Influence and Impact

This centre was one of the largest investments by ESRC in the field of third sector and civil society research. So as we head towards our tenth anniversary that provides an opportunity for reflection on the contributions we have made to the research and, particularly, the practice landscape.

You’d expect significant research investments to at least generate coverage that would feature regularly in the relevant media, in Parliament, the BBC and elsewhere, and the links from this page provide illustrations of the most prominent among them, including questions being put to the Prime Minister on the Today programme, and a radio 4 documentary being introduced by piano playing from one of the Centre’s staff. 

Impact Case Studies

Learning from the past to inform contemporary debates about the third sector

TSRC has been engaged in various historical pieces of work which have received attention and contributed to informing policy at the highest level. The impact of this work was on public, professional and policy discussion of the role of third sector organisations in British society and politics.

The impact was on government officials, third sector staff and a wider range of stakeholders, all concerns with how relationships between the state and the voluntary sector have evolved, about how historical evidence has been used, and how examples of good practice from the past might be replicated in the future.

While TSRC was not initially commissioned to conduct historical work, stakeholders found our insights from historical projects valuable in order to help them contextualise important changes, such as the impact of recession (2008-9) and the ramifications of the advent of the Coalition government in 2010.

Our first example was work we conducted on the potential impacts of the 2008-9 recession, at which point the databases we have constructed on the sector did not exist, so there was no real evidence base to which practitioners might turn for guidance. However, Mohan’s previous work on hospital finances in inter-war Britain, combined with an overview of relevant data for the USA in the 20th century, provided the basis of a presentation to senior stakeholders at a third sector / government “recession summit” in 2009, publicised via History and Policy and summarised, reaching a wider audience, in the Guardian. It is our understanding that these contributions featured in discussions of government support for the sector in 2008-9 which led to packages of support for charities and social enterprises.

Our second example was involvement in invited discussions in the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit in 2010. The Unit wished to explore the evidence base around whether or not there were precedents for substantial shifts in the balance between statutory and voluntary initiative in the provision of welfare services. By this point TSRC had reviewed considerable bodies of evidence regarding long-run trends in volunteering and in the formation of voluntary organisations, demonstrating – in some measure confirming quantitatively some previous verdicts – that the post-war advance of the welfare state had in fact been followed by a steady increase in the formation of new organisations. As well as being disseminated via History and Policy the findings were also discussed at a British Academy seminar, attended by a number of prominent third sector personnel.

A third illustration was the involvement of John Mohan in the Inquiry established following the revelations of the criminal activities of Jimmy Savile in various NHS hospitals. The purpose of the Inquiry was to provide oversight of the investigations of individual hospitals and to provide guidance to the NHS as to lessons to be learned from the investigations. Again brokered by History and Policy, we were asked to contribute to an evidence session including a number of scholars that enabled the Inquiry to deepen its knowledge of the context in which Savile had operated. In our case, the evidence concerned the contemporary history of charitable fundraising in the NHS. The Inquiry lead, Kate Lampard, highlighted the value of the academic evidence, which had “added significantly to the rigour, thoroughness and fairness of their investigation reports. 'The historians were quickly able to set the historical context for the allegations about Savile’s behaviour, and do so in a way that was easy to understand and tailored to what we needed.' 

Fourthly, we developed an influential longitudinal study of voluntary action in conjunction with Mass Observation, leading to a major book on the theme of continuity and change in volunteering, which has featured widely in the media, gaining coverage in Third Sector and also in The Conversation, as well as in evidence to Parliamentary Select Committees, such as the Lords Committee on charities (2016) in which Mohan gave evidence before the committee. The findings are relevant to understandings of how best to promote engagement in volunteering by citizens.

Our last example is of using historical evidence about attitudes to voluntary action and voluntary organisations, drawing again on Mass Observation and on other sources from the 1940s, in an ESRC-funded project on which TSRC colleagues Angela Ellis Paine, Rob Macmillan and Rose Lindsey were applicants. This has resulted in an end-of-project meeting at the House of Lords, hosted by Baroness Jill Pitkeathley, to reflect on the themes of continuity and change in the experience of individual voluntary organisations. Work by Mohan and Breeze (Kent) also generated a further publication with History and Policy, on attitudes to charitable giving and the continuities between the 1940s and the present day, which has received widespread coverage.

