Many of the voluntary sector’s contributions evolve far beyond the gaze and reach of public policy commentators. At the same time, the activities of a significant number of organisations ranging from such familiar national players as Greenpeace, Age Concern and Oxfam to the smallest community associations and local clubs are developing with varying degrees of proximity to the State. They are subject to unprecedented public scrutiny, bound up with wider debates on ‘partnership’, ‘compacts’ and the like.
VSSN seeks to encourage research on organisations in both situations, in what is one of the most rapidly evolving fields of social, economic and political life. The roots of the network were in an ESRC-funded seminar series during the period 1993-1995, at which there was agreement among the participants that similar events should continue since there was a demand for an academic forum for collegiate discussion of voluntary sector/voluntary action research.
Founders Peter Halfpenny, Margaret Harris and Duncan Scott documented the history in more detail (in December 2005) as follows:-
“The roots of the network were in an ESRC-funded seminar series hosted by Margaret Harris and Colin Rochester at the LSE’s Centre for Voluntary Organisation during the period 1993-1995. The series was entitled ‘Challenges for Voluntary Agencies in a Changing Social Policy Environment’. This series brought together most of the known academics and doctoral students working in the broad area of voluntary/third/non-profit sector studies in the UK. When the series finished, there was agreement among the participants that similar events should continue since there was a demand for an academic forum for collegiate discussion of voluntary sector/voluntary action research.
“Rather than construct a formal organisation, it was agreed to form a network which would operate on a collegiate basis. Members of the network would take it in turns to host seminars which would be held about twice a year and at which there would be at least two papers presented. It was suggested that local hosts should draw in local colleagues and thereby enlarge the network membership. Continuity would be maintained by means of two host folders containing mailing lists and guidelines, which would be passed between hosts. At each meeting a host would be chosen for the event after next one.
“The first meeting of the Voluntary Sector Studies Network took place on 6 March 1996 at the University of Manchester hosted by Duncan Scott and Peter Halfpenny. Meetings have continued twice yearly ever since, with members taking turns to host. At each meeting, the host for the next-but-one meeting of the network is identified.
“At the meeting in May 2001, it was agreed to rotate meeting places between central London and other easily accessible venues in the North of England and the Midlands. The two host folders were replaced by three electronic files sent by email to the organisers of future meetings. These files comprised the host guidelines, the mailing list and the historical record of meetings, and they were kept up to date by Peter Halfpenny. In due course, when the email list was introduced thanks to the efforts of Jill Mordaunt, the need for a separate mailing list file disappeared, as all communications across the Network now take place via the email list. Subsequently, when the VSSN website was developed by Nick Plant in 2004, the VSSN historical record was moved from a separate file onto the website and, later, the host guidance notes were too.”