14th May 2008

University of the West of England, Bristol , United Kingdom

The Spring 2008 Day Conference took place at the University of the West of England in Bristol. It was well-attended, with 33 participants and lively discussions after each paper. The day opened with Jo Howard and John Lever from the host institution presenting findings from their comparative study of the experience of non-government organisations in governance and partnership working. They drew on the theories of Pierre Bourdieu and particularly the critique developed by Nick Crossley, which offers a more optimistic view of the potential for change than Bourdieu. Using Crossley’s concept of a ‘radical habitus’, they compared the context for participation in Bulgaria, Nicaragua and the UK to suggest how this affected people’s disposition to participate.Hans Schlappa continued the cross-national theme by discussing the impact of EU funding on organisations in Berlin, Belfast and Bristol. Drawing on his PhD research at Aston University, he argued that co-production was a more appropriate term for a relationship that is more than partnership but less than incorporation, with the Programme Manager a particularly important player in this relationship. However, he argued that a commissioning approach undermined the potential of this relationship. Both papers highlighted the complexity of relationships both with the state and between the individual and the organisation.

Following these two papers there was a short business meeting. Brief reports were provided on current membership members, the Network’s financial position, progress in developing a new journal and engagement with the ESRC Knowledge Transfer team. The main business was to vote on a proposed amendment to the Network’s constitution. This would extend the term of office of elected Steering Group members from one year to three and limit their eligibility to a maximum of six consecutive years of office. The proposal was carried without dissent by the members present. The morning ended with the usual informal exchange of information, with members reporting on the establishment of the ESRC Centre for Charitable and Philanthropy, forthcoming events and other activities.

After lunch, Pat Jones presented her CASE funded research (University of Birmingham) on refugee organisations, exploring the value of the concepts of social capital and community cohesion. She highlighted the enormous reserves of social and ‘experiential’ capital on which theses organisations can draw and the skills that volunteers bring with them, but also the problems associated with mobility, language and cultural barriers. She argued that there was a case for these organisations to get the kind of recognition accorded to more mainstream organisations, such as tenants’ organisations.

Pat’s paper was followed by a presentation from Stefan Simanowitz, who is National Compact Voice Officer for Compact Voiced based at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. Stefan reported on research carried out to explore voluntary organisations’ views on the impact of the Compact, suggesting that perhaps the Compact had done more for the sector than people realised. There are still challenges of implementation but Stefan also challenged the sector and its members to become ‘active constructors’ of the Compact and to learn to operate it to its full potential.

The final paper, presented by Anton Bradburn and Jenny Harrow from Cass Business School at City University, explored the concept of ‘grant rage’ – a topic that struck a chord with many participants, since researchers are themselves part of the grant-seeking world. They argued that communications between grantmakers and grantseekers at the point of grant refusal were about much more than ‘just saying No nicely’ and pointed out that sometimes trying to support organisations who had been refused a grant opened the grantmaker up to more challenge. The discussion highlighted the need to look at context, not only commenting that different rationales for refusal might affect grantseekers’ responses but also the fact that rage might be a perfectly rational response to decisions that were seen as irrational.