Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research e-Conference 2020
For two days over 7th-8th September the annual Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research (VSVR) Conference was held online. For more than 20 years the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has partnered with the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) to run this conference and this year the Birmingham Voluntary Sector Centre for Voluntary Action (BVSC) also joined this collaborative effort.
The theme of this first e-conference was ‘‘Times like these’: Researching civil society responses to and recovery from COVID-19’ and we were really pleased at the response from practitioners and academics presenting up-to-date research on the current situation and recovery from the pandemic. The programme comprised two plenaries and two sessions on each of four themes, a session with the Editors of Voluntary Sector Review and two book launches.
Professor Tracey Coule and Associate Professor Chris Dayso launched the conference by considering theoretical frames to consider civil society’s responses to Covid-19. Themes that emerged included the way we frame civil society-government relationships and mutual aid groups, which indeed became recurring themes throughout the conference. These themes, as well as how civil society organisations have reformed and changed their practice, were also carried forward to the plenary on Day 2 with presentations by Karl Wilding (NCVO) Anna Fowlie (Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations) Brian Carr (BVSC) & Affan Cheema (Islamic Relief Worldwide). Carolyn Cordery who chaired the session ably assisted by Jon Dean.
A focus on volunteer mobilisation to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic brought papers from England, Scotland, Wales and British Columbia. And, while much mobilisation depends on organisations, the pandemic has seen returns to neighbourly volunteering and the geography of voluntary action being disrupted. The second volunteering session focused more on the experience of volunteering during the pandemic, from volunteer and organisational perspectives .
Philanthropy, fundraising and funding issues were the topic of session 1a and to some extent the cross-cutting issues in Session 3b. The research presented in these sessions was very varied, considering issues such as financial vulnerability and good grant making, the effects of furloughing on fundraisers, as well as governance, the role of local infrastructure and how social services data can help researchers understand Covid-19 responses.
As Covid-19 has had such a huge impact on society, it was unsurprising that two sessions discussed research taking ‘micro, meso and macro perspectives’ on voluntary organisations and Covid-19. Again with papers from England and Scotland, these sessions considered responses from local and national organisations working with homelessness, criminal justice, poverty and community businesses, as well as highlighting the lived experience of people.
Picking up the theme of mutual aid, two sessions considered both the conceptual insights and those from the frontline. These focussed on such issues as democratic participation, the influence of international responses on local mutual aid groups, neighbourhoods and umbrella organisations.
While we missed being able to chat to each other and presenters physically, as we would have done in a physical conference, the e-conference was a great experience and opportunity to share cutting edge research with a wider range of people than would otherwise have been possible, both engaging people who are physically distant from the UK and through social media. The sessions were recorded and can be found at: https://www.vssn.org.uk/2020-vsvr-online-conference-session-videos/. The next VSVR Conference is scheduled for 6th-7th September 2021 in Birmingham. We hope to see you there!