CSSI Lifetime Achievement Award 2020

Updated: May 14, 2020

About the CSSI/PrC Life Time Award

The LTA is an award granted by the Partnerships Resource Centre (PrC) and the CSSI community. It was initiated in 2012 at the CSSI symposium in Rotterdam, where we wanted to recognize the idea that scientifically and societally relevant research in Cross-Sector Partnerships for the social good often requires a lifetime of dedication and persistence. The LTA was also initiated as an encouragement to younger scholars to follow in the paths of well-known international scholars, many who have had quite ‘heterodox’ careers.

One of the key elements of this Award therefore is an encouragement to anyone that bridging science and practice, applying multi-disciplinary approaches, writing papers – but also books – while valuing teaching at the same time are feasible if you follow your passion. The LTA heralds those scholars that have walked the talk and contributed to the common pool of knowledge in an area that is only gaining in societal relevance – witnessing for instance the vital role given to cross-sector partnering in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030.

Previous laureates are:

2012 - James Austin

2014 – Sandra Waddock

2016 – Barbara Gray

2018 – Pieter Glasbergen

The award includes a statue and a check towards a charity of choice.

CSSI Lifetime Achievement Award 2020

The laureate is:

L. David (Dave) Brown

Reflections by Sandra Waddock and Barbara Gray

L. David (Dave) Brown holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard, and PhD and JD degrees from Yale.  Most recently he was a senior research fellow, Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, Harvard Kennedy School, having retired from his position as lecturer in public policy and coordinator of international programs in 2009.  Prior to joining HKS, Brown was Professor of Organizational Behavior at Boston University’s School of Management for nearly 20 years. During that time he also served as President of the Institute for Development Research, a not-for-profit research/consulting center for development and institution building in developing nations, where he worked alongside his wife Jane Covey, who ultimately ran IDR when Brown left BU for Harvard. Brown’s first academic position was at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH, where he pioneered some of his pathbreaking cross-sector work with The Cleveland Project and mentored Barbara Gray (among others). He started his career in the Peace Corp in 1963, working in Ethiopia as a community organizer, a choice that was to influence his entire career. 

Brown is best known for his research and practice-based consulting on large-scale social transformation and institution/capacity building in developing nations.  After retiring, he continued active engagement with the Hauser Center’s research on civil society organizations in China and related projects.  He is an author of numerous books and articles at the intersection of consulting, scholarship, and practice, particularly around large-scale change projects and civil society engagement. Among his best-known books are:  Managing Conflict at Organizational Interfaces, Creating Credibility:  Legitimacy and Accountability for Transnational Civil Society, and co-edited books on Transnational Civil Society and Practice-Research Engagement for Civil Society in a Globalizing World. Brown was a Fulbright lecturer in India, has long served on the board of Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) (founded by one of his former Ph.D. students), on the OXFAM Board and on the board of the Synergos Institute, an NGO that sponsors partnerships around the globe. 

In a 1989 autobiographical article, Dave articulated four central themes for his life’s work, themes that continue to this day, as follows:

  1. A concern for social development and social justice, particularly with respect to improving relations between groups of unequal power.

  2. An effort to combine research and action in ways that produce both solutions to specific problems and new ways of understanding social systems [i.e., action research, or what he titled research action in his article].

  3. A commitment to working at the points where different groups, organizations, and cultures intersect [i.e., at the interstices between organizations, the boundaries across groups, and across sectors that most scholars did not choose to cross]. 

  4. An interest in bringing multiple levels of analysis to bear on understanding social dynamics and problems. (Brown, 1980, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, p. 368). 

Several themes stand out about Dave’s life and career: 

Cross Sector Emphasis

Dave’s career, like his work, epitomizes cross sector work. He has always been what today we might call a ‘pracademic,’ someone who bridges between academic and practitioner. His career path took him from academia to practice and back again multiple times furthering both his understanding of different sectors and his willingness to cross those boundaries. Not only did he cross boundaries himself, many of his publications addressed the roles and difficulties associated with being a boundary spanning organization.

Intellectual Courage

Dave has always been courageous intellectually, in doing research, and in terms of the subjects and topics he chose to research. Just as few people were thinking about large-scale system change when Dave began his work in that arena back in the 1970s, long before it was an accepted research topic. Additionally, few were using methodologies of action research during that era, methods that combine participation, action, and scholarship. Action research was relatively new and was still not considered acceptable by many mainstream journals. Dave and Frank Friedlander (both at CWRU at the time) wrote an article in ASQ that set out the parameters for action research back in the 1970s.

