Pragmatic Approach to NGO Processes
Pragmatic is the study of human language use and how people negotiate meaning in social contexts. It is a subfield of linguistics that differs from semantics, syntax, and semiotics in that it looks beyond the literal meaning of an expression to consider the physical or social context in which it is used. It also examines how speakers can use a given expression to convey different meanings, for example in the case of sarcasm where the intended meaning is often the opposite of the literal one.
Although pragmatism has been around for centuries, it rose to prominence in the 1800s when it was popular among linguists. It was based on the idea that a theory of language must be studied in the context of dialogue and life, and that speech is a kind of human action. Today, pragmatism is a wide-ranging field of research spanning the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.
The pragmatist approach to research is a flexible and iterative process that allows for the incorporation of real-world experience in research design, data collection, and analysis. It is often a useful framework to navigate qualitative applied social research on NGO processes.
As noted by Dewey, pragmatics is an approach that is rooted in everyday human experience and knowledge. He believed that all conscious action involves some amount of interpretation and that if this interpretative process was examined in a deliberate way, it could uncover many social realities that were obscured by philosophical approaches that assumed that human experience and understanding existed in separate realms (Morgan, 2014b).
A key principle in pragmatism is the idea that we can know more about reality through experience than through theories. This is an important distinction from realism and objectivism, which both rely on the notion that we can validate our theories about the world by comparing them to raw, unsullied empirical evidence. Pragmatists such as Sellars, Rorty, Davidson, and Putnam are famous for their rejection of this foundationalist picture.
The application of pragmatism to the field of NGO research can help us understand the ways in which these organisations implement and adapt their strategies in response to local needs and conditions. It also helps us understand the processes by which NGOs make decisions about their programs and the implications these choices have for sustainability and effectiveness.
Using a pragmatist framework can lead to a more flexible and iterative research methodology, as illustrated in the case studies presented above. This type of research can include a variety of methodologies from the sciences to the social sciences, and combines quantitative and qualitative techniques to create a holistic approach to evaluation. This can be particularly beneficial for NGOs, as it can help them to navigate the complexities of research by providing a guide for collecting pertinent observations and reasoning through them at an intermediate level (abduction) rather than constructing theories based on purely abstract concepts or on experiences alone (deduction).