Posts Tagged 'third sector'

Volunteers Week: The Future of Volunteering?

Continuity and change in voluntary action RGB

Out now

This Volunteers Week, Rose Lindsey and John Mohan, co-authors of ‘Continuity and change in voluntary action’, part of the Third Sector Research Series and out now, look at the impact of political rhetoric and public attitudes on volunteering on levels of engagement.

Voluntary action has been a hotly-contested topic over the last 30 years. The International Labour Organisation sees it as an “essential renewable resource” for society. Margaret Thatcher, in her famous speech to the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, anticipated a demographic dividend from the retirement of active baby-boomers. Subsequent governments promoted voluntary action not only for its direct benefits (e.g. providing services) but latent impacts (e.g. on social capital, health and employability). The most recent manifestations of pro-voluntarist arguments have been the “big society” of David Cameron and the “shared society” of Theresa May. However, to what extent have several decades of such arguments and policies had impacts on levels of engagement?

There is certainly evidence that volunteering is a renewable resource if we look at statistics about the proportions who volunteer. These have remained steady for some 35 years, albeit with some fluctuations (a recession-induced decline and a short-term boost after the 2012 Olympics). Yet, despite Thatcher anticipating a significant increase in proportions of people volunteering, this hasn’t happened. Nor does it look as if the expansion of higher education – known to be a strong predictor of volunteering – has had much effect.

“…while many people dip into and out of volunteering, voluntary action is dominated by a small core of long-term volunteers.”

Our research demonstrates that while many people dip into and out of volunteering, voluntary action is dominated by a small core of long-term volunteers. In the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) –  the only significant longitudinal study asking questions about volunteering –  very small proportions of the population report volunteering in every survey wave. In a 12 year period (1996-2008) most people reported only intermittent volunteering. We can interpret this evidence in both a positive and negative light. For example, if we consider individuals’ contributions over their life courses, a much greater proportion of the population is involved in volunteering than is revealed by one-off cross-sectional surveys. The more challenging issue for voluntary organisations, however, concerns whether and how they can sustain that involvement over time.

When considering this question, it is useful to have insights derived from people’s own understandings of volunteering. We use extensive qualitative material from Mass Observation, tracking individuals’ accounts of the place of voluntary action and unpaid work in their lives. The material offers rich insights into writers’ individual trajectories into and out of volunteering, the social networks through which they became involved, their motivations, attitudes, and their views as to what voluntary action can and cannot do. Most strikingly, when asked about their involvement in unpaid work, or activities in their community, what they discuss first of all is unpaid care for relatives or neighbours. People prioritise what’s closest to home. This is hugely important in the context of great pressures on the social care system:  the prioritisation of unpaid care will limit the time and capacity that individuals have to engage in voluntary action in other parts of their communities.

“People prioritise what’s closest to home.”

Writers also exhibited a strong sense of scepticism about the conditions under which the public are asked to engage in voluntary action. Some writers articulated this very forcefully; for example one writer’s sole response,  to a question regarding whether she had heard of the “Big Society” was to write in uppercase letters:

“I HAVEN’T GOT A CLUE WHAT IT MEANS. NOBODY I’VE SPOKEN TO DON’T KNOW EITHER. IF IT’S ABOUT OUR PM SAYING WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, IT’S A LAUGH”.

Other respondents articulated a sense of exhaustion – “my days of volunteering for anything are over” – and concern that calls for more volunteering would widen disparities between communities. There were also concerns iterated in the 1990s and again in the 2010s, about funding cuts and volunteers substituting the work of paid-staff. In this context, writers repeatedly argued for clear demarcation between what is the responsibility of public authorities to provide, and what should be expected of communities.

There is long-run stability in engagement, which is positive news. But given these strong views, and the recognition that the greatest burden of voluntary effort is being shouldered by relatively small subsets of the population, our study points to clear limits as to how far we might expect to increase engagement in volunteering further.

Continuity and change in voluntary action RGB

Continuity and change in voluntary action by Rose Lindsey and John Mohan with Elizabeth Metcalfe and Sarah Bulloch is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £60.00 or see more from the Third Sector Research Series.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Is the idea of an independent third sector still relevant?

