As part of VSSN’s goal to help maximise the visibility and impact of Voluntary Sector focussed research, we are collating research projects which focus on VCS and volunteering responses to, recovery from and implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you would like your project to be visible on the VSSN website, please fill in the form here. It would be great to hear about projects in development as well as those in progress, as this should help to reduce any risk of duplication and open up possibilities of collaboration.
Sheffield Hallam University
By now many colleagues will have heard the terribly sad news that our colleague and longstanding VSSN stalwart Duncan Scott has passed away. He died on 18th May after a severe stroke.
Duncan was a pioneer and champion of voluntary sector research in the UK, and at the forefront of landmark discussions which led to the formation of VSSN back in the 1990s. He promoted voluntary sector studies in academia, through his long career as a Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer at the Department of Social Policy at the University of Manchester. He researched, wrote and spoke about a wide range of topics, often with a practical focus, including funding voluntary organisations, volunteering and service delivery contracts, social enterprise, rural deprivation and voluntary action and qualitative research methods.
Beyond this, and perhaps more significantly, he was a tireless advocate for community-based research. He recognised the importance of supporting those in voluntary organisations and community groups who needed to get vital research done quickly, but who had neither ready access to all the resources on offer in Universities, nor the sometimes breezy academic confidence about research methods. He played significant advisory and committee roles with, for example, the Institute for Volunteering Research, Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation, Third Sector Research Centre and of course VSSN.
Duncan was very supportive of new researchers and doctoral students, finding creative ways to bring people together to discuss common issues and concerns in voluntary sector research. In the early 2000s he convened several significant sessions through VSSN around qualitative research. This drew from and formed the basis of several important publications with colleagues, including ‘Moving Pictures: Realities of voluntary action’ (2000); ‘Close Work: Doing qualitative research
in the voluntary sector’ (2005) and ‘Researching voluntary and community action: The potential of qualitative case studies’ (2005). Duncan was always keen to discuss the messy practice of carrying out research, and often implored colleagues to bring case study research in the voluntary sector alive, to act as witnesses, to ‘show us that you’ve been there!’
Many of us will have worked with or come across Duncan in our research, and will treasure fond memories of his self-deprecating humour, his commitment, his support, gentle challenges, insight and wisdom, and in the end of simply having spent time with him.
To help mark Duncan’s contribution to voluntary sector studies, we have set up a padlet page for colleagues to share reflections. You can access the page by clicking on this link: https://padlet.com/angelaellispaine/DuncanScott. Simply visit the page and click on the + sign to add your comments.
Sheffield Hallam University
Unfortunately, current circumstances mean we have had to postpone the 2020 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference. This feels like the only reasonable choice given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, we have two pieces of good news.
Firstly, we can announce that the conference will take place at Aston University in Birmingham in early September 2021. We are hugely excited to be working with Aston again, and look forward to seeing you all in Birmingham next year. We will transfer the programme we had lined up for this year to next. We are delighted that our key note speaker – Angela Eikenberry – has agreed to postpone her trip from the US until 2021 to make this possible.
Secondly, we can announce VSSN and NCVO will be partnering to host a virtual conference – ‘Times Like These’: Researching civil society responses to and recovery from COVID-19 – to be hosted digitally across 7th and 8th September.
This eConference will include two plenary sessions, featuring a host of expert speakers reflecting on research into and experience of how the COVID-19 crisis has affected the voluntary sector and volunteering in the UK and around the world. It will also feature four panel sessions, specifically reflecting on what COVID-19 has meant for philanthropy, mutual aid, volunteering, and voluntary and community organisations. The exact format of each of these four sessions will depend on the proposals that we receive to participate in them (see below). Further details are below.
The eConference will be free to join and registration details will be shared shortly. We will also announce the full line-up of plenary speakers in the coming weeks. Details of the four panel sessions and how to register your interest in presenting in them can be found here.
All the very best, and take care,
Angela Ellis Paine and Jane Cullingworth (co-chairs) and the rest of the VSSN Steering Group
VSSN is delighted to announce the results of recent elections for the VSSN steering group and the Voluntary Sector Review Editorial Management Board (EMB).
