VSSN Steering Group and VSR Editorial Management Board nominations

Nominations for places on the VSSN Steering Group and the Editorial Management Board (EMB) of our journal, Voluntary Sector Review, have now been received.

In each case, the number of nominations did not exceed the number of vacant places, so an election was not required.

Click to read the candidate statements for the VSSN Steering Group and Editorial Management Board.

Angela Ellis-Paine, Co-Chair of the VSSN Steering Group:

“We were delighted to receive three nominations for the VSSN Steering Group. All the nominations were from current Steering Group members who had either come to the end of their first term of office or who had previously been co-opted members. You can read their nomination statements here.

With three nominations for three vacancies, the elections were uncontested and all three will be warmly welcomed back on to the Steering Group at our AGM in November. Chris, Chris and Jon have already made considerable contributions to VSSN, and we look forward to continuing to work with them over the next three years”

Daiga Kamerade, Chair of the Voluntary Sector Review Editorial Management Board:

“We received three nominations for the places on the Editorial Management Board: Mike Hemmings (York St. John University, UK ), Rita Mano (University of Haifa, Israel), and Jon Dean (Sheffield Hallam University, UK). You can read their nomination statements here. With three nominations for three vacancies, the elections were uncontested and we look forward to their contribution to the Board over the next three years.”

Call for nominations: VSSN Steering Group and Voluntary Sector Review Editorial Management Group

Would you like to support the work of VSSN more actively? Do you have ideas about how you’d like to see the network develop?

If so, please consider nominating yourself for a place on either or both of:

  • the VSSN Steering Group
  • the Editorial Management Board (EMB) of Voluntary Sector Review, the journal produced by VSSN with Policy Press

It is a self-nomination process; you do not need to be nominated by someone else.

Simply complete the VSSN Steering Group nomination form and/or the Voluntary Sector Review Editorial Management Board nomination form and return by email by 19th October.

You must be a paid-up member of VSSN by 22nd October in order to nominate yourself.  New members are welcome!

If you would like to be more involved but don’t want to join the Steering Group or Editorial Management Board, there are other voluntary roles which are equally valuable and help us develop our networks and activities. For example, we would welcome help with moderating the VSSN email discussion list.  This is an important role but not an onerous one. It would only take a few minutes of your time each week and full training will be available if required.  If you are interested in finding out more about this role please contact me at a.ellispaine@bham.ac.uk.

More information about the roles and the election process here. We look forward to receiving your nomination.

Conference bookings now open, with big discounts for VSSN members!

Bookings are now open for the 2018 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference conference, with big discounts for VSSN members.

Organised by VSSN in partnership with NCVO, this conference provides a unique opportunity for academics, policy makers and practitioners from the UK and further afield to come together to share and discuss research that addresses the conference theme, as well as broader issues facing the voluntary sector and volunteering at this time.

This year’s theme is ‘Trust, transparency and accountability of charities and voluntary organisations: challenges for policy, practice and research‘.

Early bird rates now available. Find out more about the conference and book your place here.

Guest blog: Researching what matters to charities and donors

Dr Helen Owen, Research Consultant at Giving Evidence, introduces a new search for ‘unanswered questions’

Though both charities and philanthropy are long-established, the academic study of them is nascent but growing rapidly: new centres have been established in various universities in the UK and beyond in recent years. There is therefore an opportunity to ensure that academic research into charities and philanthropy focuses on the issues which, arguably, are of greatest value to the people it intends to influence: charities, institutional funders, and private donors. But does it do so?

Charity Futures, the new sector think tank led by Sir Stephen Bubb, is launching a major consultation to find out the unanswered questions or topics on which donors, funders and charity leaders most want more research to help them in their vital work.

This is intended to improve the transparency on how research topics are decided. Whereas to date the choice of research topics conducted in the voluntary sector has been largely driven and dominated by the academic community, the consultation is designed to stimulate more/better research of the type that charities, funders and donors would like to see, and thereby to inform and improve their activities.

The consultation, to be carried out by the consultancy Giving Evidence, will invite input from any charity, foundation, public or private donor in the United Kingdom. Through an open ‘crowd-sourcing’ process, including a series of focus groups in London, Edinburgh, Bradford, Manchester and Cardiff, the project will challenge the sector to tell it what research would be of most use.

