ICD Fieldwork & Thesis Project Guide

Northwest University

ICD Fieldwork & Thesis Project Guide

MA in International Community Development


Cohort Nine

Fieldwork & Thesis Project Guide

The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Northwest University

5520 108th Ave NE

Kirkland, WA 98033



Introduction 3

Project Management, Funding, and Program Evaluation 5

Fieldwork 6

Thesis Project 11

Appendices 15

Fieldwork Plan Proposal 16

Practicum Guidelines/Expectations 18

Northwest University, MAICD Fieldwork Hours Record 19

External Reader Feedback Form 20

Research Interview Release Form 22

Fieldwork Interview Tracking Form 23

ICD Thesis Project Proposal 24


At the heart of the ICD program is an emphasis on applied learning. As you progress through your course work, we want you always to be asking the question: "How can I use this knowledge to make a real difference in the world, now and in the future?"

Also central to the ICD ethos is the idea that, when it comes to community development, advocacy, leadership and the like, experiential learning is crucial. Therefore, the ICD program is built around a practicum that spans the entire program and provides supervised practical application of what you will be learning throughout your journey at Northwest University.

We have shaped the practicum around a sequence of five core learning processes:

v  Project management internship project

v  Fundraising/grant writing experience

v  Program evaluation experience

v  Qualitative fieldwork experience

v  A culminating thesis project

The practicum courses in essence are “meta courses” – that is, there are several longer-term, overarching projects and goals that hover above the ordinary coursework schedule. These practicum activities provide the foundation of the ICD program, ensuring that you always have a setting in which to integrate and apply your coursework and learning, while at the same time adding a new dimension of praxis to them. The practicum series provides a context in which you will have opportunity to contemplate your own experiences and collaborate with your peer community on how to prepare for maximized influence in your context of service.

The primary goals of the five-semester practicum series are:

v  To apprehend and practice the skill sets of project management, funding, volunteer management, and program evaluation through projects designed for actual organizations

v  To prepare for, complete, and process qualitative research and applied fieldwork with an organization/culture context of your own choosing

v  To research, compose and defend a thesis project, thereby establishing yourself as a subject matter expert in your chosen area of study

In addition, the practicum series is intended to be a venue for community building, personal and academic support, and interaction with your thesis advisor. Specifically though, the activities of the practicum series can be described as follows:

Practicum I – Project Management (Fall) This semester, you will work on initiating and planning a project for an actual organization. You will also start considering your eventual practicum fieldwork site, and do some initial thinking about potential thesis topics.

Practicum II – Funding, Grant-Writing, and Volunteer Management (Spring): Next, you will be writing a grant for an organization and analyzing critical ways of ensuring funding and managing volunteer-supported programs. You will also identify your practicum fieldwork site, and solidify possibilities for your thesis project topic. Some students may begin their fieldwork during this semester.

-  Practicum III – Program Evaluation (Summer): Here you will learn the important skills of program evaluation, and will have the opportunity to test them in real-world organizational contexts. During this semester, you will also complete your fieldwork (through the Fieldwork class).

-  Practicum IV – Thesis Project I (Fall): In this course, you will synthesize your fieldwork and research in order to begin either a) a practical thesis project and a shorter accompanying thesis document, or b) a full academic thesis. During this semester you will write sections of your thesis, and complete (if applicable) your practical thesis project.

-  Practicum V – Thesis Project II (Spring): In your final semester, you will complete your thesis, and will have the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of your thesis project subject by finalizing your research, creating your thesis, and defending it before an audience of your peers.

This is a sample roadmap of the practicum semesters (subject to change):

Project Management, Funding, and Program Evaluation

Project management, funding and grant-writing, and program evaluation skills are in high demand in the world of service organizations. The teaching you will receive on these subjects, added to the hands-on experience working on a project with potential real-world results, will add crucial capacities to your skill set and enormous value to your resume.

Individually or in teams, you will plan and conduct projects for actual organizations. In many cases, the organizations will have a role in defining the objectives, or stated outcomes.

During the first semester, you will initiate and plan a project management-type project for an actual organization that you select, packaging up the results into a deliverable that provides the expected value to your project sponsor and which could – if desired by the organization – be implemented. During the second semester, you will design a grant and complete other financial projects for an organization of your choosing. During the third semester, you will engage in program evaluation tasks for a different sponsoring organization, and present your results in the same semester.

To the extent possible, organizational sponsors will provide evaluations of your work.


The fieldwork site is the context where you will carry out 80 hours of individual field research for your thesis, primarily through qualitative methods. The site is the physical location you will be in (i.e., southern Uganda, or Federal Way, Washington). However you will almost always be operating in the context of a specific organization as well (i.e., Living Hope Orphanage of Kampala, or World Vision), so that organization constitutes a key element of the site as well. The general guidelines for an appropriate site are these:

v  It must provide an opportunity to learn about a specific type of service/social change activity

v  It must grant you access to 10-15 consultants in your research focus, each of whom you will interview at least once

v  It should provide an opportunity to learn more about a culture not your own.

However, if you are already involved in context of cross-cultural service, you may opt to undertake a thesis project that addresses a need in that context.

