2021 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference

IMPORTANT NOTICE: 2020 Conference update

Unfortunately, current circumstances mean that we have had to postpone the previous arrangements for the 2020 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference at Aston University. This conference will now go ahead in early September 2021. This feels like the only reasonable choice given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, we are pleased to announce VSSN and NCVO will be partnering to host a virtual conference – ‘Times Like These’: Researching civil society responses to and recovery from COVID-19 – to be hosted digitally across the 7th and 8th September.

The following information has been left in place for reference, ready for the 2021 conference:


Call for papers

Leading and changing in critical times: civil society responses to external and internal challenges

The voluntary sector and wider civil society are currently facing complex pressures. One is to respond to wide social challenges of increased inequality and poverty, tensions from rapid social change, and multi-faceted conflicts within international politics. At times these challenges have seen the sector lead as an innovator at a local and global level, and perhaps a growing sense of agency as it seeks a stronger voice in defining its own role in society. At the same time, the sector is facing intense internal critique around its apparent inability to challenge power structures, which hold voluntary organisations back as spaces for true diversity and inclusion, revealed by campaigns such as #aidtoo and #charitysowhite.

This conference invites participants to explore these issues. 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 for the sector’s future as a site of social leadership and social justice.

In support of this our Conference Track invites contributions focused on how civil society is offering leadership, innovation, and agency in redefining how it responds to challenges, and how the voluntary sector and volunteering can challenge the inequality that currently shapes them. These could include, for example: local voluntary sectors as spaces of place leadership; inequalities in volunteering participation, charity trusteeship and workforce; the presence of and challenges to racism, sexism, classism and other inequalities; the changing relationship to public service delivery and partnership with other sectors; the sector as social pioneer and innovator; and many others.

Aims and streams

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

We welcome submissions for individual papers, panel sessions and workshops. We are particularly keen to receive proposals for the Conference Track that address external and internal challenges, but we do also welcome papers that address a range of issues relevant to volunteering and the voluntary sector, aligned to the following streams:

  1. The Conference Track – Leading and changing in critical times
  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. New Researchers stream

Submitting an abstract

Abstract submission for the 2021 conference has been postponed and will reopen next year. Please see this page for details of the 2020 e-conference.

Plenary sessions

To be confirmed.

New researchers

The Conference is an ideal opportunity for new or early career researchers 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. For more details about how the New Researchers session works and how to submit a proposal for this stream, please click here.

Best paper prizes

Campbell Adamson Memorial Prize

Presenters who submit a full paper by the deadline yet to be set will automatically be considered for the Campbell Adamson Memorial Prize for best paper, which includes a £500 prize.

New Researchers Prize

Participants in the New Researchers sessions who submit a full paper by the  deadline yet to be set will automatically be considered for the New Researchers Prize for best paper, which includes a £100 prize.

Voluntary Sector Review Best Article Prize

The conference will also see the inaugural Voluntary Sector Review Best Article Prize awarded, with the authors of the winning article receiving a voucher from the publisher Policy Press and a year’s free subscription to the journal.


Booking for the conference will not open until next year but in the meantime you can email us for more information.