November Day Conference – call for papers

VSSN’s next day conference will take place on 23rd November 2017. The event is hosted by the Open University, Business School, Milton Keynes

Leading through challenging times: can the sector respond to the wider crisis of political and civil society leadership?

Leadership is back on the agenda, following a range of influential inquiries and reports calling for strengthened leadership in and of the voluntary sector, alongside improved governance and accountability. Over the years, sector bodies like NCVO and ACEVO have ‘taken a lead’ on the issue; more recently, we have seen the King’s Fund and Clore launch new leadership development initiatives for the sector.

Yet there has traditionally been scepticism towards the concept of leadership within the sector, perhaps because it is seen as counter to notions of emancipation, anti-hierarchicalism and democratic practice prized in some accounts of the sector. Also problematically, this focus seems based on the premise that the sector needs to do better, and its leaders are not up to scratch.

This day seminar aims to examine this premise in more detail, and expose to greater scrutiny the idea that leadership is part of the solution. For a start, we might ask what is leadership? Is there a leadership deficit, as some think, or is this a distraction from the real issues? What leadership thinking is most relevant to the voluntary sector? And how could leadership be strengthened, if we agree it should be?

We warmly invite the VSSN community to contribute to a diverse, compelling and critical engagement with these issues by considering the role of leadership in theory and in practice.

Other questions might include:

  • What do we mean when we talk about leadership, and why does it seem to be salient at the moment?
  • What theories and concepts of leadership should voluntary sector scholars be engaging with?
  • Are there examples of leadership practice and practical initiatives that scholars should pay more heed to?
  • What is distinctive (or not) about leadership in the voluntary sector compared to other sectors? Does size make a difference?


We welcome proposals from researchers, academics, doctoral students and practitioners, from the broadest range of fields: sociological, philosophical, psycho-social and legal. We will be pleased to consider contributions that provide empirical, theoretical, methodological, practice or policy insights associated with our theme. Your abstract should outline your proposed paper, showing how the issues you raise will contribute to the theme for the day.

Abstracts of roughly 250 words should be sent to: by 26th September. Please also attach contact details.

If it is helpful, please contact James to discuss contributions informally in the meantime.

Attending the event

VSSN aims to promote an understanding of the UK voluntary sector through research. The event is aimed at researchers, academics, doctoral students and practitioners in voluntary organisations or foundations interested in the UK voluntary sector. We also welcome policymakers engaged in relevant fields. We are always pleased to meet and receive contributions from colleagues in similar settings in other countries who are involved in the field. The working language is English.

Booking for the event will open once the programme is finalised.

We look forward to welcoming you at the Open University on 23rd November.

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