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Bookings open – Youth social action: What do we know about young people’s participation?

VSSN is holding its next day conference on 22nd November 2016 at the University of Birmingham.

The theme is ‘Youth social action: What do we know about young people’s participation?’ and the five papers being presented explore subjects such as the National Citizenship Service, young feminist online activism, alienation and transition.

Visit our event page for the full programme including abstracts and speaker biographies.

Booking deadline: 8th November

Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference 2015: Call for papers open!


8th-9th September 2015


The annual voluntary sector and volunteering research conference will be taking place on 8th – 9th September 2015 at Leeds Beckett University in the UK and the call for papers is now open!

VSSN have again partnered with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) to organise the conference, which draws academics, practitioners and policy makers from across the UK and internationally.

We’ve worked hard this year to reach out to a wide range of people. It’s an interdisciplinary conference which will be of interest to all those researching issues related to voluntary organisations and volunteering. This might include disciplines such as social policy, geography, economics, psychology or politics but is completely open.  You absolutely don’t, however, need to be a researcher based within a University to get involved and we’re really keen to receive abstracts from those with backgrounds in voluntary sector organisations, policy, think tanks and consultancy.

You can submit a paper, or propose a whole session. We would welcome papers presenting research regarding any aspect of the voluntary sector and volunteering, but here are some themes we’re particularly keen to receive submissions on:

  • Civil society and democracy: new challenges and opportunities?
  • Volunteering and participation in times of change: past, present and future?
  • Grassroots voluntary activity in challenging times: past perspectives and new forms?
  • Diversity, inequalities and the voluntary sector: uneven engagement and impacts?
  • Social welfare and voluntary services: evolving relationships between civil society, the state and the market?
  • Funding the future? Funding, fundraising and philanthropy in challenging times
  • Voluntary sector governance and management: relationships within and across organisations
  • Education and training in and on the voluntary sector: what do we know? What do we need?
  • New directions in theoretical debates and research methods: learning from diverse perspectives?

The deadline for abstracts is on .

More details about the conference, including how to submit your paper.

We hope to receive an abstract from you, and to see you at the conference!

New edition of Voluntary Sector Review

Just out! The latest issue of Voluntary Sector Review. This is perhaps one of the best benefits of being a member of VSSN.

This issue has research articles covering: ‘Growing philanthropy through Collaboration: Giving circles…’ (Angela Eikenberry et al); ‘The Role of Cultural Capital in Explaining who Volunteers’ (Naomi Harflett); ‘Towards Community Engagement…’ (Gina Rossi et al); Enhancing Service Development…through do-design’ (Busayawan Lam et al).

There is a policy review by James Rees (‘New ‘new localism or the emperor’s new clothes…’), a practice paper examining ‘The BME Third Sector: marginalised and exploited’ (Mary Tilki er al).

Short of time to read a book? Read book reviews of Michael Edwards’s ‘Civil Society and the Oxford Handbook of Civil Society’ (Pete Alcock); Georgina Brewis’s ‘Social History of Student Volunteering…’ (Clare Holdsworth) and James Hinton’s ‘The Mass Observers: A history…’ (reviewed by Duncan Scott).

There’ll be more details and links on the website soon, but VSSN members will receive their copy in the post soon.

Not a member? Get your copy (as well as many other benefits) by joining today.

Welcome to the new VSSN website

Welcome to the latest update of the VSSN website. It’s very much evolution rather than revolution. VSSN was slightly spread out across the web, with a main website and a separate membership directory, and separate content for new members.

We’ve brought all of these together in one place in the updated site. As a network, VSSN is its members, so we’ve put members at the heart of the site. Each member has their own profile, and is listed in the members directory. When you’re logged in you’ll get discounts on events and you can also search the directory for members with similar interests.

We’re also bringing the research that VSSN members do to the fore. All the papers from our day conferences and annual conference will be available on the site, and we’ll also be asking VSSN members to write blogs about the work they’re doing. The first blog post is from Rob Macmillan.

The new site is very much just a beginning. There’s lots of functionality that we haven’t yet activated – groups, discussions, the ability to list your own research papers. We’ll be working with members over the next few months to see what would be most useful for them.

We also need your help. The website has been created almost entirely voluntarily, and there are still some rough edges. So if you see something that’s broken or could be improved, do let us know, either by emailing, leaving a comment below, or filling in a bug report.

For the techy amongst you the website has been moved to WordPress, and we’ve also made use of BuddyPress and the Events Manager plugin. Hope you find the new site useful!

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”

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