Change in the making: A dynamic and relational landscape of voluntary action

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Third Sector Research Centre

Abstract

'Change in the Making' is an exciting and unique study of change in the third sector over time. To our knowledge, nothing like it has been attempted elsewhere, and the changes and challenges in the operating environment for the third sector make it extremely timely.

Our project investigates the ways in which change is negotiated, created and contested by a range of different stakeholders in diverse third sector settings. It focuses attention on organisations as contested spaces of collective action, involving the interplay of multiple stakeholders, such as paid staff, volunteers, service users and commissioners, all with different interests. The study will build on, extend and enhance the Third Sector Research Centre's ground-breaking long term 'Real Times' programme of research with third sector organisations carried out between 2010 and 2014.

Change in the Making is a timely study given the challenges facing voluntary organisations at the present time. It will be of great value for those interested in how third sector activities are sustained, and in how third sector organisations adapt to change over time. The 'Real Times' study followed the fortunes of a set of third sector case studies through an unsettled environment, involving a combination of political and institutional change and a challenging financial context, particularly for organisations drawing on public funds to carry out their work. Hence the original research charted the first years of adjustment to austerity.

Change in the Making takes the story forward through three further intensive waves of fieldwork, over four years, with four of the original case studies. In line with the study's aims we deepen the analysis of the longitudinal case studies by broadening the range of research participants at each case study site, and we place their experience in context by situating the case studies within wider field developments. A focus on a smaller number of cases allows us to refresh and deepen our research questions. The longitudinal approach facilitates a longer term perspective on the rhythms of organisational change and continuity. By the end of the proposed study we will have engaged with the case study organisations for nearly ten years from 2010 through to 2019, i.e. surviving through an initial period of austerity, but with uncertain prospects in the years ahead. We know already how these organisations and activities have survived through to 2014, but what happens next, and more specifically how is what happens next shaped by different influences and stakeholders?

The study informs and advances academic debates on conceptualisation of, change in, and the character of, the third sector. It is of great relevance to policy and practice debates because it provides great insights into how change is made and experienced in the third sector on an everyday basis. It develops our understanding of how third sector organisations really work in practice, through its in-depth engagement with individual organisations. No other British study has been able to do this. It informs the development of policy and practice for and in the third sector, by providing real and vivid insights into the everyday dilemmas, pressures and practices of third sector organisational life, and thus shaping more realistic accounts of third sector activities than currently prevail. It extends the study of third sector activities over time and it thereby contributes a unique and innovative organisational dimension to the growing body of qualitative longitudinal work in the social sciences. It has the potential to impact upon third sector policy, practice and discourse: to influence the development of practice through bulding capacity within the third sector and to create conceptual impact through reframing the debate about third sector organisations and their role in society.

Planned Impact

This project will provide a unique qualitative longitudinal evidence base on change in the making within the third sector: on how change is created, contested and experienced by multiple stakeholders. Beyond the academic beneficiaries of this study (particular those involved in voluntary sector studies, social policy and sociology), we will work with and seek to have an impact upon two primary sets of third sector stakeholders:

1. Third sector organisations delivering front line services. Austerity measures and welfare reforms are contributing to a particularly unsettled environment for third sector organisations. Change in the Making will seek to contribute to organisational change processes through building the capabilities (skills, knowledge and confidence) of third sector leaders through providing engaging and accessible evidence of change in the making and through facilitating reflective spaces to think about their organisations and their working practices.

2. The surrounding third sector support architecture, which includes national and local third sector infrastructure bodies (e.g. umbrella bodies and organisations which promote and support voluntary action at national and local level); funders of voluntary action (e.g. Big Lottery Fund, charitable trusts and foundations, commissioners); policy makers (within third sector organisations and within government), third sector-focused media, research and consultancy agencies and think tanks (e.g. IVR, IVAR, NESTA, RSA). Together these bodies seek, in different ways, to support the third sector, yet the evidence base available for them to draw upon remains partial and debates are often underpinned by untested assumptions. Change in the Making will contribute to a reframing of debates about the characteristics and role of third sector organisations. It will also seek to build capacity within the supporting architecture by piloting methods to create reflective learning groups for third sector organisations that could be cascaded by infrastructure bodies and by developing a module to be incorporated into existing leadership development activities.

A longer term aspiration is to have a positive impact upon the quality of life and wellbeing of the many thousands of individuals who engage in voluntary action as workers, volunteers and service users through giving voice to a wider range of stakeholders within third sector organisations and through influencing third sector policy and practice.

TSRC's work to date has had a significant impact on third sector organisations and on debates about the third sector among academics, policy makers and practitioners (see for example, http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/its-change-research-front/policy-and-politics/article/1309000). This gives us a strong starting point.