For the steering group:
- Jane Cullingworth was re-elected
- Vita Terry was elected
- Jurgen Grotz was elected
For the EMB:
- Feilim OhAdmaill was re-elected
- Joanne Vincett was elected
Congratulations to the successful nominees and thank you to everyone who stood for election, it is much appreciated. We would also like to thank again retiring steering group members Linda Milbourne and Mike Woolvin and retiring EMB member Eddy Hogg for their huge contributions.
During Volunteers Week, the Voluntary Sector Studies Network, the Association of Volunteer Managers, and the National Network of Volunteer-Involving Agencies organised an event focused on bringing university-based volunteering researchers and sector practitioners together. Hosted at NCVO, the five-hour workshop sought to build bridges between these two groups, who, frankly, should have a better connection. Around a dozen presenters, from universities and voluntary organisations, delivered short challenges to the 40 attendees, followed by lots of intense discussion.
Helen Timbrell, Executive Director of People and Organisational Development at the Samaritans, perhaps said it best when she directly addressed the need for us all to be a little less comfortable. Charities need to engage with research even if it shows they could be doing their work better, and researchers need to recognise that if their work isn’t made use of, what purpose does it serve?
Academic researchers are well-aware that our writing is often obtuse and our findings are hidden away in journals no right-thinking person would ever want to engage with; and charities frequently want a ‘quick win’ in research terms to showcase impact to a funder, rather than completing long-term and thorough investigations. Being honest about these different priorities is vital, especially at a time when both groups are seeing less available resource to devote to research.
As a member of the VSSN’s Steering Group, and a researcher focused on charity issues at Sheffield Hallam University, I will be the first to admit that I don’t personally do enough to make any research I do useful for sector practitioners. A lot of it is not always applicable in the day-to-day functioning of charities, focused perhaps on sociological trends rather than specific problem-solving, but talking to practitioners at this event showed a yearning for insight into the challenges the sector will face over the next decade, with the growth of digital and the retirement of the baby boomers the most frequently discussed issues.
What was invigorating to see at the end of the event was a commitment to be a bit better in the future. The different priorities will always exist, and they are unavoidable, but many individuals from a variety of organisations left the workshop promising to make some specific changes, such as a promise to invest resources in examining the sector’s failure to embrace greater diversity and what we can do about it, to a commitment to approaching universities for research opportunities. I myself will certainly commit to producing and promoting freely accessible, more practitioner-centred research in future (alongside the dusty journals).
The good news is we already know a huge amount about the voluntary sector: around what works and doesn’t work in fundraising; around the motivations behind and benefits of volunteering; and around charity leadership. Rather than re-inventing the wheel and doing the same research again, what events like this one reaffirmed was the need to get that knowledge into the right hands, and the fact that the opportunities to do it already exist. Through social media feeds, discussion lists, direct emails, and more engaged face to face events and conferences like this one, if everyone’s willing to be a little less comfortable, the rewards may well be worth it.
Rather appropriately the Building Bridges volunteering research and practice workshop, co-hosted by the Voluntary Sector Studies Network, Association of Volunteer Managers and the Network of National Volunteer Involving Agencies and supported by NCVO, was held during Volunteering Week. Through their networks the co-convenors attracted a diverse audience united by a commitment to understanding and supporting the growth of voluntary action and a desire to strengthen collaborative working between volunteer managers and researchers.
The atmosphere was incredibly welcoming, I met new people, and met colleagues some of whom I hadn’t seen for several years. I certainly learned a lot. The format of the day facilitated knowledge sharing, and the mobilisation of multiple knowledges. The latter effectively happens when knowledge is co-produced, and knowledge/evidence is presented in accessible formats targeted for specific audiences.
Key messages from the day for me as a university researcher include:
- The importance of co-producing knowledge, of collaborating from the outset when identifying research questions
- Of ensuring that research findings are presented available in accessible formats in order to inform decision making.