Impact evaluation in third sector organisations

The last 20 years has seen an expanding role for impact assessment, using systematic evaluation methods, combined with rising demands on Third Sector Organisations (TSOs) in receipt of UK and European public funding to demonstrate outcomes and added value of their activities.  The TSRC Scoping Report identified a series of challenges this has presented to the sector and with an apparent lack of capability and reliable tools suited to the sector as an important gap in research.  Subsequently cross-institutional TSRC research (Universities of Birmingham, Middlesex and Southampton) was developed to explore the background to TSO needs for impact assessment, and to map and critically review the techniques and tools available and how they were being used.

The early TSRC research (2010-12) built on previous studies of social accounting and social auditing, and combined comparative empirical work and theoretical analysis of the TSO policies and practices, with a particular focus on Social Return on Investment (SROI) methods. This underpinning research was harnessed through Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs), a series of knowledge exchange workshops, key stakeholder liaison and other sector engagement activities in 2011-2013, including brokered actions through key stakeholders such as New Philanthropy Capital and NCVO. These went beyond dissemination of the research to set out implications for better TSO measurement of impact, both for their own (TSO) organisational improvement, and to provide evidence to improve access to more resources.

This has resulted in social impact measurement being introduced to many TSOs and an improvement in the tools used. Research insights into how social impact can best be measured have also led to engagement with individual charities, including Citizens Advice.  Many more have benefited from enhanced awareness and confidence on selecting approaches through training, use of a new guidance and a practice manual, taken up by over 1,100 smaller TSOs, and from more enlightened funder’s expectations of what impact measurement can do.

Impact Summary

TSRC’s impact assessment research and sector collaborations mapped practices in the sector to better understand motivations and from this produced new guidance which have been harnessed by over 200 Third Sector Organisations (TSOs) joining training workshops and over 1,100 downloading the guidance manual, widening, and improving, their use of impact evaluation and especially social impact measurement in the UK.


When government and other funders of health, social and environmental initiatives place contracts for service delivery, often but not exclusively with Third Sector organisations (TSOs), they require more structured and systematic evaluation of their effectiveness and successes, and especially of their impact against expectations. As a result there has been a developing demand on TSOs for meeting funder’s procurement and accountability requirements and also assessing the value and merits of their own ‘core’ activities.  TSRC’s Scoping Report identified that these rising demands have presented particular challenges for TSOs – small and larger - who often lack the knowledge and capability to select and apply appropriate evaluation tools and techniques to demonstrate impact against difficult to measure social outcomes as well as for the added value of their activities.  The Scoping Report also identified the lack of practice-evidence on reliable tools, how and where to apply these, as an important gap in research. 

Early (2009-10) cross-institutional TSRC research which involved cross-disciplinary contributors from the Universities of Birmingham, Middlesex and Southampton, explored the background to TSO needs for impact assessment.  This mapped and critically appraised the use of different techniques and tools taken up by the sector and in turn led to a TSRC team being commissioned to undertake a study on Third Sector Impact measurement for the (then) East of England Development Agency (EEDA).  The TSRC resources also enabled the coverage of the commissioned research to be substantially enhanced by adding TSO case study illustrations of a range of impact assessment practice.

This, and earlier conceptual research, influenced a study by New Philanthropy Capital which aimed to systematically survey practices across the sector.  This and subsequent knowledge exchange activities and partnerships (KTPs) involving team members aimed at providing a sufficiently wide evidence base for identifying variance in practice and for engaging the sector directly in improving TSO policy and practice.

This, and earlier conceptual research, influenced a 2010-11 study by New Philanthropy Capital which aimed to systematically survey practices across the sector.  This built on TSRCs prior working relationships with lead staff in NPC and their direct involvement as a key policy-engaged stakeholder at TSRCs scoping stage.  It combined TSRCs knowledge of robust sector sampling and survey design with NPCs sector database, adding subsequent knowledge exchange activities and partnerships (KTPs) also involving the TSRC team in dissemination of findings to the sector and policy makers.  The TSRC involvement helped build the credibility of the cross-sector and representative evidence base, identifying variance in practice and engaging the sector directly in improving TSO policy and practice.

Through these inter-linked activities the TSRC research built up a broad and critical perspective on underpinning TSO perceptions of impact measurement, including the use, misuse and adaptation of various tools, with a particular focus on Social Return on Investment (SROI) methods. A distinctive feature was the focus not just on methods but on understanding the (different) perceptions and rationales underpinning the choice of methods, and their use.  The research showed TSOs had considerable discretion on how they use impact measurement tools and in particular SROI. This provided for flexibility and customisation to specific evaluation circumstances and needs. However, the findings showed that TSOs were often confused on choices. The research evidence also pointed out fundamental dangers of SROI methods when comparing the impact results of one initiative or organisation with others. 