Being an Outsider

Dave was always his own person and, like many innovators and pioneers, he chose to follow his own lights. He strived to (and did) find interesting questions and people where they lived (rather then from theory, i.e., from closely observing what was happening in the real world). Then he chose to work collaboratively with the people who had the answers to those questions (rather than swooping in as many academics do, ‘studying’ the subject, then leaving to go back to the ivory tower where conclusions can be drawn analytically and apart from the ‘subject’). Instead, Dave worked collaboratively with the people in whatever setting or context was the focal one, became actively engaged with their communities, and frequently co-created the resulting insights, learning, and knowledge with them. The idea of co-creating research and knowledge, emerging today as a popular orientation for action researchers, was far from understood when Dave started doing it early in his career. 

In following his own ‘crooked path’ throughout his career, Dave has always been somewhat of an outsider to the mainstream academy. Indeed, his very career path reflects that crookedness which followed what he once described as several ‘physical and cultural “world changes”’. 

A ‘Doing Good in the World’ Action/Practice Orientation

Early on, in the 1970s and 1980s, Dave choose to use what were still entirely novel (and not yet—to this day fully accepted) action research approaches. Dave also recognized what is only now coming to be acknowledge (by the Responsible Research in Business and Management initiative for one and by thinkers still perceived to be avant garde today): that it is impossible to take the researcher and that scholar’s positionality, moral framework, and ethical considerations out of the picture. 

Further, early on—and to this day, Dave has never been afraid to admit to the normative underpinnings of his work. This orientation, which he expressed in his 1989 article as ‘a concern  for social development and social justice’ permeated what he implicitly taught his doctoral students. This perspective clearly informed Sandra's orientation to doing research and scholarly work in the world. Indeed, it was years before she realized how influential Dave’s perspective had been on shaping her own. That influence is reflected in the next and last theme. 

Systems Orientation: Multiple Perspectives Derived from Crossing Boundaries

Dave’s own words reflect his orientation toward cross-sector collaborations of all sorts. Dave writes:

I have worked and lived at the junctions of different worlds for most of my life. I became aware of multiple realities as I lived in Milton and Bangor (Maine); this awareness was deepened by my experiences in Cambridge and Ethiopia, and with the Yale Upward Bound Program and the Gaight School. I personally feel most comfortable outside or at the edge of social groups in an accepted but relatively autonomous role. I learned to be a maverick early on, but I prefer to be a maverick with influence. (Brown, 1989, p. 380). 

A systems thinker by nature, Dave always explicitly and implicitly conveys the idea that you have to think about the big picture as well as the more detailed aspects of a situation. It is because he always brought a holistic perspective, including a multi-level set of understandings, to his work, that his doctoral students (including me, in particular, I guess) have also taken such a perspective. Indeed, it was years before I realized just how influential Dave’s perspective had been on shaping Sandra's constant orientation towards attempting to think about whole systems and not just fragments. 

Boundary Spanning

Dave has been a pioneer in our field of working across boundaries and sectors to solve difficult problems well before it became fashionable to do so. Not only does his career reflect his own role as a boundary spanner but his scholarship and his practice work reflect his keen insights into the dynamics that occur when diverse organizations meet and work across the interfaces among them. His book, Managing Conflict at Organizational Interfaces, explored this topic in ways that more traditional work on boundary spanning did not.  He embarked on this work well before the field of cross-sector partnerships came into its own. In a 1991 paper in Human Relations, Dave argued that,

…bridging organizations can play key roles in building local organizations, creating horizontal linkages, increasing grassroots influence on policy, and disseminating new visions and organizational innovations….bridging organizations are central players in an emerging ‘multisectoral’ development paradigm that is less subject to the flaws of the still-dominant market-led and state-led paradigms.

In his 1987 JABS article with Dettermen, he described working with urban elite in Cleveland Ohio to help them collectively marshal their resources to tackle urban development projects. Soon after he and his wife, Jane Covey, founded the Institute for Development Research, IDR, in Boston and began offering leadership courses for government and NGO leaders from Africa, India and the Philippines to empower these individuals to work as social entrepreneurs and bridgers in their own local environments.

Addressing Power Dynamics and Including Marginalized Groups

This hallmark of Dave’s scholarship and practice defines the man. He has devoted his life to improving voice and political influence of those who have next to nothing in this world. In Alvord, Brown & Letts (2004) he and his coauthors wrote,

Social entrepreneurship and social transformation: An exploratory study” the authors propose factors associated with successful social entrepreneurship, particularly with social entrepreneurship that leads to significant changes in the social, political and economic contexts for poor and marginalized groups.

But, unlike social movement theorists, who focus only on mobilization tactics, Dave has always focused on building bridging relationships between the have and the have nots. Most importantly, he was savvy about the huge challenges that confronted organizations attempting to promote collaborative partnerships in third world contexts. For example, in a 1996 article in World Development, he and Darcy Ashman presciently wrote: “Cooperation in policy/program implementation between state and nongovernmental actors can sometimes solve intractable development problems, but such cooperation must span gaps in culture, power, resources, and perspective.” These authors were researching challenging international collaborations well before most of us in this room had begun to do so. In this article they compared and contrasted 13 African and Asian cases of collaboration detailing the factors that facilitated and impeded their success.