Ahead of the #ARNOVA16  conference, authors Valerie Egdell and Matthew Dutton discuss third sector organisations’ struggle for independence and how this struggle affects the delivery of the various services that these organisations provide. 

valerie-egdell

Valerie Egdell

matthew-dutton

Matthew Dutton

Government outsourcing of public services through competitive tendering has created significant new opportunities for third sector organisations to expand the range of actions they undertake but has also threatened their independence.

The third sector is a trusted partner because of its independence of purpose, voice and action. The third sector itself values its independence from political influence in representing the needs of service users. However, does the third sector’s role in the delivery of government funded services compromise its independence? Is the idea of an independent third sector still relevant?

“To survive, some third sector organisations have had to adapt to deliver services that are not core to their function”

Continue reading ‘Is the idea of an independent third sector still relevant?’

Celebrating #ARNOVA16 – Free articles on this year’s conference theme from Voluntary Sector Review

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The Association for Research on Nonprofit Organisations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) is meeting in Washington, D.C., 17-19 November 2016. This year’s conference focuses on policy and partnerships between the non-profit and philanthropic sectors and government in an era of change.

Why not get in the mood with a free article collection from Voluntary Sector Review? The below articles are free to access and download 13-24 November 2016.

Third sector independence: relations with the state in an age of austerity
Authors: Valerie Egdell, Dutton, Matthew

Is this a new golden age of philanthropy? An assessment of the changing landscape
Author: James M. Ferris

From ‘contractors to the state’ to ‘protectors of public value’? Relations between non-profit housing hybrids and the state in England
Authors: David Mullins, Tricia Jones

Collaborating across sector boundaries: a story of tensions and dilemmas

Author: Carol Jacklin-Jarvis

The combination of ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ strategies in VSO–government partnerships: the relationship between Refugee Action and the Home Office in the UK
Authors: Derek McGhee, Claire Bennett, Sarah Walker

New ‘new localism’ or the emperor’s new clothes: diverging local social policies and state–voluntary sector relations in an era of localism
Authors: James Rees, Nigel Rose

 

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5 reasons the future for the third sector in public services doesn’t look bright

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James Rees

In their new book, James Rees and David Mullins look at the role of the third sector in different public service fields. Since the shock result of the EU Referendum we have entered a period of post-Brexit uncertainty for public services and the third sector.

Following the result, the authors held a roundtable event for some influential sector thinkers with a particular interest in public services. Here, James Rees outlines the 5 key messages that emerged…
1. This feels like a new era for the third sector and public services

Clearly Theresa May’s government is preoccupied with one very big issue – Brexit – and there seem currently to be no ‘big bang’ flagship programmes for public service reform (although it is important to acknowledge the remains of the children’s social care reforms since May became PM. The legislation is still going through parliament, and it will have significant implications including for the third sector.).
Continue reading ‘5 reasons the future for the third sector in public services doesn’t look bright’

How is the activity of volunteering changing? #volunteersweek

In today’s guest blog post Sue Kenny shares findings from research about the changing nature and shape of voluntary action and active citizenship is taking with the next generation…

Sue Kenny2.1There are many forms that contemporary active citizenship can take. It can be an expression of civic and civil commitment as well as a form of activism.  

Similarly, volunteering can be an expression of active citizenship in each of these forms.  For example, membership of  local council committees is a form of civic commitment; helping out in a community centre is a form of civil commitment and organising a protest march involves the activist form of active citizenship. Volunteering plays an important role in generating social capital through these different ways of participating in society.

All these types of active citizenship are familiar aspects of participation in civil society. Yet as we discuss in Challenging the third sector: Global prospects for active citizenship, an alternative paradigm of active citizenship and volunteering is emerging, largely out of the gaze of public scrutiny. Continue reading ‘How is the activity of volunteering changing? #volunteersweek’

Policy & Politics: Rethinking the role of the state

The newly elected Coalition government has announced an eye-watering austerity budget, with more detail of cuts to come. Similar moves are being made by governments across the developed world. Alongside this fiscal retrenchment the Coalition wants to initiate a debate about the role of the state. Are public sector activities better located in the private or third sectors? We will have to wait to see quite what this means in practice. Will the state disengage completely from whole areas of activity? Or is it a question of pushing provision out of the public sector, with government continuing to fund services and exert strong regulatory control?