The interlinked studies, and KTP, resulted in a progressive series of TSRC working papers and briefs, blogs, and stakeholder conferences (July 2011 and May 2012) to engage the sector, and other academics, in critical review and extension of the findings and their implications for TSO practice. The most successful engagement activities were seen to be the working paper which mapped issues and practice, downloaded extensively by the sector, and the collaborative sector communication events with key stakeholders and especially NPC.


Influencing impacts on practice has included:

  • Collaborative development (with The Guild) of an on-line Guide to improving SROI practice (taken up by over 1,100 organisations). 
  • Sector knowledge exchange through a TSB Knowledge Transfer Partnership involving 14 training courses for over 200 organisations. 
  • The research has also been drawn on in individual organisational support including helping Citizens Advice in England and Wales develop impact assessment approaches (2010-11).
  • TSRC research harnessed in the Cabinet Office funded Inspiring Impact programme (2011-13) of New Philanthropy Capital to encourage shared approaches to impact measurement. 

Wider practice impacts are indicated by the fact that the TSRC working paper (2011) was downloaded nearly 4,000 times.

Influencing policy impacts have included:

  • The TSRC theme lead being appointed to the Cabinet Office’s advisory panel on Measuring Social Value and supporting the Cabinet Office with further policy research and advice aimed at a revised policy on social impacts measurement.
  • With associated research by DEMOS, a change in government policy that replaced an SROI preference with an emphasis on measuring impact with a multi-faceted approach which recognised the need for a range of approaches.
  • Policy briefings and dialogue with funders including the Big Lottery Fund (2010), DFID (2012), and Big Society Capital (2013)
  • Advice to Greater London Authority and NESTA (2013) resulting in setting up Project Oracle to build the evidence base on what works in youth policy.

This research has also led to researchers in the TSRC theme leading a number of externally funded impact assessment studies for specific organisations and their use in shaping policy for future direction of programmes and funding organisations.

User experience

New Philanthropy Capital observed:

“The [TSRC] collaboration made all the difference … it put our survey on solid ground.  This showed lots of confusion in the sector … and helped TSOs look more critically at what they were doing and how to do it better”.

 Of the subsequent awareness raising and new tools one charity reflected:

“ … we were under pressure to measure impact but we could only use it [SROI] because we bought in help.  It was costly and not sustainable but the [TSRC] research showed there were other ways … and it was OK to pick and mix the tools."

Lessons learnt

Lessons learned for generating impact have emphasised the value of:

  • Multi-disciplinary approaches to translating conceptual findings into practical value.
  • Multi-partner activity to widen user engagement and stakeholder dialogue.
  • Developing an evidence-base from an opportunistic approach to harnessing multiple funding.
  • Closely inter-relating research with progressive knowledge exchange to test findings and build sector awareness, expectations and utility
  • Use of multiple methods of communications to translate research and its implications and to increase user exposure and engagement. 

Influencing debates on high salaries in the third sector

Charities in the UK make up a hugely diverse sector, which in the past has not been supported well by reliable cross-sector evidence on its resources, including financial inputs. Following the collapse of a non-profit initiative to fill this gap, the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) established a collaboration with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), one of their founding sector partners, to develop a substantial representative sample of nearly 10,000 charities, capturing financial information from the notes to their accounts as well as the accounts themselves, to provide robust longitudinal data on charity finances. The construction and analysis of reliable and robust quantitative data resources on the sector has been an important wider legacy for TSRC, informing an emerging policy on executive top pay in charities as an early impact, following media criticism and subsequent parliamentary and regulator scrutiny.  Although this is not widely recognised publicly, the data are also used by ONS in construction of estimates of the contribution of non-profits to the national accounts.

TSRC conducted a sophisticated statistical analysis from charity accounts data on remuneration (charities must disclose numbers of staff paid in excess of £60 000), presented in Autumn 2013 as written evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration (Select) Committee (PAC). This also underpinned NCVO witness testimony to PAC and contributed to NCVOs subsequently published top pay inquiry. TSRC independent analyses showed media criticism stemmed from unrepresentative data and flawed analysis.  TSRC’s evidence was disseminated widely through the sector, attracting interest across charity trustees, and contributing to professionalising remuneration practices in smaller and larger charities including through NCVO’s Guidance on Executive Pay Setting policy and practice.  NCVO and other key sector commentators felt the robust, independent analysis and trusted interpretation by TSRC had changed the tone of the policy debate, and provided an evidence-base to what had previously been: “ … a largely fact free debate on a sensitive issue”.  