To enhance the quality of the Change in the Making study and its potential impact on the third sector, we will work to involve our stakeholders in all stages of the research, from design through to delivery of the emergent responses. For example, an Advisory Group will bring together nine key third sector leaders to advise on study design and implementation and to help shape emerging recommendations and impact activities. We will establish a wider virtual sounding board and facilitate deliberative workshops to engage a wider range of stakeholders in discussions about the emerging study findings and to help shape analysis, outputs and outcomes. We will draw on the study findings to co-design and co-deliver capacity building activities, including reflective learning groups and leadership development modules. We will also draw on the study findings to contribute to a reframing of the debate about the third sector, to move beyond existing assumptions and single-perspective narratives, through a range of mechanisms including conferences, workshops, presentations and working papers and an extensive communication strategy.
 
Description The qualitative data collection and analysis is ongoing - we have so far completed two of the scheduled three waves of fieldwork - and as such findings are emergent. To date, three interrelated sets of findings are emerging as significant, with other themes in evidence but yet to be explored in detail:

1. While the quantitative data analysis associated with the study suggests a surprising amount of stability in third sector resources over time, the qualitative data highlights the considerable turbulence which is felt within organisations even when their income levels appear relatively stable. This is evidenced and manifests in at least three ways: the amount of work and effort required to stay 'stable', to maintain funding and activity levels; the considerable amount of churn, of both projects and staff; and the considerable shifts in the role and position of organisations, what services are provided, how they are provided, who they are provided to, and indeed who they are provided by - all of which may be hidden within such trend data.

2. We have identified two dominant narratives of change in voluntary action - 'necessity and transition' and 'jeopardy and loss' - both of which tend to assume that voluntary organisations react fairly passively to external environmental factors. Our findings challenge these dominant narratives by highlighting the significance of both context (external environment; structure) and conduct (internal factors; agency) in shaping change. Our findings highlight different contextual factors as particularly significant to voluntary organisations, but also the ways in which the context is both variably understood by organisations and variably impacting upon them. It has also highlighted some of the different tactics that organisations have adopted as they seek to navigate that environment - how their conduct is both influenced by and in turn influences the context in which they operate. Context and conduct are fundamentally intertwined: our research is highlighting the importance of the interpretive space in between external context and internal developments.

3. The interplay between context and conduct has been a particular feature of a third set of findings to emerge from the study, concerning the commissioning of services. Here we are contributing to debates on the third sectors engagement in the commissioning environment by moving beyond cross-sectional studies, which tend to be framed by new public management approaches, to provide a more nuanced understanding of how third sector organisations are navigating a strategically selective commissioning environment. While our findings do not deny the challenges that many third sector organisations face in what is an increasingly complex commissioning landscape, they provide new insights in to the ways in which third sector organisations are acting strategically to navigate and shape commissioning processes.
Exploitation Route As outlined in our response to the section on "narrative impact", we know that organisations are already using our findings to reflect on current changes in the voluntary sector and their implications for their own organisational development. At a time when our research tells us that organisations increasingly struggle to find the time to reflect - to make sense of the environment and about the changes that they are experiencing and contributing to - providing opportunities to do so has been reported by participants as being particularly valuable. We are aware, for example, of how useful organisations have found presentations based on our work to important inquiries such as the recent Civil Society Futures inquiry, chaired by Julia Unwin. One such presentation was designed as a conversation starter on dilemmas of governance for third sector organisations. The presentation stimulated lively debate and was well received, as demonstrated in the following quotes from participants: "Your opening presentation was brilliantly pitched to inform, shape and provoke thinking across the afternoon, but also much more widely. It's certainly a resource I will refer back to many times and I am sure that everyone else who came will too so thank you for being so generous in allowing us to use and share it beyond this initial conversation" and "thank you again for providing such a well judged and thought provoking opening to the conversation. I was particularly struck by your reminders that the governance narrative could be a distraction which lets the powerful off the hook and civil society has a valuable role in helping repair a torn or fraying society."
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other

URL https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tsrc/research/below-the-radar/change-in-the-making.aspx
 
Description Although only part way through, the Change in the Making project is beginning to have an impact on third sector policy and practice by challenging some of the dominant narratives regarding change in voluntary action. In particular, our findings relating to the ways in which organisations shape, as well as being shaped by, change have been encouraging voluntary organisation to think about their own agency, to be more confident in their interactions. The opportunities that the study has provided for organisations and individuals to reflect upon change within the voluntary sector have been found to be impactful. These include the spaces for reflection that are created by the research process itself - for the organisations most closely involved in the case studies but also the wider set of interviewees - but also for a broader range of voluntary sector practitioners and policy makers through mechanisms such as our advisory group, sounding board and workshops (as detailed in the engagement section). At a time when our research tells us that organisations increasingly struggle to find the time to reflect - to make sense of the environment and about the changes that they are experiencing and contributing to - providing opportunities to do so has been reported by participants as being particularly valuable.
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Change in the Making Advisory Group - meeting 1 (Sept 2016); meeting 2 (May 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Change in the making is guided by an Advisory Group comprising influential policy and research interested members of national third sector umbrella and support bodies (including NCVO, NAVCA, Locality, Children England, Cranfield Trust and the Advice Services Alliance) and charitable funders (including the Big Lottery Fund, London Funders and Barrow Cadbury Trust). The group meets five times during the course of the study through to March 2020. In two meetings to date, the group discusses key issues facing voluntary action, and then discusses issues and findings arising from the study, based on papers and presentations from members of the research team.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
 
