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VSSN meets the ESRC

On 30 January the ESRC hosted a meeting with the VSSN Steering Group to discuss closer working relations. Peter Halfpenny, Pete Alcock, Cathy Pharoah, Jeremy Kendall and Angela Ellis-Paine attended on behalf of VSSN. Astrid Wissenburg (Director of Communications and Information), David Guy (Head of Knowledge Transfer) and Amanda Williams (Impact and Policy Manager) attended on behalf of ESRC.

The meeting kicked off with the ESRC outlining the main elements in their current business plan, stressing the importance of knowledge transfer and impact. Discussions moved on to ESRC’s third sector engagement strategy (http://www.esrc.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/Images/ESRC_Third_Sector_Engagement_Strategy_tcm6-25436.pdf) including concerns for: enhancing the evidence base; capacity building; co-production of knowledge; relationship building with the third sector.

Peter then gave a brief history of VSSN, highlighting its origins as an ESRC seminar series and outlining its main areas of activity. He went on to outline a number of key areas in which the Steering Group felt the ESRC could offer its support to VSSN, including:1. Early-career researchers: supporting the development of our growing early-career (‘new’) researchers network through, for example, helping to fund a two-day ‘summer school’. 2. Twice yearly day seminars: helping to reach out and attract more disparate researchers working across a range of disciplines. 3. Journal: support for the development of a UK-based third sector journal, to be developed as part of the VSSN membership package.

In return, the ESRC outlined several areas in which they were seeking cooperation from VSSN:

1. Understanding of research expertise: making use of the research directory to identify experts in the field; 2. Access to international third sector research and networks through VSSN partners;3. Good practice case studies of user engagement in research and evidence of the impact of research within the third sector;4. Links from ESRC Society Today website to VSSN’s website;5. ESRC Concordat meetings: inputting into the Third Sector research agenda items within ESRC Concordat (governmental and NGO) meetings;6. Third sector representatives within ESRC governance: nominating representatives for ESRC’s governance committees. 7. Promoting third sector engagement: utilising mechanisms within VSSN to promote third sector engagement elements such as placements.

The VSSN Steering Group is currently considering each of the elements outlined by ESRC to see how we can best take the agenda forward. If any of our members have views or ideas we would be pleased to hear from you – please email our Secretary, Angela, at secretary@vssn.org.uk

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ESRC invites proposals for Centre for Third Sector Research

News just arrived via Peter Halfpenny:-

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), in funding partnership with the Office of the Third Sector (OTS) and The Barrow Cadbury Trust wish to commission an independent, multidisciplinary Research Centre for the Third Sector. The Centre will develop knowledge and expertise about, with and for the Third Sector, to include the Voluntary and Community Sector and Social Enterprise, bringing together a critical mass of research expertise, resources and intellectual leadership to support research of the highest international standing, to provide top quality analysis and provide the necessary evidence base to better understand key Third Sector issues and underpin policy and practice.The initiative will support a single Research Centre, although where the necessary range of capabilities cannot be drawn from the departments or schools of a single institution, formal partnerships between institutions are appropriate. The Research Centre will be supported by three Capacity Building Clusters, aiming to create a new generation of high quality researchers committed to the co-production of knowledge and its application to the Third Sector.

A total of £10.25million is currently available for the initiative as a whole. Under this call, proposals are invited for the Research Centre (up to £9million at 100% FEC over five years) and each Capacity Building Cluster (up to £1million over five years).

The call opened today (4 January) and the deadline for submissions is 4pm on Thursday 27 March. Decisions are expected in June and the start date for the Centre will be September 2008.

A little of what you missed – note of key VSSN Steering Group activities

Angela Ellis Paine wrote, as a follow-up to VSSN’s 2007 AGM, which took place during the Day Conference on 28/11/07:-

Dear all,

For those of you unable to attend our recent AGM, we thought you might like to hear about some of the key activities and developments that have taken place in VSSN over the past twelve months. More information on many of the points is available here on our website and in our Annual Report, which you can download here

a) This year has seen the introduction of a subscription fee for VSSN membership, with an encouraging number of people becoming fully subscribed. The fee has enabled the appointment of a part-time Executive Officer enabling member services to be extended. Follow this link to join

b) Over 130 delegates attended the joint VSSN/NCVO annual conference held at Warwick in September this year while the two VSSN day seminars (held in Glasgow and South Bank) were each attended by over 30 delegates. Read conference reports and check out details of forthcoming events here

c) A new edition of the membership directory has been published and distributed free to all paid-up members. A course directory is also being compiled, the first entries for which will be here on the website soon (watch out for further news on submitting details via the web site).

d) The number of subscribers to the free email list has continued to grow and it now has over 300 members.

e) We are currently in discussion with two publishers about our proposal for a new UK-based voluntary sector journal. Needless to say, these things take time and it is likely to be a while before any such initiative is fully off the ground. However, initial discussions have been positive. We shall keep you informed of progress.

f) Based on comments from our members, VSSN has recently submitted a response to the OTS/ESRC consultation on the proposed Third Sector Research Centre. Find out more here

g) A Special General Meeting took place in spring 2007 in order to amend the constitution to allow for postal and electronic voting in elections to the Steering Group and this new system came into force in November when VSSN’s first electronic vote took place, with the new Steering Group formally appointed at the AGM on November 28 (minutes available via this page). Details of all Steering Group members

Third Sector Research Centre consultation response published

Rob Macmillan wrote, for the VSSN Steering Group…

You might be aware that the VSSN Steering Group has been conducting a consultation on the potential priorities and structure of the proposed Third Sector Research Centre amongst VSSN members as reported earlier by Peter Halfpenny. The consultation took place between 22.10.07 and 11.11.07 around six key questions:

1. In which areas would you say that evidence and argument on the Third Sector are strongest? In which areas are they weakest?