Impact Summary

TSRC research of ‘top pay’ and associated data analysis in charities provided evidence which influenced the public policy debate about regulating high levels of UK charity executive pay


From inception, TSRC was engaged with leading charitable and philanthropic organisations, regulators, representative bodies including NCVO, and policymakers, to inform its research and knowledge exchange priorities. This built on pre-existing working relationships and the active role played by these key sector bodies in TSRCs scoping stage identifying evidence gaps in key areas of policy and practice for the sector.  An early identified TSRC focus was for quantitative mapping and measuring of the highly diverse and dynamic third sector, against a background of highly fragmented sector data.

TSRC had planned to integrate its efforts with the third sector databases developed by Guidestar Data Services. These non-profit arrangements had to be reconsidered when the contractor went into receivership. Subsequently TSRC, NCVO and the Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis at Queens University Belfast, collaborated to design and develop a replacement and alternative database. This involved capturing financial statistics from the accounts of a carefully-designed sample of 10,000 charities in England and Wales. 

An early impact from the data partnership was TSRC’s contribution to the national debate on charity top pay stemming from criticism by two national newspapers of reputedly high executive remuneration packages. By 2013, Charity Boards were under acute pressure to account for executive pay levels; many felt exposed by the lack of any robust cross-sector evidence and the absence of a social (performance) metric on added value of top manager pay. Media and some parliamentary criticism was also levelled at the Charity Commission, with some calls for a regulated charities pay cap or public procurement restrictions to ‘high paying’ charities. By Spring 2013, The Third Sector Journal, saw the top pay debate as a risk to already diminishing levels of individual charitable giving.

TSRC felt that working with sector bodies and others to raise awareness of the data and analysis, and its implications, was a more appropriate way of transmitting the evidence to policy makers and influencers. Using this referred approach to knowledge exchange tapped sectors body’s extensive policy networks raising both profile and credibility.


Remuneration data for the sector was partial and (where gathered by recruitment agencies or sector trade bodies) often subject to restrictions on its use for research purposes. Recognising the need for robust evidence, NCVO announced in 2013 an independent Inquiry into Charities Senior Executive Pay, to report early the next year.  Shortly after, the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) of the House of Commons also announced a review on charity chief executive pay.  TSRC contributed directly to both by:

  • Developing a special analysis of the TSRC-NCVO data (from 2012) of executive pay across multiple charities
  • Extrapolating survey data to cross-sector estimates of pay distribution.
  • Providing a stand-alone, policy directed and independent analysis showing sharp top pay distinctions between smaller charities, many of which have no paid staff at all, and (a few) larger charities. 
  • Providing also for disaggregated evidence and a sophisticated statistical analysis of ‘outlier distortions’ to top pay. 

Submitted as written TSRC evidence to PAC, this was also drawn on in witness testimony by the NCVO Chair in December 2013. Subsequently, Prof John Mohan of TSRC submitted similar evidence to the House of Lords Committee on Charities in 2017. The TSRC analysis showed:

  • Under 1% of charities paid any senior manager over £60,000 pa.
  • Excluding anomalous or exceptional cases substantially reduced the average level of sector remuneration; indicating media reports had been disproportionately influenced by a handful of atypical top pay packages from larger charities.
  • Gross top pay (for executives), adjusted to organisation size, was 25% lower across the charitable sector than the private sector
  • A broader view of remuneration (beyond base salary) which took into account executive bonuses and other remuneration estimated that charity senior executives were paid 45% less than those in the private sector. 

TSRC’s impact, alongside other contributions to PAC, and use in the subsequent NCVO inquiry report, informed and helped change the tone of the [policy] debate.  With small charities among the critics of high executive pay, it also provided a baseline informing the sector about itself; influencing Charity Boards and Trustees. A 2013 feature on TSRC evidence in the Third Sector journal was one of the most widely downloaded articles from that journal in 2013. The TSRC analysis also helped inform associated NCVO Guidance to trustees on setting remuneration. 

