Spatial data use in the UK nonprofit sector: a sociotechnical exploration

Bowles, James ORCID: 0000-0003-1473-6329 (2022). Spatial data use in the UK nonprofit sector: a sociotechnical exploration. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

Text - Redacted Version
Available under License All rights reserved.

Download (5MB) | Preview


Nonprofit organisations (NPOs) in the UK are increasingly becoming data-driven in their efforts to generate societal benefit and achieve their aims. Gaining knowledge of service users, demonstrating impact, and building relations with wider stakeholders are a few of the functions that are coming to be underpinned or supported by data and technology. This thesis explores the social and technical elements of the use of spatial data and associated technologies (such as geographic information systems (GIS)) by 35 UK nonprofit organisations. Spatial data refers to any data that has a location attribute, such as a postcode or administrative boundary code. We know little about contemporary use of spatial data by NPOs, particularly outside of North America. Drawing on data from documentary and visual sources, and from semi-structured interviews with staff and volunteers, the thesis presents a comprehensive overview of the ways in which nonprofit organisations use spatial data to achieve their organisational aims. A thematic overview of the primary drivers behind NPO spatial data use summarises use cases from a broad range of organisational sizes and missions.

In moving beyond a utilitarian description of current practices, the thesis makes a distinctive contribution by examining NPO spatial data use through three social constructionist theoretical approaches. Drawing on scholarship from the fields of human geography, nonprofit studies, and social studies of data, all three approaches attend to the social, technical, material and cultural elements of data construction and application. The first approach (Chapter 6) uses an organisational epistemological framework to examine how NPOs construct and apply expert knowledge of people and place using spatial data. It presents the construction of spatial data as a product of technological affordances and ever-changing organisational practice, priorities, and values. The second approach (Chapter 7) conducts a semiotic reading of spatial data visualisations as semiotic devices that build relations across and within organisations. The semiotic framework used in this chapter provides a close assessment of the social factors that facilitate the relational work of spatial data and their visualisations without neglecting the physical infrastructure on which they rest. The third approach (Chapter 8) responds to claims that NPOs display a hybrid form and draw on the logics of three institutions (the market, the community, and the state) to guide their actions. The thesis explores the manifestation of institutional logics in spatial data use and considers strategies used by NPOs for dealing with threats to legitimacy caused by the adoption of plural logics.

Nonprofit organisations are not isolated from the pervasive datafication of organisational and social life. This thesis presents a descriptive and theoretical account of how a diverse range of nonprofit organisations are using spatial data and associated technologies amidst a rapidly changing data construction and application landscape. The social constructionist perspective used in this thesis demonstrates the capacity of NPOs to construct and use data for making claims of expertise, build relations across and within organisations, and position themselves within wider organisational and institutional fields.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology


Request a Correction Request a Correction
View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year