2. What should be the research priorities of the new Third Sector Research Centre? (Please list/outline up to three)

3. What should be the role of the centre in developing research capacity?

4. What should be the role of the centre in developing the sector’s own capacity to gather and utilise evidence?

5. How should the Third Sector Research Centre be structured?

6. Are there any other potential functions of this research centre?

You can find a copy of the synthesis of the results here (PDF format)

This has also been submitted to the Office of the Third Sector (OTS) and directly to the consultants working on the scoping phase for OTS.

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VSSN plays major role in sector consultations

As might be expected, VSSN is playing a major role in current Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) consultations about the Voluntary and Community Sector. Peter Halfpenny, in his role as Chair of the VSSN Steering Group (SG), was recently invited to make a presentation to a consultation meeting about the ESRC’s Voluntary Sector Engagement Strategy. This Strategy has now been approved by the Council and the SG will be meeting with the ESRC’s Head of Knowledge Transfer in January to discuss its implementation.

In parallel with this, the SG invited VSSN members to comment on a set of key questions about the proposed ESRC/OTS Third Sector Research Centre. Three SG members, Rob MacMillan, Cathy Pharoah and Angela Ellis-Paine, collated the responses and submitted them to the consultants who are preparing a plan for the Centre.

Peter Halfpenny made a presentation to a consultation meeting about the Centre, and the four SG members in attendance spent nearly an hour at the end of the meeting briefing the consultants. The ESRC is expected to issue a call for proposals for the Centre early in the New Year and we are optimistic that it will reflect the SG’s views about its structure and operation.

See also the further news item 26/11/07: Third Sector Research Centre consultation response published.

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Hello Felix, thanks Matthew

Gareth Morgan wrote, to all VSSN members:-

As you will know from announcements in the spring, VSSN went out to tender for provision of an Executive Officer role needed to support the Network. The outcome was that we entered into an agreement with the Association of University Administrators (AUA) to provide this, and Matthew McClelland was the named Exec Officer – his work began from 1 April this year.

Since then, Matthew has made a huge contribution to the work of VSSN. Many of our procedures are now streamlined through the AUA office, and he has contributed greatly in helping the VSSN Steering Group itself to be more effective. He has done a great deal in contacting people (as a result of SG suggestions) to build links and grow the membership. The infrastructure is now there to allow VSSN to engage effectively in growing our activities and participating in new initiatives that will support the community of voluntary sector researchers.

AUA advised us at the start of this month that Matthew was leaving AUA to take up a post at Queen Mary, University of London, which means he also has to step down as VSSN Executive Officer. We are very sad to lose him, but the VSSN Steering Group was very happy to approve AUA’s nomination of Felix Mussell to replace him. Apart from the support to VSSN, Felix holds the role of Membership Services Manager at AUA – he also has a good deal of interest in the sector having held significant voluntary roles in two different voluntary/community organisations.

Felix and Matthew are working closely on the handover arrangements, and Felix will formally take over as VSSN Executive Office from today, 1 October, although you will see his name on the VSSN membership subs renewal letters which have just gone out. Felix will take over the VSSN e-mail and telephone number, so the contact details for the VSSN office remain unchanged.

Both Matthew and Felix were at the recent NCVO/VSSN Researching the Voluntary Sector Conference, and no doubt many of you may have met one or both of them in the various sessions.

Subscriptions appeal launched

Gareth Morgan wrote, to all VSSN members:-

As Treasurer, I would like to thank all those who have made the commitment over the last year to being formal members of VSSN and paying a subscription. It is through this support that VSSN has been able to make the strategic commitment to the Executive Officer role. Moreover, it looks as though through the hard work of Matthew and Felix and members of the Steering Group we have just this week reached the critical figure of 100 paid up members!

So, in the next few days when you get your membership renewal letters, do please respond promptly! Your support in renewing your membership is vital to continuing this work. Remember that as a formal member of VSSN you get a big discount on the cost of VSSN seminars (£15 instead of £35), the right to be included in the VSSN Members Research Directory, and of course the right to vote and stand for the Steering Group (Trustee)!

If you have joined the discussion list but are not yet a formal VSSN member, the easiest way to join is via our online Join page. Also, following the constitutional changes agreed in the Spring, VSSN now offers Organisational Membership, so an organisation with a number of people involved in voluntary sector research can enrol the whole team without paying individual subs. Please e-mail Felix via membership@vssn.org.uk and ask for a copy of the VSSN Organisational Membership form.

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VSSN Treasurer awarded chair

Long-standing VSSN member, Trustee and Treasurer Gareth Morgan has been appointed to a personal chair and now has the title Professor of Charity Studies at Sheffield Hallam University.

In congratulating Gareth today, Peter Halfpenny (VSSN chairperson) described this appointment as “particularly fitting and probably unique”.

Gareth himself added “I think there are still only around 6 UK professorships in areas specifically linked to the sector – though it’s hard to give an exact number as it depends on definitions.”