Dave worked closely with Peggy Rockefeller Delany, who founded Synergos Institute to reduce global poverty through partnerships between government, business, civil society and local communities. Additionally, he assisted another CWRU graduate, Rajesh Tandon, in India to help him create PRIA (Society for Participatory Research in Asia)—an organization dedicated to training local villagers in participatory action research techniques so they can improve their own communities. Dave and Rajesh described this work and other similar projects in “Bridging Organizations for Sustainable Development”, a 1981 article in Journal of Applied Behavioral Science in which they explored how teaching participatory action research to grassroots citizens could initiate a variety of socially beneficial collaborative projects for their communities. 

Dave’s work was among the early voices auguring for multi-sector partnerships-- well ahead of the current flurry of research on social entrepreneurship and cross-sector partnerships in the developing world. But not only was Dave championing partnerships, he was keenly aware that partnerships were often not enough. He understood only too well that partnerships were not really partnerships at all unless lower power participants could be mobilized to have a voice in their development and management.

With Dave, awareness of and sensitivity to power dynamics was never a side issue—it was always front and center—a prism through which all other information was filtered. It’s no wonder then that throughout his career he sought to understand and foster ways to empower those whose voices were suppressed or non-existent in global politics. His concern for leveling the table in negotiations among organizations is also evidenced in his 1998 edited book with Jonathan Fox on the World Bank. In it they levy a carefully crafted but critical attack on the World Bank and its failure to be accountable to those thousands of people displaced by the Narmada Dam project in India.


Although many of you may not be familiar with Dave Brown’s influence on our subfield of organizational scholarship, it may be because his work predates your birth. He was truly a pioneer in addressing the knotty and difficult issues we will grapple with as a field today. As two CSSI Lifetime Achievement Award winners, both of our career bear the indelible imprint of Dave’s influence as a scholar and a mentor par excellence. From our perspectives, Dave Brown was a ‘maverick with influence’ and that is why he is receiving the CSSI 2020 lifetime achievement award. 

Selected Academic Work by L. Dave Brown

Friedlander, F. & Brown, L.D.  1974. Organization Development. Annual Review of Psychology, 25 (1): 313-341.

Brown, L.D. 1980. Planned change in under-organized systems. In T.G. Cummings (Ed.), Systems Theory for Organization Development. New York: Wiley.

Gray Gricar, B. and Brown, L. D. 1981. Conflict, Power, and Organization in a Changing Community. Human Relations, 34, 877-893.

Brown. L.D.  & Kaplan. R.E. 1981. Participative research in a factory. In P. Reason & J. Rowan (Eds.), Human Inquiry: A Sourcebook of New Paradigm Research. London: Wiley. 

Brown, L.D. & Vijayendar. M. 1981. Public enterprises as catalysts of rural development. Human Futures, 1981, 4(2/3), 134-147.

Tandon, R. & Brown, LD. 1981. Organization-Building for rural development: An experiment in India. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 17 (2). 

Brown, L.D. 1983. Managing Conflict at Organizational Interfaces. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Brown. L.D. & Covey, J. 1983. Development organizations and organization development: Implications for a new paradigm. In W. Pasmore & R. Woodman (Eds.), Research in Organization Change and Development, V1, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 57-85. 

Brown, L.D. & Tandon, R. 1983. Ideology and political economy in inquiry: Action research and participatory research. Journal of Applied Behavior Science, 19(3), 277-294. 

Brown, L.D. & Detterman, 1987. Small interventions for large problems: Reshaping urban leadership networks. Journal of Applied Behavior Science, 23, 151-168. 

Brown, L. D. 1989. Research action in many worlds. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 25, 367-382.

Brown, L.D. 1991. Bridging organizations for sustainable development. Human Relations, 45:807-831. · 

Brown, L.D. & Ashman, D. 1996. Participation, Social Capital and Intersectoral Problem Solving. World Development, 24, 9: 1467-1479.

Fox, J. & Brown, L.D. (Eds.) 1998. The Struggle for Accountability: The World Bank, NGOs and grass roots movements. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Alvord, S.H., Brown, L.D. & Letts, C.W. 2004. Social entrepreneurship and societal transformation: An exploratory study. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science.

Batliwala, S. & Brown, L.D. 2006. Transnational Civil Society: An introduction. Bloomfield, CT:  Kumarian Press.

Tandon, R. & Brown, LD. 2013. Civil societies at crossroads: Eruptions, initiatives, and evolution in citizen activism. Development in Practice, 23 (5 & 6): 601-608.

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CSSI 2020