Blog - 2. page

Guest blog: Researching what matters to charities and donors

Dr Helen Owen, Research Consultant at Giving Evidence, introduces a new search for ‘unanswered questions’

Though both charities and philanthropy are long-established, the academic study of them is nascent but growing rapidly: new centres have been established in various universities in the UK and beyond in recent years. There is therefore an opportunity to ensure that academic research into charities and philanthropy focuses on the issues which, arguably, are of greatest value to the people it intends to influence: charities, institutional funders, and private donors. But does it do so?

Charity Futures, the new sector think tank led by Sir Stephen Bubb, is launching a major consultation to find out the unanswered questions or topics on which donors, funders and charity leaders most want more research to help them in their vital work.

This is intended to improve the transparency on how research topics are decided. Whereas to date the choice of research topics conducted in the voluntary sector has been largely driven and dominated by the academic community, the consultation is designed to stimulate more/better research of the type that charities, funders and donors would like to see, and thereby to inform and improve their activities.

The consultation, to be carried out by the consultancy Giving Evidence, will invite input from any charity, foundation, public or private donor in the United Kingdom. Through an open ‘crowd-sourcing’ process, including a series of focus groups in London, Edinburgh, Bradford, Manchester and Cardiff, the project will challenge the sector to tell it what research would be of most use.

This approach – of engaging the intended end-users of research in the process of deciding what should be researched – is relatively new to the charity and philanthropy sectors but has proven powerful in other sectors in terms of generating research focused on the issues most salient to its intended users.

The pioneering and rigorous consultation process that Charity Futures and Giving Evidence will be undertaking is based on a process created and used by the James Lind Alliance (JLA) which works in healthcare, to allow patients affected by particular conditions, their carers and doctors to identify and prioritise unanswered questions for further research. For example, the current research on cataracts is heavy on early detection and how to improve management; however, when patients and healthcare professionals were involved in a recent JLA priority setting partnership, the top priority question for this area was how can cataracts be prevented from developing? The potential implications of the findings from this consultation are that more research will be available into the areas that can improve the effectiveness of charities.

The consultation begins this month, with focus groups in May and June. The final conclusions of the study (due in May 2019) will be a prioritised list of research questions which donors and charities have raised. It will be published and available to anybody, including academics, researchers, research funders, donors, charities and policy bodies interested in charities and philanthropy.

The project is supported by a distinguished advisory group of funders, private donors, researchers, charity leaders and umbrella bodies.

If VSSN members have any networks of practitioners that would be interested in participating in the upcoming focus group discussions, please contact Christopher Penny (Christopher@charityfutures.org) for further details and invitations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What makes for a strong Voluntary Sector Review paper? Eight points to consider

This blog post was originally published on the Policy Press blog on 18 August 2017.

 

Rob Macmillan, Nick Acheson and Bernard Harris, editors of the international Voluntary Sector Review journal, present 8 tips for submitting a strong paper. 

Rob Macmillan, Nick Acheson and Bernard Harris

As editors of Voluntary Sector Review (VSR), we attract a wide range of international article submissions, covering the whole range of topics around voluntary and community action, non-profit organisations and civil society. We often reflect on what makes for a strong paper.

Full-length research articles in VSR, normally no longer than 8,000 words in length, may focus on empirical findings, methodological issues, scholarly or theoretical inquiry, and applied analysis of relevance to practitioners and decision makers. We welcome submissions from all parts of the globe, and encourage all of our authors to highlight the international implications of their work.

We know that the whole process of submitting a paper can be daunting and onerous for authors – something you’ve been working on for a while has finally been given over for an external judgement of its potential value. Preparing a good paper for submission is an art rather than a science, and through our experience as editors and authors we have drawn together a list of eight helpful points to consider before you submit your paper.

1. What is the paper about and why is it important?

Be very clear on what the paper is about, starting with a clear statement of the issue that it addresses, together with an explanation of why the issue is of interest to and important for readers of the journal. You need to provide good reasons for readers to read on and subsequently remember your article.

2. Critical understanding of the literature

Embed the issue the paper addresses in the relevant literature, with a critical understanding of the most important and influential previous articles and books in this area.

3. Intellectual, theoretical, policy or practice context

Make sure you set out clearly the intellectual, theoretical, policy or practice context that informs the article.

4. Methods

Where you are reporting empirical findings, make sure the research design, data collection methods and analysis techniques used are described in sufficient detail for readers to be able to understand how the study might be replicated, and on what basis the conclusions are being drawn. Where prior literature provides the basis for the article (in addition to or instead of empirical findings), explain how it was sourced, selected and reviewed.

5. Key findings

Set out the key findings relevant to the issue addressed in the article in a systematic way, relating them to earlier work covered in the literature review. Authors often try to say too much here, overloading their submission with empirical findings such that the point of the article is obscured in empirical detail.

