CATALYTIC COMMUNITIES: THE BIRTH OF A DOT ORG*


Theresa Denise Williamson

A DISSERTATION in City and Regional Planning

Presented to the Faculties of the University of Pennsylvania in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

© 2004 Theresa Denise Williamson. All Rights Reserved.



ABSTRACT

This dissertation describes and analyzes six themes that emerged during the first three years' development of Catalytic Communities, a community development organization meant to operate strictly in cyberspace, thus reaching a global audience, though legally based in the US and Brazil. I founded this organization with minimal experience and, through this dissertation, describe my learning during its pilot and maturation phase, as an idea was transformed into a viable organization, from September 2000 through December 2003.

My basic question was: what can be learned about a new type of civil society institution - the Dot Org - during its early years? The six themes that naturally surfaced, and which I then explore, fall into three broad categories: (1) those that explain its creation (the history of technology, the Brazilian reality, social network theory); (2) those that help describe what the organization came to look like (the concept of the Dot Org, the effect of the development of a physical space on the virtual organization); and (3) those that describe the management processes used to keep and develop such an organization (staff management and fundraising lessons).


Rather than attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of Catalytic Communities, I describe the results of a learning process, providing more qualitative and deep knowledge that only the protagonist in an academic function can provide. This dissertation is therefore a study of "learning by doing," for which the lessons learned are not only those referring to the six themes that surface but also those that help define a new research approach that I call Protagonist Action Research (PrAR).


Dissertation Supervisor: Seymour Mandelbaum
Title: Professor of City and Regional Planning


FULL DISSERTATION:


AWARDS

2005 Winner of the Gill-Chin Lim Award for the Best Dissertation on International Planning.

2004 Nominee for the Barclay Gibbs Jones Award for the Best Dissertation in Planning.