2019 Research conference

2019 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference:

A civil society for the future: setting the agenda for voluntary sector and volunteering research in the 2020s


September 10 and 11, 2019

Location: Aston University, Birmingham


Read the full programme here.

Read a two page outline of the programme here.

Book your place here.


Key dates
13 May 2019 (now closed) Deadline for abstract submissions (now closed)
12 July 2019 @ 17.00 Early bird rate ends
12 August 2019 @ 17.00 Deadline for full paper submissions
10-11 September 2019 The conference


Increasingly the voluntary sector and volunteering is viewed through the lens of ‘civil society’ and the past 12 months have witnessed considerable public and political debate* about how civil society can be at the heart of the changes needed to ensure that all communities can thrive. This includes how to strengthen social value within communities, how civil society can revitalise and enhance democracy, and the potential for reshaping state-civil society relationships.

These debates present opportunities and challenges for civil society actors and for research undertaken on, with and for them. Each year, the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference – organised by the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) – provides a unique opportunity for academics, policy makers and practitioners from the UK and further afield to come together to share findings and discuss the implications of research.

This year’s VSSN / NCVO’s research conference – on 10th/11th September at Aston University in Birmingham – will build on ongoing debates about how civil society can be at the heart of the changes needed to ensure that all communities can thrive.  These debates present opportunities and challenges for civil society actors and for research undertaken on, with and for them, many of which will be explored through the conference. Highlights in this years’ programme include:

  • An opening plenary with Asif Afridi (brap and Civil Society Futures panel member) and Rob Macmillan (Sheffield Hallam University)
  • A plenary panel of three civil society leaders and policy makers – Andrew Purkis, Debra Allcock Tyler, and Alice Wilcock – will provide some personal reflections on the future of civil society
  • A World Café session on the future of civil society research, during which participants will have an opportunity to meet and share ideas with new and experienced researchers in their field, developing social and professional networks and agendas for future research.
  • Six parallel sessions of papers, panels and workshops across the ten core Conference Streams
  • The largest ever New Researchers session, with 20 participants from a range of institutions and disciplines

The full draft programme is available here (note that this is subject to change).

*See for example to the Civil Society Strategy and Civil Society Futures


The conference aims to:

  • Contribute to evidence and theory-building in the field
  • Develop emerging research ideas
  • Inform and be informed by the work of practitioners
  • Inform and influence policy
  • To strengthen the voluntary sector research community


The conference will focus on the following streams:

  1. The Conference Track – Critical Reflections on the Future of Civil Society
  2. Democracy and grassroots voluntary action
  3. Diversity, race, (in)equality and inclusion
  4. Volunteering, participation and social action
  5. Advances in theory and methods
  6. Resources, including funding, fundraising, philanthropy, social enterprise and social investment
  7. Organisational management and governance, including law and regulation
  8. Historical perspectives on civil society, the voluntary sector and volunteering
  9. Civil society at the boundaries: relationships with the state and/or private sector
  10. Measuring civil society: outcomes, impact and social value
  11. Social housing developments (governance, discourses, commercialisation, accountability, tenant involvement)
  12. New researchers stream

New researchers

The Conference is an ideal opportunity for new or early career researcher looking to meet, discuss and present their research with other new researchers in a supportive setting. A special series of parallel sessions will be run as part of the conference for ‘new’ researchers. Attendance at this part of the conference is subsidised, and is intended for all early career researchers in the field of voluntary sector studies, whether postgraduate students or working/volunteering in the voluntary sector. Applications to the New Researchers stream are now closed, but information for attendees is available here


All delegates at the conference must pay the conference rates in order to participate, including those presenting a paper.

Delegates must book onto the conference via the Aston Business School website.


Delegate type Early bird price
(until 12 July)
Conference Dinner
Two-day member rate* £285 £310 included
Two-day non-member rate £375 £400 included
One-day member rate* £175 £200 £35
One-day non-member rate £240 £265 £35
New researcher stream* (FULL) £100 £100 included


*To qualify for the member rate or the subsidised rate for the New Researcher stream, delegates must be members of either VSSN (join here today) or from an institution which is a member of NCVO.

Best paper prizes

Campbell Adamson Memorial Prize

Each year NCVO awards a prize for the best paper submitted to the conference, in memory of the late president of NCVO’s advisory board. All papers submitted by the deadline 12 August will be considered for the Campbell Adamson Memorial prize for best paper, which includes a £500 prize.

The prize will go to the paper that best meets these criteria:

  • Research quality
  • Relevance to practice or policy
  • Accessibility of style and approach.
New Researchers Prize

Participants in the New Researchers sessions who submit a full paper prior to the start of the conference will automatically be considered for the New Researchers Prize for best paper, which includes a £100 prize.