NGOs: In any given issue area, there is always a substantial discrepancy between the distribution of public attention and the objective need for external support. Why do some issues attract global attention while others remian in obscurity? Existing research overwhelmingly focuses on the "supply" of advocacy, how NGOs market the cause to the public, assuming that public attention will correspond to the agenda of leading NGOs in issue areas (Amnesty International, World Wildlife Fund, Oxfam, etc.). However, this assumption overlooks varying levels of motivation among the publics to learn about an issue area, and politics more broadly.
I explain the puzzle by illuminating the "demand" side of the story. My central argument is that a subset of the public is motivated to learn about an issue area, and this subset, called an "issue public," generates disproportionately intense, stable, and behaviorally consequential attention. Contrary to the common assumption, leading NGOs often face difficulty in directing the attention of the issue public because they cannot narrow down their agenda and strategies to appeal to this segment of the public. Leading NGOs are accountable to, and thus constrained by, wide-ranging, global audiences, who may be more concerned about their reputation than the issue area itself. Instead, "issue-specific NGOs," specialized in one or a few particular issues, can drive the attention of the issue public because they are accountable to a small number of audiences and thus able to tailor their agenda and strategies that appeal to group identities and/or core values of the issue public.
Wildlife conservation: To examine my argument at the macro-level, I exploit the unique features of wildlife conservation as a way to cope with selection bias and measurement problems. I show that issue-specific NGOs consistently explain the distribution of public attention in the issue area of wildlife conservation, using print and social media (newspapers and Twitter).
NGO data collection: With Elizabeth Bloodgood and Ajah (Powered by Data), we work to analyze how different governments collect and publish NGO data. We explore domestic and international determinants of governmental data collection behavior, using a new dataset collected for this project.
Legitimacy of INGOs: With Wendy Wong and Sarah Stroup, we explore the agency of INGOs by looking at their networking behavior and mission statements. Existing research posits that legitimacy is an important source of power for INGOs, but we know little about how INGOs can increase their legitimacy. Leveraging a new, transnational social movement organization dataset (1993-2013), we show that networking behavior matters for an increase in legitimacy, more so than other organizational attributes. We then then explain how different levels of legitimacy in turn affect the ways in which they communicate with broader audiences. We coded "legitimacy claims" in the mission statements of NGOs. We suggests that NGOs that have multiple types of audiences may make legitimacy claims differently than small NGOs.