6. Contribution to knowledge

Identify the extent and ways in which the findings and discussion contribute to new empirical knowledge about the issue or better theoretical understanding of the topic. There is a balance to be struck here: be confident in the conclusions you draw, but don’t overstate the case.

7. Implications for future research, policy or practice

Draw out the implications of the study for future research, policy or practice – in the country which is the primary focus of the article, but also more broadly where appropriate.

8. Argument, structure, and signposting

Finally, check to see whether there is a clear, well-signposted, structure and thread of argument running through the paper, so that readers can quickly gain a secure sense of the paper’s development from introduction to conclusion.

On receipt of a submission, we will always make an initial editorial judgement before we send a paper out for review, and we may ask you to revise the paper before doing so. We encourage reviewers to provide constructive feedback to authors in order to help improve papers, and we will provide guidance on how to proceed if the decision is one of ‘revise and resubmit’. The peer review process can be exacting but it is rigorous and invariably leads to better quality papers.

We would encourage you to get in touch if you have an idea for a paper but are not sure of its suitability. We’ll always aim to provide helpful guidance, though, of course, we cannot provide any guarantees of publication.

If you would like to submit a paper you can find the Journal’s aims and scope, and instructions for authors on the Voluntary Sector Review website. You will also find further information about submitting Policy and Practice articles, along with details of the relevant editors for these sections.

 

More about Voluntary Sector Review

To submit an article consult our instructions for authors.

For news about all the latest issues and free articles sign up for our e-newsletter and follow the journal on Twitter @VSRjournal

Ask your librarian to subscribe or sign up for a free institutional trial.

ChangeUp ten years on – where next?

[This blog is by Rob Macmillan, a VSSN Steering Group member. It originally appeared on the VSSN discussion list]

What were you up to ten years ago?

On 24th June 2004, it was cold, windy and wet over much of the country, Britney Spears was at Number 1 in the charts, and, plus ca change, later that evening the England football team would exit another international football competition.

Fiona Mactaggart, meanwhile, then in the Home Office as the Minister for the Voluntary and Community Sector, was out and about visiting voluntary organisations in Gloucester. She was there to launch ChangeUp, the government’s ten year framework for capacity building and infrastructure.

ChangeUp was developed, along with the social investment programme Futurebuilders, out of the Treasury’s 2002 cross cutting review of the role of the voluntary sector in public service delivery. It was based on the idea that many frontline voluntary and community organisations could not achieve their potential because of difficulties in accessing support and expertise. The high-level aim of ChangeUp was that:

by 2014 the needs of frontline voluntary and community organisations will be met by support which is available nationwide, structured for maximum efficiency, offering excellent provision which is accessible to all while reflecting and promoting diversity, and is sustainably fundedChangeUp, p.7

ChangeUp was supposed to be a ‘catalytic’ programme, aiming to change the nature of services and support, rather than just keep existing services going. The term ‘ChangeUp’ itself derives from baseball. With delicious irony, a changeup is a type of mischievous pitch:

“In addition to the unexpectedly slow velocity, the changeup can also possess a significant amount of movement, which can bewilder the batter even further. The very best changeups utilize both deception and movement”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Changeup

What followed from 2004 was the heady world of local and regional infrastructure consortia, infrastructure investment plans, national hubs focusing on specific areas, such as finance and performance, and then national support services. Around £230m had been spent on the strategy by 2011, when Capacitybuilders, the agency eventually charged with its delivery, was closed down.

Oh, those were the days. So, take a look around you. Ten years on, do we have the kind of infrastructure across the country that ChangeUp was aiming for? If your answer veers towards ‘no’ (as I suspect it might), why not? Here’s a list of provisional theories – what’s yours?

  • Were the aims and expectations ever realistic?
  • Was there enough money, or too much, or was it used properly?
  • Was it too bureaucratic and managerial in its approach and arrangements?
  • Was there sufficient and sustained political will to support the programme?
  • Was it derailed by recession and austerity?
  • Was it using a fundamentally flawed ‘supply side’ model, rather than channelling resources directly to frontline organisations?
  • Something else?

The legacy of programmes like ChangeUp is a really interesting question. In your neck of the woods, in what ways is the current pattern of infrastructure support a reflection of ChangeUp investment and activity? What endures now? What stories do we now tell about what it was like, and what difference it made?

Clearly it is a more challenging and unsettled environment now for both the voluntary sector and particularly for its support infrastructure. This raises some very difficult questions, in active consideration at the moment:

  • What are our current approaches to, and investment in, infrastructure?
  • With these, are we heading towards or away from the basic aim of ChangeUp?
  • What do we want from the sector’s support infrastructure?
  • What needs to be done now and in the next few years?

Please do share your experiences and reflections about ChangeUp (on the VSSN discussion list or directly to me at r.macmillan@bham.ac.uk)