- Of thinking of conduits that can be used to ensure that new knowledge is easily and efficiently ‘discovered’ by the sector
- Of the importance of networks that create the spaces and places for conversations between those committed to supporting voluntary action
Irene Hardill, Northumbria University
A report on the recent VSSN day conference on May 9th in York has been posted, written by steering group member Linda Milbourne.
Trust, Transparency and Accountability of Charities and Voluntary Organisations: Challenges for Policy, Practice and Research
Public trust in charities, voluntary organisations and wider civil society is under threat from a perceived lack of transparency and accountability surrounding its work. From the Oxfam scandal, to the failure of Kids Company, and ongoing concerns about fundraising practices, the media gaze and political spotlight is increasingly falling on organisations’ work. This raises some important questions for research on the voluntary sector and volunteering:
- How is the sector, and civil society more generally, affected by and responding to media and political challenges to become more transparent and accountable?
- How is public trust holding-up in light of recent events, for individual organisations and the sector as a whole?
Alongside this intensified public attention, the voluntary sector and wider civil society continues to deal with a complex series of challenges associated with rising inequality, material hardship, and multiple disadvantage, whilst campaigning and advocating on behalf of some of society’s most seldom heard voices. This broader context presents, inevitably, opportunities and challenges for the voluntary sector and volunteering, and high quality research and analysis are needed more than ever to help understand these.
The Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference – organised by NCVO and the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) – 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 and the broader issues facing the voluntary sector and volunteering at this time.
Location: NCVO Conference Suite, London
|9 May 2018||Deadline for paper proposal submissions|
|5 July 2018||Early bird rate ends|
|6-7 September 2018||The conference|
How to submit your proposal
All delegates at the conference must pay the conference rates in order to participate, including those presenting a paper.
You don’t need to present a paper to attend. Bookings are not yet open for the 2018 conference but you can register your interest here.
Aims and themes
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. Given the conference theme, we are particularly keen to receive proposals that address issues associated with trust, accountability and transparency, but we do also welcome papers that address a range of issues relevant to volunteering and the voluntary sector. As such, submissions should be also aligned to the following streams:
- Civil society, democracy and grassroots voluntary action
- Volunteering, participation and social action
- Advances in theory and methods
- Resourcing the sector: funding, fundraising, philanthropy and social investment
- Organisational management and governance, including law and regulation
- Historical perspectives on the voluntary sector and voluntary action
- Sectoral boundaries: private-voluntary-public sector relations
- Understanding, measuring and valuing outcomes and impact
When submitting abstracts, authors will be asked which streams they feel their paper will fit best within. We welcome contributions from a variety of disciplines, including sociology, social policy, politics, psychology, geography, economics, business studies, social anthropology, philosophy and ethics.
Campbell Adamson Memorial Prize
Presenters who submit a full paper prior to the start of the conference will automatically be in with a chance of winning the Campbell Adamson Memorial prize for best paper, which includes a £500 prize.
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 series of parallel sessions will be run as part of the conference for ‘new’ researchers. Attendance at this part of the conference is subsidised, and is intended for all early career researchers in the field of voluntary sector studies, whether postgraduate students or working/volunteering in the voluntary sector.
A call for papers for the New Researchers Sessions is also open – details here.
Want to find out more?
Should you have any queries on the 2018 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research conference please email us.
Youth Action, Activism and Education:
Continuities, Changes and Possibilities
Thursday 15th March, 2018
The Spitfire Ground, St. Lawrence, Canterbury, Kent
Youth action, civic activism and education stands at an important crossroads. A number of recent political events across the world have evidenced the importance of, and need for, young people to play an active role in their communities – and to do so in critical and creative ways. While there is now a body of literature which refutes the view that young people are disengaged in political processes, there remain questions about precisely why and how young people experience social action and activism, and whether they do so in equitable ways.
Viewing such questions as vital, this free one-day conference will explore international, national and local perspectives on the changing nature of youth action, activism and the associated implications for education. This is a partnership event organised and supported by Canterbury Christ Church University, VSSN and Leverhulme Trust.
Places at the conference are limited. To register and save your place, please contact Professor Andrew Peterson (email@example.com) providing your institutional/organisational affiliation and details of any dietary and accessibility requirements.