Above all, you’ll want to consider a site that fits with your general goals and interests. In other words, be sure to choose a site that will help you to explore something you really care about, and which will help you to become better equipped to do the sort of work you are called to do. However you shape the thesis project, it should provide opportunities for you to engage with people who know what you need to know – the “consultants” referred to above. Ideally these would be people who actually do the sort of work you are looking into, and/or those who are integrally involved in the social context/community you are researching. Stay open to anyone with “local knowledge” of the context – anyone who can help you learn and think creatively about the research problem you are grappling with.

When possible, choose a site at which you can make a contribution, either through research or general volunteer work. You may consider writing your program thesis, for example, in such a way that the data you compile and/or the conclusions you draw from your research might actually aid a specific organization in its work. (Ask the organization in advance about this.) Or, you might simply volunteer your time/work in a way not directly tied to your observations and site research; the volunteer work simply gives you a role to play while you are making your observations. Or again, you may opt to make a new contribution to the organization you already work for.

While it might be ideal to find that perfect site that will integrate all your interests, there are other factors to consider, such as:

v  Practicality: What can you reasonably do, given your life circumstances (i.e., full-time school, job, family, etc.)?

v  Affordability: While international travel might be your ideal, it may simply be too costly given your financial situation as a graduate student.

The main idea in the practicum is learning through participant observation: that is, direct experience, observation, and interviews. So as long as you find a fieldwork context that is interesting, AND proves to be something you can do given the realities of your life, you’ve got a perfectly suitable fieldwork site.

You will need to be proactive about finding this site. Some ideas regarding where and how to look:

v  Network, network, network. Ask everyone you know. And ask them to be on the lookout too for possible contacts.

v  Talk to fellow students; they may well be able to find opportunities in the organizations where they are doing their own projects.

v  Look close to home: Consider your local church, school, community center, or local government office.

v  And of course, work closely with your thesis advisor.

The ICD program does have a list of sites that could provide opportunities. You are free, however, to find a site on your own. In any event, you are responsible for making the contact with the organizations that interest you, and establishing the terms of your research and service.

Timeframe for Fieldwork Research Experience: The ICD program schedule is set up on the assumption that most students will complete their 80 hours of fieldwork experience in an intensive time frame, usually in summer. The Fieldwork course is ideally taken in conjunction with your actual fieldwork. This is NOT the only option, however.

You also have the option of accumulating the 80 hours of fieldwork over the course of two semesters. You could begin this process as early as the start of semester two. You must however have your hours completed by the end of semester four (summer), in your Fieldwork course, since it is in the following semester that you will begin compiling research data and creating your program thesis project.

As you consider the approach you will take to fulfilling field research hours, remember that you may count only those hours when you are actively observing or participating in the field context. The time spent in plane travel or sleeping, for examples, cannot be counted.

The Fieldwork Plan: The Fieldwork Plan is a one to three page summary of facts that describe your proposed site and the activities you will carry out there. It includes all the details of the site including the names of the site contact(s) who will oversee your work, as well as substantial information about the history, philosophy, and affiliations of your chosen organization. (Please use the cover page attached.)

Most importantly, it includes a description of the particular research question or set of questions you will be exploring through field research. These will be drawn directly from your thesis project objectives, since the fieldwork and thesis project are inextricably linked. Your research must be focused on a specific, limited problem to be solved or set of questions to be answered, such as:

v  How can the Linnert Foundation best match the values of corporate donors to specific development projects in the Amazon Basin? What innovative strategies does it use to link developed world resources with developing world needs? What unique approaches is the Foundation taking to engage human resources as well as financial resources?

v  How does Parker Elementary address the needs of children at risk? Why have indicators of student success been showing a consistent decrease in the past decade? In a context with a high incidence of poverty, what are the strategies that have been tried to encourage student success? Why has there been little success in engaging the broader community in efforts to alleviate the potential drawbacks of the socio-economic risk factors of that community?

v  What would be a contextualized model for sustainable microenterprise that could operate alongside Calcutta Mercy Ministry’s new rural health clinics? What new experiments and innovations in community development should be taken into consideration for future clinics?

These questions will eventually need to lead into your thesis project, so you need to have that thesis in mind as you formulate your research questions. At the same time you will need to choose a field site that will likely yield the sort of data you need to make your case. Perhaps an organization is doing exemplary, cutting edge work that you want to analyze and highlight in your thesis. Or perhaps an organization is doing work in counterproductive ways, and your research will lead you to develop new and better approaches. All to say: Try to anticipate your thesis project goals even as you look for your site.

Do note that, while the field data must be integrated into the thesis, your thesis may or may not be focused on the organization/site. You may opt for such a case study approach, or you may choose a more general topic that simply draws on your field data for supporting material and examples.

Please note well: The Fieldwork Plan must be submitted and approved by BOTH your site supervisor AND your program advisor before you can proceed with the implementation of the plan. Please obtain the site supervisor signature first before giving the form to your advisor.

The Site Journal, Site Report, and Record of Hours: In Practicum IV, you will be asked to submit a report that summarizes the field experience, including a recap of the data gathered and an initial estimation of research conclusions. You will be asked as well for some subjective “processing” of the experience on a personal level. To this end you will be required to take extensive field notes the essence of your research and observations), as well as keep a regular personal journal throughout the fieldwork timeframe.

Along with the site report you will be asked to submit a detailed record of your fieldwork hours. A form for this is provided within this guide; however, you are free to create your own form. Note that you CAN count the hours you spend in recording/compiling research data, and in contributing to your field journal.