by Duncan Scott – one of VSSN’s external affairs correspondents
On April 6th 2006, the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation hosted a day seminar about research and voluntary action. The event was publicised and supported by both VSSN and ARVAC. Aside from an obvious interest in its content, VSSN members might note that nearly all the main speakers (Pete Alcock, Angela Ellis Paine, Rob Macmillan, Lynne Russell and Duncan Scott) are active members of VSSN and three are on the Steering Group!
So, even whilst workshop sessions concentrated on such familiar topics as the evaluation of urban programmes and volunteering, as well as ‘doing’ qualitative research, it was an opportunity for VSSN to make itself more widely known to a regional audience of over 50 practitioners and academics.
In addition, the words and leaflets disseminated on the day have been reinforced by short articles in the March/April issue of the GMCVO `Journal`. These are an introduction to VSSN and a note on New Researchers within the Network respectively by Rob and Angela.
Duncan Scott (who attended on behalf of VSSN) wrote:-
On Friday Dec 2nd in Belfast over 130 people came together to celebrate the life of Jimmy Kearney, and to listen to Nicholas Deakin on the theme `Bonding, Bridging-or Dividing? Voluntary Action, Citizens and Government`.
Jimmy was clearly a remarkable, much-loved man, who contributed greatly to voluntary action both in Northern Ireland and beyond. Six speakers, from the voluntary sector, the civil service and academe (including a long-time member of VSSN, Arthur Williamson) reflected on his work as head of the Voluntary and Community unit, chair of the Volunteer Development Agency, the first Professor of Voluntary Action Studies at the University of Ulster and much more. To this (English) eye, what stood out was the close-knit nature of the Northern Irish voluntary sector. Yet, just as this generalisation appears to be a coded reference to parochiality, it quickly became clear that Jimmy Kearney`s impact was much more widely felt. In particular, it was apparent that much of the groundwork for the Compacts was undertaken by Jimmy and colleagues in Northern Ireland.
Nicholas Deakin spoke elegantly and sensitively about the potential and problems of Active Citizenship. He held the attention of an overcrowded and overheated audience for 50 minutes. What stood out were his critical hints about the complexities and contradictions of active communities. All those present could not fail to connect their direct experience of sectarian voluntary action with his remarks; these were made all the more poignant for your VSSN correspondent by his having read the lead article of the New Statesman on the morning plane. This began from a banner heading about `apartheid` in the local voluntary and community sectors. Nevertheless, Jimmy and Nicholas remained positive.
For further evidence, see Jimmy`s essays in Voluntary Action Vols 3 No 3 (2001) and Vol 6 No 1 (2003)
VSSN is now formally recognised as a charity by the Inland Revenue. It is an excepted charity recognised by the Inland Revenue, reference XR84034. The recognition is backdated to 21 May 2003 when VSSN become formally constituted. We are NOT a registered charity, but this tax status means that we can reclaim gift aid tax on donations.
On announcing this news, 4 April 2005, VSSN Treasurer and charity expert Gareth Morgan said:- “From a personal point of view this has been an interesting mini-research exercise – I knew it was theoretically possible that a charity based in England with less than £1000 income could be recognised as charity by the Inland Revenue without being registered with the Charity Commission, but I think the number of actual cases must be very small. Most cases of recognition by the Inland Revenue apply to larger excepted bodies such as churches, where charitable status is fairly self-evident, or to bodies in Scotland (pre-OSCR) and Northern Ireland. Effectively in VSSN we have a charity based in England which has gone through the Scotland/NI type of charity assessment.
I suspect before long the total income may go over £1000 p.a. (it was £933 last year), but whether we then have to become a registered charity depends on the timing of the new Charities Bill, which will increase the registration threshold to £5000.
Even so, there is the interesting issue of dual registration with OSCR which is soon coming into effect with the Scottish Charities Bill, whereby charities which operate UK-wide will potentially need to be registered in more than one domain. Much will depend on whether we decide to hold any VSSN meetings in Scotland!”
The VSSN annual report, published today, provides an account to its members on VSSN activities 21.5.03 – 31.7.04. The following extracts give a flavour of the Steering Group’s report:-
“members… have worked hard to develop an infrastructure that is both sustainable and which will allow the organisation to grow””wesawitasimportanttoestablishanumberofkeyresources” “We want VSSN to be inclusive rather than exclusive””Onedifficultdecisionwaswhethertochargeasubscription” “a discussion list…has been a resounding success” “a website for VSSN…will add enormously to what we can offer to members and others interested in our work” “We…wanted to establish the presence of VSSN as a distinctive part of the UK research community” “We are really pleased to have been co-sponsors of the conference with NCVO for the first time in 2004” “the Steering Group has sought to build a small working balance to support the development of the Network”
All members are encouraged to read the report in full, and come to the AGM prepared to hold the Steering Group to account and help shape VSSN’s next year of development.
The annual report is to be presented during VSSN’s first Annual General Meeting, to held on 27 October in the middle of the next Day Conference. You can find full details on this Web site of:-
the AGM business including the annual report and other supporting papers online [Ed: link to be added]the Day Conference 27/10/04 including abstracts [Ed: link to be added]
Following the quarterly meeting of the VSSN Steering Group, the latest steps in the emergence of the Network’s own Web site were unveiled. Plans for the Web site had been under way since VSSN began the process of formalisation in 2002. A “beta test” version had recently been evaluated by Steering Group members, and went live for the world to see.
