Beta test version of web site in soft launch

Following the quarterly meeting of the VSSN Steering Group, the latest steps in the emergence of the Network’s own Web site were unveiled. Plans for the Web site had been under way since VSSN began the process of formalisation in 2002. A “beta test” version had recently been evaluated by Steering Group members, and went live for the world to see.

The organisation is committed to a relatively low-key approach to its electronic activities, though, in the interests of sustainability. As VSSN Web Officer Nick Plant explained, “the Web site will rely on voluntary effort in the immediate future so we can’t afford to be over ambitious”. Nick therefore appealed for all organisers, and as many members as possible, to contribute their own material and make suggestions on continuous improvement of the new Web site, and has designed it in order to encourage this active participation by Network members.

Meanwhile, a logo for VSSN was being sought and alternative designs evaluated.

VSSN logo shortlisted and selected

A range of alternative new VSSN logos were unveiled today for Steering Group members’ comments:-vssn-v2BIG

A logo was later chosen shortlist emerging from round 1:-

vssn-development-v1

The Web site you are now viewing incorporates the choice made from the shortlist – medium blue (colour 33 33 99 hex). We hope you like it!

Morgan offers voluntary sector research agenda

VSSN Treasurer Gareth Morgan, writing in an individual capacity to members of the VSSN Steering Group, today mooted a voluntary sector research agenda.

“A few weeks ago someone asked me to write a short note about the nature of voluntary sector research”, Gareth said. “So in a few minutes I produced the simple taxonomy below. I am sure you can all do 900% better, but I just though that for our ‘strategic thinking’ about VSSN it might help as a very first step towards an overview of what VSSN is all about.”

Other scholars in the field on the Steering Group noted this was controversial and pointed up previous attempts to define our field. Here is what Gareth wrote:-

THE NATURE OF VOLUNTARY SECTOR RESEARCHGareth G Morgan, Sheffield Hallam University – March 2004Q: What is the role of research for the voluntary sector?

A: Research is vital to all areas of society if we are to understand the nature of our society, the causes and the trends. Research on the voluntary sector is crucial to enable the sector to be effective and to enable other stakeholders to assess how best they can work with voluntary organisations.

Voluntary sector research is, however, relatively new as a discipline. Until about 15-20 years ago there was little awareness of the distinctive nature of the sector, and hence little appreciation that research in other sectors might not be applicable to voluntary organisations. Also there was a tendency to see voluntary activity as marginal to mainstream social and economic activity, and hence not particularly worthy of research.

Today that has changed enormously, with many voluntary organisations for whom research is a significant part of their work, and increasing amounts of research for and about the sector being undertaken by universities and independent researchers.

There are many dimensions to voluntary sector research – the following is a possible initial categorisation, but clearly many other categories could be added.

(a) Research seeking to understand the nature of the sector as a whole, especially statistics on total income, staffing, figures on numbers and types of organisations, and trends in these figures.

(b) Research focused public support for charities and voluntary organisations, especially in terms of donations of time (volunteering) and money (charitable giving). Much fundraising research is in this category.

(c) Research focussed on support for charities and voluntary organisations by government and by other funding bodies. Much of this includes work on government/voluntary sector relations (national and local), also much evaluation research.

(d) Research seeking to explore the role of the voluntary sector in social policy: in particular, the key role of the sector in a way range of social inclusion initiatives. Also, much of the research on social capital is focussed on involvement in voluntary organisation.

(e) Research on the operation of voluntary organisations in relation to issues such as governance, financial management and other themes where the voluntary sector operates differently to other organisations.

(f) Research on specific classes of voluntary organisations (e.g. community associations, voluntary sector infrastructure organisations, faith-based organisations, etc).

(g) Research on service provision by voluntary organisations. Much of this does not really fall in the field of “voluntary sector research” as such but is more within medical research, educational research, sociology etc – depending on the field of the organisation’s work. Nevertheless, researchers in these areas are often seen as part of the voluntary sector research community if there are specifically looking at these issues in a voluntary context. A good deal of this research is based within specific organisations looking at their own beneficiaries – e.g. tenants of a housing association.

(h) Research concerned with regulation of the sector: charity law, accounting rules, prevention of abuse, public confidence, etc.

The above list is largely UK focused. There is also much international research on the role of NGOs.

Membership drive launched

Invitation to Join VSSNby Helen Cameron, VSSN Membership SecretaryMany of you will be aware that the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) has been in the process of gentle formalisation since last May.

As a Steering Group, we have now got to the point where we wish to invite you all to become formal members of the network. At the same time we would like to encourage you to submit (or update) details of your current research so we can update the VSSN Directory.

For any research network to gain a voice and recognition, it needs to have a good proportion of its target audience signed up as members. Our ability as a Steering Group to continue the gradual process of formalisation depends upon demonstrable support. At this stage we are not asking for a subscription but if you wish to make a donation to our modest start-up funds that will be appreciated and a receipt sent.

Here you will find the text of our membership leaflet. Or to apply online please go to our Join page which includes a pro-forma for you to submit your directory entry

If you have any questions do not hesitate to contact me as membership secretary by e-mail at membership@vssn.ac.uk. If you have any colleagues not on this list but who might be interested, please tell them.

If this invitation reaches you at a time when you are “interested but too busy”, just click on my e-mail address and say “interested”, and I will gently hassle you to join and submit a directory entry over the next couple of months.

VSSN in conference first with NCVO

The call for papers for the annual NCVO Research Conference circulated today confirms VSSN as co-organisers for the first time. As Jayne Blackborow, Event Organiser, said, “this is a unique meeting place for both researchers and users of research to discuss current research, its implications and the need for further research in the voluntary and community sector. This year, for the first time, NCVO is teaming up with the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) to organise the conference.

“The 10th conference will be held at Sheffield Hallam University on 1st and 2nd September 2004 and we are now inviting paper and session proposals. We invite proposals on all areas of relevance to the voluntary sector, but would particularly welcome proposals on topics of current policy interest to the sector. These might include accountability, transparency, civil renewal, independence, the role of the sector in the delivery of public services, and the relationship between the sector and government.”