Such a rethink could present opportunities for third sector organisations. But it can also present significant challenges. Ann Nevile’s forthcoming paper in Policy & Politics provides a timely reminder of the potential tensions between output legitimacy – value for money services – and normative legitimacy – values and community connectedness – that government seeks from third sector providers. Her research reaffirms that the most important strategy for maintaining normative legitimacy is retaining a mixed funding base, even though the transaction costs associated with doing so are considerable. This strategy also helps maintain organisational flexibility and innovation.

We are only just beginning what could turn out to be a significant transformation of the welfare mix. Recognising the complex competing pressures and accountabilities facing third sector organisations will be a vital part of the debate.

Nevile, A. (2010) Drifting or holding firm? Public funding and the values of third sector organisations, Policy & Politics, advanced access.

Alex Marsh, Management Board, Policy & Politics

Voluntary Sector Review: A new journal

Voluntary Sector Review is a new journal published by The Policy Press in collaboration with the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN). The journal publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed, accessible papers on third sector research, policy and practice. Below you will find an extract from Pete Alcock’s article ‘A strategic unity: defining the third sector in the UK’. To continue reading the rest of this article and all the others featured in the first issue of Voluntary Sector Review please encourage your institution to sign up for a free trial or subscribe.

Extract from A strategic unity: defining the third sector in the UK by Pete Alcock

The need for definition

Academics, policy makers and practitioners all need to be able to define the terms they use in discussion, and in particular to be able to delineate the key concepts that they rely on. Academic debate is often focused on disagreement over definition of core terms, and differences found in academic research are often the product of different definitions and approaches underpinning research questions. Too often perhaps academics end up talking at ‘cross purposes’, using the same terms to mean different things, and this is true for practitioners and policy makers too. It seems sensible therefore to begin by trying to define key terms, and this may be particularly important for a relatively new field of academic research such as third sector studies.

The focus of this paper is on the use of the term ‘third sector’ in the UK. It seeks to explain why this concept has arisen in recent academic debate and to explore how we might understand and even define it, differentiating this from other key terms such as the ‘voluntary sector’ and the ‘community sector’. This is a contested field, however, and both the definition and the existence of a third sector have been subject to debate and disagreement. There is debate and disagreement because there are different perspectives being brought to bear, including the perspectives of policy makers, practitioners and academics; and more broadly in international debate there are distinct cultural and political legacies arising in different national settings. Differing perspectives are based to a large extent on the beliefs, agendas and constraints that drive protagonists. For instance, the aims of policy makers (and more especially politicians) may be to introduce wide-ranging policy instruments that can bring about major change in social and economic activity; whereas practitioners in particular settings may be seeking to defend the mission and structure of their organisation against pressures to change or disrupt it. By contrast, for academics the pressure is to establish a reputation for developing new, and perhaps controversial, approaches to research.

These different agendas mean that the notion of a third sector is inevitably a contested one, and may lead some to challenge the relevance of the concept itself. These challenges are expressed in discourses – the language and the messages that we use to communicate when we write or talk about our concerns. It is through discourses that concepts are created and exchanged, and within discourse we can identify the different definitions that protagonists produce from within the agendas and constraints that they are operating. (For a general discussion of critical discourse analysis, see Fairclough, 1995; Finlayson, 2007.) As we might expect, within these various discourses the notion of a third sector has been differentially defined – it means different things to different people. However, not all discourses are of equal importance or impact. Those of powerful interests speak more loudly, and perhaps more articulately, than others. We will return later to examine the ways in which more powerful discourses in the UK have been shaping our understanding of a third sector in recent years, in particular through the policy actions that have flowed from these interests; and we will explore, to some extent at least, why this has been happening.

However, this is an academic paper and it is informed by the legacy of academic debate about the notion of a third sector and the key differences and core themes that have emerged within this. There has been quite extensive academic debate about the ways in which a distinctive sector might be identified and defined, and about the relationships between definition and measurement, and definition and policy, which flow from this. Understanding this legacy can help us to understand how current debates can be identified and explained.

To read the rest of this article and all the others featured in the first issue of Voluntary Sector Review please encourage your institution to sign up for a free trial or subscribe.


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