthermore, by construing an “organization” as something that can be first organized and then managed, one can also include certain contractual relationships—not only between firms (such as some hand-in-glove supply relationships, joint ventures, and alliances) but also between a government and a firm (such as some regulatory relationships and public-private partnerships). Indeed, noting that the examples above are all opportunities to collaborate, one can move beyond formal organization charts and formal contracts to include communities, networks, and other informal institutions as organizations.

Given such a broad domain, a huge fraction of economic activity, as well as much political and social activity, is undertaken in, with, or by organizations. Put differently, if organizations are how we collaborate, it is important to get them right! For example, the gains from improving production activities and supply chains in low-income countries could be enormous. Also, learning from the “bright spots” among hospitals, schools, and governments, and understanding how these successes might be spread, could be immensely valuable. Finally, although industrial productivity in high-income countries may seem mundane to some, improving the effectiveness of such firms might nonetheless allow substantial improvements in the quality of life—both for the workforces in these firms and for the communities that experience the products and externalities these firms produce.

If organizational effectiveness is so important for innovation and social impact, one might think that academics would be studying the issue actively. To some extent, this is true, but the field is badly fragmented: different disciplines operate mostly in isolation; many professional schools focus on only their own kind of organization (e.g., hospitals, schools, public agencies, businesses). Meanwhile, social-science departments often regard organizational effectiveness as outside their purview; and doctoral training in professional schools often lacks the depth available in social-science departments.

The summer institute will begin with presentations by several senior faculty about the basic ingredients of their field’s approach to studying organizations— provisionally, a day each from economics, political science, and sociology. Beyond the few senior faculty, the participants will be young scholars (ranging from late-stage graduate students to just-tenured faculty) whose careers studying organizations are underway and who have demonstrated an interest in and an aptitude for expanding their thinking about organizations towards other disciplines. After these basic-ingredients days, the remainder of the two weeks will be devoted to (a) presentations by and discussion among the young scholars and (b) presentations from some of the senior faculty on cutting-edge topics.


Those eligible to apply include advanced graduate students, junior faculty, and recently tenured scholars from the social and behavioral sciences and allied professional schools. We are also interested in applications from scholars affiliated with four-year colleges and with colleges and universities attended predominantly by minority students. Accepted applicants will be expected to come prepared by having read a syllabus of about a 20 key papers and surveys.


The Center is located on a hillside overlooking the Stanford University campus. Excellent local library resources will be available to the participants. Comfortable studies in beautiful surroundings will be provided. For more information about the Center, visit its website at http://www.casbs.org.


The institute is funded by MIT and Stanford University. Participation is free for those awarded the ten fellowships. Institutions hoping to send two participants may be asked to supply half the funding for each of them. Enrollment will be limited to 15. Attendance will be restricted to admitted applicants. Rooms will be reserved nearby.


The application will include: (i) a cover letter providing contact information and the name of the recommendation writer; (ii) a curriculum vitae (for faculty, this should include not only research but also courses taught; for doctoral students, not only research but also courses taken); (iii) a two-page essay explaining how the institute will advance the applicant’s research; and (iv) one letter of recommendation (not longer than two pages), which will be treated confidentially and should be submitted separately.

Application portal will be available late October 2015 at http://www.summerinstitute.casbs.org.


Gibbons and Powell each have one foot in their respective disciplines and the other in professional schools. Gibbons has appointments in the Sloan School of Management and the Economics Department at MIT, and he regularly teaches Organizational Economics to PhD students from economics and a variety of disciplines. Powell has an appointment in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford, as well as Sociology, Business, Engineering, and Public Policy. He, too, teaches an organization theory seminar annually that attracts PhD students from more than a half dozen departments and schools. Other senior faculty will be like-minded scholars from other social sciences—probably political science and social psychology, and perhaps also anthropology, communications, and others.

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