The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Brenda Bushouse

headshot of Brenda Bushouse
Associate Professor of Public Policy


624 Thompson Hall

Brenda K. Bushouse’s research program has two intersecting foci: The first is a lasting interest in the realm of activity that is neither market nor state. She researches the politics of nonprofit organizations in the policy process (see “Leveraging Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research to Inform Public Policy” and “The intermediary roles of foundations in the policy process: building coalitions of interest”). She is intrigued by the work of people and organizations who work to fulfill a social mission and is particularly interested in utilizing institutional analysis (see “Governance Structures: Using IAD to Understand Variation in Service Delivery for Club Goods with Information Asymmetry” and “Elinor Ostrom’s Contribution to Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Studies”). She is collaborating with Brent Never (UMKC) and Rob Christensen (BYU) on developing a conceptual understanding of philanthropy as a commons and the institutional arrangements that deplete or maintain donations for a common cause (see “Philanthropy as Commons: An Overview for Discussion”).

Bushouse has two National Science Foundation grants related to this research program: She is a co-principal investigator (with Charlie Schweik, UMass Amherst, and Vladimir Filkov and Seth Frey, UC Davis) on the collaborative research: Jumpstarting Successful Open-Source Software Projects with Evidence-Based Rules and Structures. Her role in this project is to analyze the governance structures of nonprofit organizations with open source software incubators to assess which lead to success and failure. The second project is a Research Collaboration Network grant to build the Institutional Grammar Research Institute. Five universities (Syracuse, University of Colorado Denver, University of Arizona, UC Davis, and UMass) are working together to extend and advance the utilization of the Institutional grammar syntactic coding tool (Crawford and Ostrom 1995) to allow for large-N analysis of rule environments. Her contribution to the project, with Schweik, is to code state nonprofit laws to allow for comparative analysis of the rules the govern nonprofit organizations.

A second lasting area of Bushouse’s research focuses on the most vulnerable in our society: children. Her research asks the simple question: Why do governments consistently under-invest in programs that benefit children? She has been awarded a 2020-22 Learning Sciences Exchange Fellowship to work with a team of fifteen early childhood scientists, policymakers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and entertainers to bring science to fruition. This collaboration brings people with divergent expertise together to create new work that advances early education and care.

In her book Universal Preschool: Policy Change, Stability, and the Pew Charitable Trusts (SUNY Press 2009), which was awarded the Virginia Hodgkinson Research Prize, Bushouse explained why state governments invested in pre-kindergarten education, a rare victory for children. She studied a similar policy passed in New Zealand (awarded the Ian Axford Fellowship in Public Policy) to understand why New Zealand chose to fund universal early childhood education rather than a targeted program (see “Early Childhood Education Policy in Aotearoa/New Zealand” and “The 20 Hours Free Early Childhood Education Programme: A USA Perspective”).

She is now working on a book manuscript focusing on the role of foundations and philanthropists in social movements and policy advocacy for children in the US from 1900 - 2015 across four policy domains: child labor, child health and nutrition, child abuse, and early education. This historical approach to the roles of advocates, foundations and philanthropists, and policy actors over time, incorporating cross-domain interactions, seeks to answer the question of when and how the US has succeeded and failed to advance policies to support improving the lives of children.

Bushouse serves on the board of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, the primary scholarly association for nonprofit scholars. She was the conference co-chair for the 2018 and 2019 conferences and currently serves as co-chair of the Membership Committee and a member of the Publications Committee.

She received her PhD from Indiana University and her MPA from Syracuse University.


Research interests: 

nonprofit governance, institutional analysis, child policy