Description Change in the Making Advisory Group - meeting 3 (17 April 2018) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Change in the making is guided by an Advisory Group comprising influential policy and research interested members of national third sector umbrella and support bodies (including NCVO, NAVCA, Locality, Children England, Cranfield Trust and the Advice Services Alliance) and charitable funders (including the Big Lottery Fund, London Funders and Barrow Cadbury Trust). The group meets five times during the course of the study through to March 2020. The third meeting took place in April 2019, during which the group discussed key issues facing voluntary action, and then focused on issues and findings arising from the study, based on papers and presentations from members of the research team.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description Discussant within one day conference at Aston University - Charities and Social Enterprises - a day for researchers and practitioners to discuss current challenges and escalating change 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact During an event on charities and social enterprises, organised by Aston University, Angela Ellis Paine acted as a discussant to one of the sessions reflecting on insights from qualitative, longitudinal studies of change within voluntary organisations. The event brought together a mix of academics, practitioners and policy makers from across the voluntary sector to discuss a broad range of issues currently affecting voluntary organisations, including social change, the development of social enterprise, regulation and accountability.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Exploring change in the making 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A blog post to inform readers about the study and to begin a conversation about change in the third sector.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tsrc/news/2017/06/exploring-change-in-the-making.aspx
 
Description Facilitating workshop on formalisation of volunteering at National Volunteering Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Angela Ellis Paine co-facilitated (with Rob Jackson) a workshop entitled 'Is Volunteering too Formal?' at an event organised by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) as part of the National Volunteering Forum on Friday 25 January 2019, which was used to launch new research by NCVO on the volunteer experience. During the workshop approximately 25 participants - mainly volunteer managers from a diverse range of voluntary and public sector organisations - discussed what research and practice tell us about the formalisation of volunteering and what this might mean for volunteer management, for individual volunteers, and for the contribution of volunteering to society.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Hosting seminar on voluntary sector leadership 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact As part of the Change in the Making study, and coinciding with our project Advisory Group, we hosted a seminar on third sector leadership. The seminar was delivered by James Rees of the Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership at the OU and chaired by John Mohan. It focused on issues of leadership within the third sector - definitions, challenges and questions of distinction - and provided participants with information about resources available for third sector leadership development. The topic was selected as it is has been highlighted as a key theme emerging within the change in the making research study.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited chair of policy and practice conference on Third Sector Commissioning 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Rob Macmillan was the invited chair for the Third Sector Commissioning conference at the Hallam Conference Centre in London on 30th November 2018 organised by Westminster Insight. Rob gave some opening remarks to set the context for the day, drawing on the Change in the Making research, and closing reflections on key themes discussed, as well as intriducing speakers and chairing Q&A sessions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://westminsterinsight.com/event/3210/Third_Sector_Commissioning_Conference
 
Description Invited presentation to third sector practitioners 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Rob Macmillan gave the opening presentation, entitled "The 'third sector' on the defensive?" at the one day 'Prometheus 2018 Executive Leadership for the Third Sector' conference held by Manchester Business School on 1st November 2018. The interactive presentation was followed by Q&A and feedback from roundtable discussions on key issues facing the third sector.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited presentation to third sector practitioners 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Rob Macmillan and Angela Ellis Paine presentation to the Citizens Advice Research and campaigns forum, Birmingham, 20th September 2018, entitled "Stick to your knitting? Citizens Advice and local influence". The audience consisted of members of local Citizens Advice organisations in the West Midlands region who are responsible for campaigns and policy work. The presentation was followed by Q&A and debate on the context for campaigning work through Citizens Advice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Membership by Rob Macmillan of the IPPR North Future of Civil Society in the North Advisory Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Rob Macmillan was a member of the IPPR North Advisory Group for its three-year research programme on 'The Future of Civil Society in the North'. The group met approximately three times per year to advise on and guide the programme, discuss research ideas and projects, and comment on findings. The group mainly consists of influential practitioners from third sector organisations in the north of England. The group has provided an opportunity to feed in ideas and reflections from the 'Change in the Making' study as it progresses. It concluded with a final meeting to discuss future research priorities in November 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018
URL https://www.ippr.org/research/major-programmes/the-future-of-civil-society-north/
 