NCVO also acknowledges that the TSRC evidence, combined with their own Inquiry, to see Trustees and Management Boards of some of the larger charities start to rethink issues of transparency in pay policy for executives, and remuneration strategy.  At least one very large charitable body has completely restructured its pay differentials and non-salary remuneration as a result; others were likely to be in the process of doing so.

User experience

The TSRC contribution was highly valued with NCVO commenting it:

“The TSRC evidence massively contributed to a public interest issue; influencing PAC thinking.  It enabled us to engage with the media, confidently, with authority … and to go beyond ‘you would say that wouldn’t you scepticism’ ”.

New Philanthropy Capital also observed:

“The sector was vulnerable to top pay critics … before [TSRC] it did not have the ability to counter criticism”. 

It has also contributed to a longer term impact by shifting the pay debate to the more substantive challenges of low pay among charities.

Lessons learnt

The TSRC experience highlighted the value of a partnership approach which drew on different skills sets in the co-production (with NCVO and others) of the cross-sector database. The ‘top pay’ analyses achieved its impacts by:

  • Providing focused and credible evidence for multiple ‘users’. 
  • Contributing independent and expert evidence-based analysis targeted at a specific policy debate.
  • Combining robust cross-sector data, independent analysis, and robust statistical analysis of distributions and variance with TSRC reputation for applied analysis of the sector.
  • Working across stakeholders to help in communicating evidence to meet policy-makers needs – in parliament, regulators and individual charities. 

The experience also showed that instrumental impacts such as on the top pay debate can also have longer term conceptual impacts.  As a result of the analysis, and turning policy makers attention away from what was a misplaced focus on senior executive remuneration, the TSRC data has provided a new focus on wider pay distributions in the sector.  This has opened another issue for the sector to start to address, namely the issue of low pay in the sector, which has attracted the interest of the House of Lords Committee on Charities in its wide-ranging 2017 Report.

Impact on the Transforming Rehabilitation programme

Forming a core objective of the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC), the role and impacts of the third sector within public service delivery has comprised a major stream of research. Within this remit, criminal justice was identified as a key area for detailed analysis, leading to collaboration with Clinks, a charitable organisation representing third sector organisations working within the criminal justice system in England and Wales.   

This work began with an initial TSRC study to map the role of the voluntary sector within the criminal justice system, resulting in the publication of a  2010 Working Paper entitled: Role of the third sector in work with offenders: the perceptions of criminal justice and third sector stakeholders, as well as several subsequent journal articles. This initial work brought TSRC to the attention of Clinks leading to further research conducted collaboratively against a policy backdrop of large-scale reform of the probation service in England and Wales in 2013.  

A key feature of the Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation agenda was the creation of new competitive opportunities for the voluntary and community sector to provide rehabilitation services. At the time, the extent to which charitable organisations were involved in the probation service supply chain was largely unknown as data were not publicly available. Recognising the need to understand how the sector and member organisations would be affected, Clinks approached TSRC with a view to conduct three surveys between 2013 and 2017 to obtain detailed sector level data. TSRC was chosen for its combination of sector specific expertise (as demonstrated by the 2010 Working Paper) and independence as research body. For Clinks, commissioning an independent organisation to conduct the research was a key criteria in order for the study to have credibility among external stakeholders such as the Ministry of Justice and probation service providers. The impact of this work has gone beyond a better understanding of sector engagement with the National Audit Office using the TSRC-Clinks data to inform their 2016 review on the Transforming Rehabilitation programme. Clinks has also used the data in evidence to support parliamentary review with evidence to both the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee in 2013, and the House of Commons Justice Select Committee in 2014.  

Impact summary

TSRC’s collaborative research with Clinks has produced previously unavailable sector level data on the involvement of charitable organisations within the criminal justice system, leading to direct and evidence-based engagement with both parliamentary and departmental policy makers.   


The ‘Track TR’ collaboration between Clinks and TSRC was a response to large-scale policy reform change in the probation services in England and Wales, under the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) agenda. This agenda outlined greater opportunities for the charitable sector to provide rehabilitation services. However, the changes also raised many questions for Clinks due to a lack of public data regarding the extent to which charitable organisations were involved in the reform programme. Recognising the need to collect reliable data to direct their activities, Clinks contacted TSRC to draw on their sector knowledge, research skills and expertise. 

For Clinks, the value of the collaboration was encapsulated as being: 

“…the first time we thought that it was really helpful to have an organisation like TSRC providing comment on the voluntary sector … that we as an umbrella organisation can point to and say here is an independent organisation doing rigorous research on the voluntary sector in our part of the system and here is the learning from it.” 