This approach – of engaging the intended end-users of research in the process of deciding what should be researched – is relatively new to the charity and philanthropy sectors but has proven powerful in other sectors in terms of generating research focused on the issues most salient to its intended users.

The pioneering and rigorous consultation process that Charity Futures and Giving Evidence will be undertaking is based on a process created and used by the James Lind Alliance (JLA) which works in healthcare, to allow patients affected by particular conditions, their carers and doctors to identify and prioritise unanswered questions for further research. For example, the current research on cataracts is heavy on early detection and how to improve management; however, when patients and healthcare professionals were involved in a recent JLA priority setting partnership, the top priority question for this area was how can cataracts be prevented from developing? The potential implications of the findings from this consultation are that more research will be available into the areas that can improve the effectiveness of charities.

The consultation begins this month, with focus groups in May and June. The final conclusions of the study (due in May 2019) will be a prioritised list of research questions which donors and charities have raised. It will be published and available to anybody, including academics, researchers, research funders, donors, charities and policy bodies interested in charities and philanthropy.

The project is supported by a distinguished advisory group of funders, private donors, researchers, charity leaders and umbrella bodies.

If VSSN members have any networks of practitioners that would be interested in participating in the upcoming focus group discussions, please contact Christopher Penny (Christopher@charityfutures.org) for further details and invitations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Call for papers – New Researchers Sessions

2018 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference – New Researchers Sessions

The New Researchers Sessions run alongside the annual Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference, which this year is taking place in London on 6th and 7th September.

The Call for Papers for the New Researchers Sessions is now open. The deadline for submissions is 9th May.

The aim of the sessions is to give new researchers (i.e. those who are new to research or who are new to the voluntary sector) an opportunity to:

  • present their research
  • get constructive feedback in a supportive environment
  • meet other new researchers and network
  • network with established researchers and practitioners

These events are organised by the Voluntary Studies Sector Network (VSSN) and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).

The deadline for abstract submissions is 9th May. There is also an opportunity to be considered for the Campbell Adamson Memorial (New Researchers) Prize.

For more information, download the full call for papers.

Call for papers: VSSN Day Conference, May 2018

Developing innovative approaches to tackling complex social problems – opportunities and challenges

VSSN’s next day conference will take place on 9th May 2018, hosted by York Business School, York Saint John University.

Academic and media commentary on charities and civil society organisations often presents a pessimistic view of organisations facing many challenges, whether due to funding constraints, loss of autonomy and public trust, and reputational damage following links to public scandals. While a critical analysis of the voluntary sector role in shoring up competitive and contractual cultures is called for, we also need to recognise that alternative models and initiatives are emerging, especially at grassroots levels.

There are growing pressures on locally based community organisations and social enterprises to tackle increasingly complex social issues, but organisational actors are also active in developing different ways to address these challenges.

This day seminar aims to explore new and innovative approaches which are being put in place to tackle complex social problems, including enduring and increasing poverty and growing inequalities, and the forms and effectiveness of such new approaches.

The seminar will ask how organisations and communities are responding to prolonged public sector funding cuts, austerity and the upheavals caused by political uncertainties, including over BREXIT. It will explore a range of questions, for example:

  • Do new initiatives represent an opportunity to innovate and work together to successfully tackle complex social problems?
  • If so, what initiatives are emerging that present sustainable opportunities for the future?
  • Which initiatives are proving successful and which are not, and why?
  • What challenges do organisations face in developing new initiatives in the current environment?
  • Can successful strategies be replicated in diverse communities and what problems are encountered in achieving this?

 

Abstracts

We welcome contributions from researchers, academics, doctoral students and practitioners from a broad range of fields around innovative initiatives taking place in different communities, and critical theoretical debates on what is happening to voluntary and community sector innovation and enterprise in the current period.

We will be pleased to consider proposals on related topics which may include (but are not limited to) organisations working with diverse groups in the population, for example refugee groups, those facing inequalities due to geography, black and minority ethnic led, women’s and faith-based groups.

Your abstract should outline your proposed paper, showing how the issues you raise will contribute to the themes for the day.

Abstracts of 250-300 words should be sent to: m.hemmings@yorksj.ac.uk by March 12th.

Please also attach contact details.