Description Membership of Standing Conference for Advice Research and Evaluation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participating in a working group to discuss research and evaluation on legal and advice services particularly in the third sector. Sharing information about Change in the Making research study and contributing to discussions on existing and future research possibilities. The group is convened by a national third sector umbrella organisation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
 
Description One day conference: Continuity and change in an era of instability: developing a shared agenda for voluntary action research and practice - presentations and workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Approximately 100 voluntary sector academic, practitioners and policy makers attended this one day event, organised by TSRC. Three of the five plenary presentations and one of the workshops drew on findings from the Change in the Making project. Conference participants discussed the research findings and their implications, while also sharing thoughts on a future agenda for third sector research and practice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description One day conference: Continuity and change in an era of instability: presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Rob Macmillan gave a lightning presentation entitled 'Third sector policy and infrastructure: unsettlement, de-coupling and transition' at this one day event on 14-2-19, organised by TSRC to explore issues of 'Change and continuity' in the third sector, attended by approximately 100 voluntary sector academic, practitioners and policy makers. Conference participants discussed the research findings and their implications in roundtables, while also sharing thoughts on a future agenda for third sector research and practice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation by Angela Ellis Paine to the TSRC's Below the Radar Reference Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Presentation on the change in the making project to the Third Sector Research Centre's Below the Radar Reference Group. Presentation to inform discussion within the group about change in the voluntary and about research on small voluntary and community organisations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation by Rob Macmillan at Civil Society Futures Inquiry conversation in Birmingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Presentation on charity governance (Reimagining Governance) at an event hosted on 7 Dec 2017 by the Association of Chairs and Anthony Collins Solicitors for the national 2-year Civil Society Futures Inquiry chaired by Julia Unwin. Approximately 25 people attended the event. The presentation was designed as a conversation starter on dilemmas of governance for third sector organisations. The presentation stimulated lively debate and was well received, as demonstrated in the following quotes from participants: "Your opening presentation was brilliantly pitched to inform, shape and provoke thinking across the afternoon, but also much more widely. It's certainly a resource I will refer back to many times and I am sure that everyone else who came will too so thank you for being so generous in allowing us to use and share it beyond this initial conversation" and "thank you again for providing such a well judged and thought provoking opening to the conversation. I was particularly struck by your reminders that the governance narrative could be a distraction which lets the powerful off the hook and civil society has a valuable role in helping repair a torn or fraying society."
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://civilsocietyfutures.org/events/
 
Description Presentation by Rob Macmillan to the two-day Prometheus Executive Leadership for the Third Sector residential event held by Manchester Business School 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Manchester Business School run an annual two-day third sector leadership residential event called 'Prometheus', attracting each year between 50 and 80 managers and executives from national, regional and local third sector organisations. Rob Macmillan has been invited to give the opening day 2 presentation since 2015, using material initially from 'Real Times' (the predecessor to Change in the Making') and subsequently from 'Change in the Making'. The 2017 session was entitled 'The Canary in the Coalmine: the politics of voluntary and community action' and involved a presentation with break-out time for roundtable discussion amongst approximately 55 participants. Discussion focussed on (a) the two narratives of the third sector used to inform 'Change in the Making' (jeopardy and loss, adaptation and transition) - 'are they familiar?' 'are they used in discussions in and around your organisation?' 'do you find yourself using them?' and 'what's missing?' and (b) what's the point of voluntary action? - 'what does your organisation offer society?' 'what can and do you bring to the table?' and 'what can you contribute?'. Organisers of the event report that the presentation and chance for discussion is very well received, hence the re-invitations to present each year.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.mbs.ac.uk/media/ambs/content-assets/documents/executive-education/prometheus-2017-progra...
 
Description Volunteer Management Conference 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Approximately 300 volunteer managers, from a broad range of voluntary and public sector organisations attended a one day conference on Volunteer Management, organised by Inside Government. The day involved a range of plenary sessions, panels and workshops on different aspects of volunteer management. Angela Ellis Paine chaired the day.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description presentation at conference of charity trustees and investment managers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Presentation at Birmingham Charities conference organised by an investment management firm which manages considerable sums of money for charities mainly in the West Midlands. The theme of the conference was about the changing environment for charities and so the presentation, reflecting on themes and results from several years of TSRC's work, concentrated on elements of change and continuity in the funding environment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description presentation at conference of regional and local voluntary organisations 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Presentation at conference of Sandwell Community Hubs, organised by a regional infrastructure body for the voluntary sector in the west Midlands. The theme of the presentation concerned the role of the third sector sector in the regeneration of deprived neighbourhoods and communities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description presentation at conference of third sector organisations 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Presentation of overview of key findings on change and continuity in the third sector at TSRC tenth anniversary conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019