12th September 2023 - 13th September 2023

Action, Difference, and Change in Local Civil Society

2023 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference

Tuesday 12 – Wednesday 13 September 2023

Location: Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK

Abstract submission is now closed

We are pleased to say that booking for the conference is now open via the Sheffield Hallam University Store: https://store.shu.ac.uk/conferences-and-events/central-services/events/voluntary-sector-and-volunteering-research-conference-2023.

Provisional programme: : https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zaHICn2Rs2Kagm4iAX7lWLMSP-kZAtA9/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=112049576044860756554&rtpof=true&sd=true

Questions? Email vsvrconference@gmail.com

FAQs: https://www.vssn.org.uk/voluntary-sector-and-volunteering-research-conference-2023-faqs/

8 May 2023 Deadline for abstract submissions
21 July 2023 Early bird rate ends
18 August 2023 Conference booking closes

Deadline for full paper submissions

12-13 September 2023 The conference

Call for Papers  

Action, difference, and change in local civil society

Community is the nourishing antidote to the individualised life. While loneliness and isolation can be alleviated by long-distance phone and video calls, the value of local, in-person connections cannot be overstated. National or local government interventions like the levelling up programme, community wealth building projects such as the ‘Preston model’, and calls to build ‘15-minute neighbourhoods’, alongside the establishment of think tanks and a renewed media focus on regional inequalities and town-led development, show that there is a groundswell of attention towards how the local needs investment, capacity, and freedom to thrive.

Civil society, stretching from large formal organisations to informal everyday action and activism, needs to be part of these conversations. The Covid-19 pandemic showed, and continues to show, the central value of local voluntary action and the (re-)emergence of and interest in mutual aid. Within the voluntary sector, strong local infrastructure enables communities to influence decision-making, builds partnerships and networks, and encourages volunteering opportunities. When support is accessible locally, individuals and communities can prosper, but we know that what this action looks like differs across localities, partly driven by inequalities and structures, with diverse approaches to engaging those in need and policy practitioners in different places.

Critically, we can also ask whether local or regional voluntary sectors are truly helping put power, resources and decision-making into the hands of local communities, and what role local groups have in transformation and empowerment at community level. Co-production has become central to how many in civil society think, but what does that mean in different areas, and what does enriching co-production look like? Similarly, small and medium-sized charities have been shown to be a vital part of everyday life in local communities, with research demonstrating the value of these organisations in enabling people to get by, especially at a time of inter-locking crises. Local voluntary action has multiple diverse histories, that can tell us about how to tackle the problems of today and the future.

This conference invites participants to explore these issues. The Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference 2023 is organised by the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN), in partnership with Voluntary Action Sheffield (VAS), and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). It 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 civil society.

Our Conference Track invites research contributions focused on ‘Action, difference, and change in local civil society’. These could include: specific case studies of local voluntary action; historical accounts of local change; comparative studies of localities; protest and activism within specific communities; cross-sector collaborations; geographical and place-based mapping; action research with local groups; and many other forms of project.

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. We are particularly keen to receive proposals for the Conference Theme, but also welcome papers that address any issues relevant to volunteering and the voluntary sector, aligned to the following streams:

  • The Conference Theme – Action, difference, and change in local civil society
  • Diversity, (in)equality and inclusion
  • The Covid-19 pandemic and voluntary action
  • Democracy and grassroots voluntary action
  • Volunteering, participation and social action
  • Advances in theory and methods
  • Resources, including funding, fundraising, philanthropy, social enterprise, and social investment
  • Organisational management and governance, including law and regulation
  • Historical perspectives on civil society, the voluntary sector and volunteering
  • Measuring civil society: outcomes, impact and social value


We are pleased to say that booking for the conference is now open via the Sheffield Hallam University Store: https://store.shu.ac.uk/conferences-and-events/central-services/events/voluntary-sector-and-volunteering-research-conference-2023.

Early Bird rates for the conference are in place until 21st July, when prices will increase.

There are different price rates for Members (of VSSN, NCVO, or VAS), non-Members, and Concessions, and one-day or two-day attendance.

If you are booking at the member rate, please make sure you are a member of VSSN, VAS, or NCVO. Membership with VSSN starts at £35 and is available here: www.vssn.org.uk/join. The Concessionary rate is for VSSN members from small organisations (<£500k income), unwaged, students, new researchers, or retired.

If you have any questions at this stage, please do not hesitate to contact us at: vsvrconference@gmail.com.

Pricing Structure

Category Early-Bird Price (until 21 July) Standard Price (until 18 August)
Two day rates (includes conference dinner):
Members (of VSSN, NCVO, VAS) £270 £340
Concessionary rate* £140 £190
Non-Members £380 £420
One day rates (conference dinner is extra):
Members (of VSSN, NCVO, VAS) £150 £180
Non-Members £200 £230
Concessionary rate* £80 £110
Conference Dinner (optional) £35 £35

*For VSSN members from small organisations (<£500k income), unwaged, students, new researchers, retired, including conference dinner.

Two day rate includes welcome workshop from approx. 12-4 on Monday 11th for students and new researchers.

Plenary sessions

Alongside the paper sessions and workshops, the programme will include plenary sessions, with an exciting line up of keynote presentations. These will include the opportunity for roundtable sessions where 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.

This year our plenary speakers include:

  • Dr Caitlin McMullin, Associate Professor of Public Administration at Aalborg University in Denmark, and the author of the recent book Non-profit Organizations and Co-production: The Logics Shaping Professional and Citizen Collaboration.
  • Maddy Desforges OBE, Chief Executive of the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action, and previously Chief Executive of Voluntary Action Sheffield.

More plenary speakers will be confirmed soon.

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 conference welcome event will run on Monday 11th September for newer researchers and students to meet, network, and gain support from the VSSN community. Attendance at the conference is subsidised and is intended for all early career researchers in the field of voluntary sector/volunteering studies, whether postgraduate students or those working/volunteering in the voluntary sector. For more details about how the New Researchers Stream works, please visit here: https://www.vssn.org.uk/2023-new-researcher-stream/

Best paper prizes

Campbell Adamson Memorial Prize

Presenters who submit a full paper by the 18 August deadline will automatically be considered for the Campbell Adamson Memorial Prize for best paper, which includes a £300 prize sponsored by NCVO.

Duncan Scott New Researchers Prize

Participants in the New Researchers sessions who submit a full paper by the 18 August deadline 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 third annual Voluntary Sector Review Best Article Prize awarded, with the authors of the winning article receiving a joint £300 prize from the publisher Policy Press and VSSN.

Want to find out more?

Booking for the conference will open shortly. In the meantime, you can email us for more information: vsvrconference@gmail.com, or you can visit our website: www.vssn.org.uk.