11th September 2024 - 12th September 2024 (All Day)

London , United Kingdom

Voice of the people? Democracy, representation, and involvement in and through the voluntary sector and volunteering

Wednesday – Thursday, 11-12 September 2024

Location: Bayes Business School, City, University of London, London, UK


Call for Papers  

With political elections both in the UK and around the world, 2024 marks a year of challenge and opportunity for the voluntary sector in relation to its engagement with communities and role within democracy.

Recent events such as the COVID-19 crisis, war in Ukraine and the Middle East, and cost of living pressures, have seen a renewed focus on the way voluntary sector organisations are able to respond to challenges at local, national, and international levels, often working alongside those in the public and for-profit sectors.

At the same time, the sector is facing challenges to its position as primary community representative and preferred route of community engagement as a result of the growth of alternative forms of citizen involvement in public life, for example through advances in technology and through direct action.

Similarly, the diversity of the sector means that overall judgements and assumptions about ways of working are difficult to substantiate and many organisations lack the capacity, skills, or inclination to engage with broader discussions about their place in democracy. Many organisations actively shy away from political or value-based discussions and instead focus on their service offer and immediate service user need.

This situation exists despite the voluntary sector and volunteering being seen as vital elements of societal democracy, notably by surfacing and communicating issues that may not otherwise be acknowledged, and addressing issues and topics that would otherwise be neglected.

This leaves us with a variety of questions including: how legitimate is the sector’s position in both representing and engaging with communities? How do voluntary sector organisations engage in political debates? What is the sector’s usefulness in democratic systems? What is the relationship between volunteering and democracy? What standards of democracy should voluntary sector organisations themselves be held to? And, ultimately, can the sector truly act as the ‘voice of the people’?

This conference invites participants to explore these issues, whilst also hearing about the latest research covering a wide range of topics relating to the voluntary sector and volunteering. The Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference 2024 is organised by the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN), in partnership with Voluntary Action Islington (VAI), and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). It is hosted by the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at Bayes Business School, City, University of London. 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.

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 – Voice of the People?
  • Diversity, (in)equality and inclusion
  • Current and recent crises 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


Abstract submission

Submit your abstract here by the deadline, 8 May 2024.

You can submit an abstract for the following types of sessions:

  • Individual paper: Individual papers focus on presenting findings from research relating to any one of the conference themes. They can include multiple authors/presenters, but focus on one specific topic. The conference organising committee will group together 3 or 4 individual papers in to paper sessions. Abstracts for individual papers should cover the following: context; research question(s); research method(s); research findings; policy, practice or academic implications.
  • Panel session: A panel session brings together a group of presenters under a common theme. It is the organiser’s responsibility to identify and coordinate all panel members, including the chair. The organiser is free to decide on the exact format of the panel session, but they typically consist of three or four speakers presenting on the given topic, followed by an open discussion between the panel members and audience. Abstracts should be submitted by the panel session organiser, and must provide a title, an overview of the topic to be discussed by the panel, and the name and contributions (brief summary) to be made by each individual panel member. Submissions must have the approval of all panel members prior to submission.
  • Workshops: Workshops provide the opportunity for more interactive sessions. It is the workshop-lead’s responsibility to decide upon the exact format, to coordinate any contributors, and to facilitate the workshop discussion. Abstracts should be submitted by the workshop-lead, and must provide a title, details of the workshop topic and anticipated format. If the workshop involves contributions from other speakers, full details must be provided within the abstract submission.

When submitting abstracts, authors will be asked which stream(s) they feel their paper/panel/workshop will best fit within.

We welcome contributions from those working in the voluntary sector and civil society, and research from a variety of disciplines, including sociology, social policy, politics, psychology, geography, economics, business studies, law, anthropology, philosophy and ethics and beyond!


Key dates

8 May 2024 Deadline for abstract submissions
22 July 2024 Early bird rate ends
16 August 2024 Conference booking closes
Deadline for full paper submissions
10 September 2024 New Researchers’ Stream welcome event
11-12 September 2024 The conference


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.


New / Early Career Researchers

The Conference is an ideal opportunity for new or early career researchers looking to meet, discuss and present their research with other new researchers in a supportive setting. A special conference welcome event will run on Tuesday, 10 September, for newer researchers and students to meet, network, and gain support from the VSSN community. New researchers can choose to present papers either on this day or within the main conference. The New Researchers’ stream is intended for all early career researchers in the field of voluntary sector/volunteering studies. Our definition is inclusive of students, those new to an academic career, practitioners, and those in-between. Attendance at the conference is subsidised for New Researchers. For more details about how the New Researchers’ stream works, please visit: https://www.vssn.org.uk/new-researchers-stream/



Bookings for the conference will open in May. You do not need to present a paper to attend. Registration details will be provided shortly.


Best paper prizes

Campbell Adamson Memorial Prize

Presenters who submit a full paper by the 16 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 16 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, email us for more information: vsvrconference@gmail.com, or you can visit our website: www.vssn.org.uk.