The organisation is committed to a relatively low-key approach to its electronic activities, though, in the interests of sustainability. As VSSN Web Officer Nick Plant explained, “the Web site will rely on voluntary effort in the immediate future so we can’t afford to be over ambitious”. Nick therefore appealed for all organisers, and as many members as possible, to contribute their own material and make suggestions on continuous improvement of the new Web site, and has designed it in order to encourage this active participation by Network members.
Meanwhile, a logo for VSSN was being sought and alternative designs evaluated.
A range of alternative new VSSN logos were unveiled today for Steering Group members’ comments:-
A logo was later chosen shortlist emerging from round 1:-
The Web site you are now viewing incorporates the choice made from the shortlist – medium blue (colour 33 33 99 hex). We hope you like it!
VSSN Treasurer Gareth Morgan, writing in an individual capacity to members of the VSSN Steering Group, today mooted a voluntary sector research agenda.
“A few weeks ago someone asked me to write a short note about the nature of voluntary sector research”, Gareth said. “So in a few minutes I produced the simple taxonomy below. I am sure you can all do 900% better, but I just though that for our ‘strategic thinking’ about VSSN it might help as a very first step towards an overview of what VSSN is all about.”
Other scholars in the field on the Steering Group noted this was controversial and pointed up previous attempts to define our field. Here is what Gareth wrote:-
THE NATURE OF VOLUNTARY SECTOR RESEARCHGareth G Morgan, Sheffield Hallam University – March 2004Q: What is the role of research for the voluntary sector?
A: Research is vital to all areas of society if we are to understand the nature of our society, the causes and the trends. Research on the voluntary sector is crucial to enable the sector to be effective and to enable other stakeholders to assess how best they can work with voluntary organisations.
Voluntary sector research is, however, relatively new as a discipline. Until about 15-20 years ago there was little awareness of the distinctive nature of the sector, and hence little appreciation that research in other sectors might not be applicable to voluntary organisations. Also there was a tendency to see voluntary activity as marginal to mainstream social and economic activity, and hence not particularly worthy of research.
Today that has changed enormously, with many voluntary organisations for whom research is a significant part of their work, and increasing amounts of research for and about the sector being undertaken by universities and independent researchers.
There are many dimensions to voluntary sector research – the following is a possible initial categorisation, but clearly many other categories could be added.
(a) Research seeking to understand the nature of the sector as a whole, especially statistics on total income, staffing, figures on numbers and types of organisations, and trends in these figures.
(b) Research focused public support for charities and voluntary organisations, especially in terms of donations of time (volunteering) and money (charitable giving). Much fundraising research is in this category.
(c) Research focussed on support for charities and voluntary organisations by government and by other funding bodies. Much of this includes work on government/voluntary sector relations (national and local), also much evaluation research.
(d) Research seeking to explore the role of the voluntary sector in social policy: in particular, the key role of the sector in a way range of social inclusion initiatives. Also, much of the research on social capital is focussed on involvement in voluntary organisation.
(e) Research on the operation of voluntary organisations in relation to issues such as governance, financial management and other themes where the voluntary sector operates differently to other organisations.
(f) Research on specific classes of voluntary organisations (e.g. community associations, voluntary sector infrastructure organisations, faith-based organisations, etc).
(g) Research on service provision by voluntary organisations. Much of this does not really fall in the field of “voluntary sector research” as such but is more within medical research, educational research, sociology etc – depending on the field of the organisation’s work. Nevertheless, researchers in these areas are often seen as part of the voluntary sector research community if there are specifically looking at these issues in a voluntary context. A good deal of this research is based within specific organisations looking at their own beneficiaries – e.g. tenants of a housing association.
(h) Research concerned with regulation of the sector: charity law, accounting rules, prevention of abuse, public confidence, etc.
The above list is largely UK focused. There is also much international research on the role of NGOs.
Invitation to Join VSSNby Helen Cameron, VSSN Membership SecretaryMany of you will be aware that the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) has been in the process of gentle formalisation since last May.
As a Steering Group, we have now got to the point where we wish to invite you all to become formal members of the network. At the same time we would like to encourage you to submit (or update) details of your current research so we can update the VSSN Directory.
For any research network to gain a voice and recognition, it needs to have a good proportion of its target audience signed up as members. Our ability as a Steering Group to continue the gradual process of formalisation depends upon demonstrable support. At this stage we are not asking for a subscription but if you wish to make a donation to our modest start-up funds that will be appreciated and a receipt sent.
Here you will find the text of our membership leaflet. Or to apply online please go to our Join page which includes a pro-forma for you to submit your directory entry
If you have any questions do not hesitate to contact me as membership secretary by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any colleagues not on this list but who might be interested, please tell them.
If this invitation reaches you at a time when you are “interested but too busy”, just click on my e-mail address and say “interested”, and I will gently hassle you to join and submit a directory entry over the next couple of months.