2021 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference

Leadership, Diversity, and Civil Society

6-7 September 2021

Location: Aston University, Birmingham


Abstract submission is now closed. For details on booking a place at the conference, please see below. 

For New Researchers, please see the New Researcher webpage.

For more information, please see the conference FAQ page.


The draft programme will be available shortly.


Key Dates           

7 May 2021: Deadline for abstract submissions

14 May 2021: Extended abstract deadline

20 August 2021: Deadline for full paper submissions and for booking onto the conference

6-7 September 2021: The conference


Leadership, Diversity, and Civil Society

The voluntary sector and wider civil society find themselves under a multitude of pressures. The impact of a deadly pandemic which has cost over 2 million lives worldwide has both reduced organisation’s fundraising ability and meant their services are never more needed. The Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice orientated campaigns are contributing to a re-evaluation of the sector’s commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion, and how it may consciously or inadvertently serve to reproduce wider inequalities. Heightened conflicts within national and international politics arouse civil society’s need to lead as a space where trust, dialogue, and collaboration occur, and where the pressures of rapid social change can be ameliorated. The climate crisis cannot be solved without civil society and voluntary action.

At times, these challenges have seen the sector lead as an innovator at a local and global level. In some cases, we have perhaps witnessed a growing sense of agency as it seeks a stronger voice in defining its own role in society. How the voluntary sector shows leadership, or how its leadership needs to be recast in order to tackle these multi-faceted challenges, is a central concern. And if an increased or renewed commitment to social justice and representation is occurring, we need increased reflection and learning about how that process is taking place, to assess the internal and external role leadership should play in correcting the failures of diversity in the sector.

This conference invites participants to explore these issues. In 2021, the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference – organised by the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN), in partnership with the Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (BVSC) – will provide 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 in tackling local and global challenges; 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. These could include panels devoted to a specific issue, training sessions, and interactive and creative workshops. We are particularly keen to receive proposals for the Conference Track, 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 – Leadership, diversity, and 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. New Researchers stream

You can submit your abstract here: https://www.vssn.org.uk/conference-abstract-submission.

For New Researchers submissions, please see the New Researcher webpage.

You don’t need to present a paper to attend. When submitting abstracts, authors will be asked which streams they feel their paper will fit best within. We welcome contributions from a variety of disciplines, including sociology, social policy, politics, psychology, geography, economics, business studies, social anthropology, philosophy and ethics.

Plenary sessions

Alongside the paper sessions and workshops, the programme will include plenary sessions, with an exciting line up of soon-to-be announced keynote presentations. These will include the opportunity for roundtable sessions were participants will have the opportunity to meet and share ideas with new and experienced researchers in their field, developing social and professional networks and agendas for future research and practice.

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’ or early career 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 to submit your abstract, please see the separate New Researchers page.

Best paper prizes

Campbell Adamson Memorial Prize

Presenters who submit a full paper by the 20th August deadline will automatically be considered for the Campbell Adamson Memorial Prize for best paper, which includes a £500 prize.

Duncan Scott 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 Duncan Scott 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 joint prize from the publisher Policy Press and VSSN.

Want to find out more?

Booking a place at the VSSN conference is essential for all presenters (though you are of course welcome to attend even if not presenting).

Please use this link to access the Aston University booking site: https://store.aston.ac.uk/conferences-and-events/aston-business-school/aston-business-school-events/2021-voluntary-sector-and-volunteering-research-conference

You can also email us for more information: conference@vssn.org.uk.