If helpful, please contact Mike to discuss contributions informally in the meantime.

 

Attending the event

VSSN aims to promote an understanding of the UK voluntary sector through research. The event is aimed at researchers, academics, doctoral students and practitioners in voluntary organisations or foundations interested in the UK voluntary sector. We also welcome policymakers and practitioners engaged in relevant fields. We are always pleased to meet and receive contributions from colleagues in similar settings in other countries. The working language is English.

Booking for the event will open once the programme is finalised.

We look forward to welcoming you at York Saint John University on May 9th 2018.

New year: time to bring politics and values back in

Linda Milbourne and Mike Aiken reflect on ethical values for research and action, drawing on discussion from the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference in September 2017

 

Much is changing in the voluntary sector (VS) research field with many new connections and developments but we argue that there is a need to confront the political challenges and orthodoxy both within the research community and in the wider world.

Firstly we outline the current context and some transitions in research, and then point to ways that researchers could rethink and reframe debates.

Current context for voluntary sector research

Austerity has been profoundly damaging to the fabric of local communities, with no shortage of evidence on the dramatic increases in homelessness and the use of food banks over the last few years, along with a recently published JRF report on UK poverty. Yet the current Conservative government appears to deny the extent of widespread poverty, hardship and social inequalities. This increasingly raises questions about the position of many civil society organisations which, for some thirty or so years, have sought to locate themselves within the political mainstream of a now impoverished and rapidly privatising welfare provision. In parallel, such positioning has largely suppressed or silenced their campaigning roles, effectively separating most welfare charities from advocacy and campaign groups.

Up until recently, research in the VS field (particularly in the UK and US) has tended to be internal looking: exploring historical developments, teasing out definitions and features of the voluntary sector (as distinct from other sectors), focusing on volunteering roles, and often viewing issues from the inside out, rather than exploring shared interests across a wider range of research or practice fields. This research has also been distinct from work on social movements and activism.

We recognize that this is changing, and that the scope of VS research has broadened, with studies drawing on different theoretical frameworks and international perspectives, illustrated by papers presented at the September conference (such as on refugee movements, involvement in public health, criminal justice, education and housing). This marks a valuable shift to address common welfare concerns, to study crossover and differences between sectors and countries, and to draw on a wider frame of reference through which to conceptualise debates.

Challenging the starting point

However, much VS research still seems caught in the inevitability of market discourse, with the focus on competing for funds and contracts assumed as an accepted and acceptable way of life. This all too readily allows altruistic motivation to cede to competition and self-interested pursuits, and as Nancy Fraser[1]  argues more widely, has led to a crisis of caring and ethics in society. A critical analysis of the VS’s role in shoring up contractual cultures and more recently, corporations with questionable practices, is clearly called for but we need much more than criticism.

Outlining a society where people feel abandoned by government and public institutions can’t cope, Stuart Etherington[2] has recently called for a rethink of the role of ‘civil society’. His model advocates citizens as co-creators of outcomes, emphasising a much bigger role for community based organisations and local level democracy, to counteract increasing disillusionment with state and political systems. We don’t disagree with the need rethink the role and positioning of organisations within civil society, nor with criticisms concerning the disregard of ruling politicians. However, the renewed emphasis on voluntary association and citizen’s action is overly reminiscent of defunct Big Society schemes which floundered without adequate resources and infrastructure. Seeking to build local connections and trust in an untrustworthy world is laudable but it doesn’t pay the rent, and this proposed ‘way forward’ for the common good completely fails to address underlying structural causes of poverty. While some civil society organisations engage in proffering voluntary ‘band-aid’ but can do little to effect real change to the root causes of poverty, others are encouraged to rely on engaging with the kind of debt structures that led to financial disasters ensuing from the banking collapse which logically should have seen the death of neo-liberal economics (Crouch, 2011[3]).

Therefore, we need to challenge the basis of the politico-economic regime, highlighting its increasingly destructive social outcomes for too many people in our society. Much discussion has highlighted the space that can be found for improvements within current arrangements even in the worst regimes – the wriggle room that allows VOs to deliver at least some aspect of their original missions – and it is argued that this is better than nothing. However, seeking improvements in competitive commissioning and procurement practices or shoring up welfare gaps through voluntary action is not enough; instead, we need to confront the dominance of market discourse and the causes of our current ‘so-called’ austerity and construct more logical alternatives for allocating social resources.

Applying ‘band aid’ or addressing causes?

‘Band aid’ work, while hard to criticise, may be a distraction from understanding and confronting the causes of poverty, and can add instead to shoring up ‘common sense’ myths about the need for austerity policies, in turn resulting in normalising injustices and inequalities. Many forward looking charities, campaigning organisations and social movements within civil society have historically assumed a role in challenging such norms: for example, those engaged in the anti-slavery movement or the suffragette movement; and later, those who fought to establish social housing, universal welfare benefits and a public health service. More recently, groups have challenged people traffickers, violence against women and campaigned for ethnic minority, and gay and lesbian and transgender rights; or focused around shared issues in a locality or neighbourhood. This illustrates the multiple ways that formal and informal civil society groups have refused to adopt supposedly common-sense understandings and have been prepared to confront injustice and seek social change. This is civil society at work, deliberating values, actions and wider political consequences and researching supporting evidence.

Such challenges and alternatives enable a different vision, premised on recreating ideas of care, welfare and justice across society. In this way, civil society organisations can collaborate in aspirations for a more just society, rather than colluding in neo-liberal arrangements, supporting corporate profits and the destruction of public welfare systems and social gains built up over more than 150 years. Failing to assert alternatives and accepting ‘the way things are’ also entails acceptance of long-term and growing destitution as an inevitable fallout. A different vision also demands that we confront and distinguish wellbeing in society from the rapidly privatizing welfare state, essentially re-examining the contradictions between financial accumulation and care, and between markets, individualized gain and wider social welfare and equality.

Creating alternatives then depends on a better informed analysis of the increasingly punitive nature of neo-liberal regimes, which critics (eg Davies, 2016[iv]) argue are unsustainable, with the erosion of wages and multiple support structures. As activist researchers, we therefore need to draw on a wider arena of thinking than has often been the case, and to explore the interconnected features of civil society organizations engaged in social welfare and wider social action. This means creating alliances across broader research fields and shared interest groups to examine and challenge the attrition of civil society’s rights, irrespective of sector or type of organization.

This argues the need to examine changes among civil society roles more widely beyond welfare provision and to recognize that constraints on civil society have seen the erosion of democratic freedoms around the world – including the freedom to speak, act and move about freely. This freedom – or independence – has been prized in traditional VS narratives but is now restricted by law, contract and ideology. It’s been easy to fall back on ideas of association – an unproblematised vision of altruistic organisations but we need to explore conflicting narratives. Not all CSOs are benign. They may promote separatist and exclusionary interests which benefit a few but damage many. The rise of racism and violence following the Brexit vote offers one example but history provides others – such as the rise of fascism in the 1930s from rich associational life. This means acknowledging difference, being unafraid to challenge assumptions about the benefits of voluntary associations, and pursuing research analytically and critically.

Locating voluntary sector research in its wider socio-political context

One message for research then is to dig deeper and think outside the box. Within the research field and the wider world this means overcoming significant ideological challenges, some of which activists have been taking on. Future research needs to challenge current discourse, and collaborate across sector boundaries and interest groups. It needs to shift its focus to embrace a broader world view which explores CS roles and values in relation to wider political, social and economic changes in society, including social movements, campaigns and virtual worlds. That’s not ignoring the need to understand detailed features and finer arrangements but detailed local experiences also need to be located and understood within the bigger picture.

If we omit to make these wider connections, we risk narrowing our research perspectives and excluding crucial debates and experiences that are currently challenging society – especially concerning the erosion of democracy and freedoms and destruction of public welfare. Civil society organisations have a crucial role to play in sustaining the values of democracy and democratic freedoms, and as researchers, we have a critical role in sustaining that

1 Fraser, N. (2016) ‘Contradictions of Capital and Care’ New Left Review, 100 (July–August), 99–117.

2 Etherington, S. (2017) ‘Voluntary Action: a way forward’ CASS Centre for Charity Effectiveness, November 2017.

3 Crouch, C. (2011) The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism, Cambridge: Polity Press.

4 Davies, W. (2016) ‘The new neoliberalism’. New Left Review, 101 (Sept.–Oct.), 121–34.