The research followed a three stage process commencing with an initial pilot survey in May 2015 which led to the publication of Early Doors: The voluntary sector’s role in Transforming Rehabilitation. This first survey was designed to be an exploratory learning exercise from which to develop a subsequent larger survey. The second survey was conducted between August and October 2015 with the accompanying Change & Challenge report being published in May 2016. The third and final phase was conducted during 2016, with the report due to be published in June 2017.   

A particularly valued aspect of the research process was the willingness of TSRC to adopt a flexible iterative approach, whereby changes could be made to the later surveys based on the survey outputs and changing policy needs:   

“…we originally intended doing three quick surveys, but actually the pace of change in TR was much slower than predicted so we purposely slowed down and made the gaps between the surveys bigger, TSRC were great at rolling with that to manage the research in line with policy changes to ensue what we had was relevant.” 

This flexibility was also a feature of policy engagement. A particular influence was on analysis at the Ministry of Justice where the research partners - Clinks, NCVO and TSRC team members had existing working relationships. This enabled second-stage survey evidence to be harnessed by policy teams in the Ministry to assess emerging features and patterns of TSO engagement, providing input to the policy-centred review of Transforming Rehabilitation then being conducted by the Justice Select Committee. There were also wider policy influences with Clinks noting that: 

“… [this] has led our policy work with the Ministry of Justice in this area and they have started to respond to it, they have picked up on what we have said about supply chains and I think they recognise that what we are saying is right and whilst there is still a lot of work to do it has been a really positive thing, combined with things like the National Audit Office picking it up and other organisations taking an interest, particularly the Public Accounts Committee.” 

Notably, this engagement with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) extended to an invitation to Clinks, NCVO and TSRC to submit  a joint written evidence submission, leading to the citing of findings from the Change & Challenge report within the PAC Transforming rehabilitation Seventeenth Report of Session 2016–17, HC 484 (London, House of Commons); where it was stated that: 

“…Research into the sector has found that the pace of change has been slow, reducing investment by CRCs in voluntary suppliers’ work, [and] that the reforms have not succeeded in creating a diverse supply chain, and that poor quality communication with the voluntary sector is damaging relations and impeding service improvement. The research also highlighted that while some services remain unchanged, very few voluntary sector organisations are seeing an improvement in probation services. In many cases, these organisations are reporting negative experiences and outcomes for services users”. 

The publication of the 2010 Working Paper can be regarded as a pivotal dissemination activity which raised awareness of TSRC criminal justice research among sector stakeholders; ultimately resulting in the collaboration with Clinks. This work evidenced TSRC’s track record in this area and provided the necessary credibility for Clinks to pursue a research collaboration with TSRC which would be regarded as independent by sector stakeholders, notably the Ministry of Justice and probation service providers. The success and value of this collaboration is particularly evident from the use of the TSRC-Clinks data within the 2016 National Audit Office review of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, and from requests by the Ministry of Justice to add additional questions to the most recent survey.


Influencing  impacts on public policy and policymakers have included: 

  • National Audit Office requesting use of the data to inform their 2016 review of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme.
  • Written evidence submission to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee in 2016. Recommendations from this contribution (informed by the Change & Challenge report) were subsequently cited within the PAC Transforming rehabilitation Seventeenth Report of Session 2016–17, HC 484 (London, House of Commons).
  • Oral evidence presentation to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee in 2014.
  • Dialogue with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation and the Prison Inspectorate, particularly around the ‘Through the Gate’ Policy.
  • Dialogue with Ministry of Justice to discuss the survey combined with requests to add additional questions.
  • Submissions to opposition party consultations around the third sector and criminal justice.
  • Dialogue with charitable foundations (an unexpected audience) after it was discovered that many expressed concerns over their role in this area of provision. 

User experience 

Clinks observed: 

“[One of the reasons] for partnering with TSRC was that we wanted to make absolutely clear to people like the Ministry of Justice, new probation providers and the National Probation Service was that we were doing this as an enquiry… and we were getting someone independent to do the analysis who knew what they were doing and this wasn’t anecdotal … they [TSRC] brought that to the table, we’re not a research organisation so we needed that specialist support.” 

As a result of the work, Clinks noted that there had also been a change over time in attitude towards the sector evidence: 

“…when we started out the Ministry of Justice were quite sceptical and maybe a bit nervous that we were doing this, but in the run up to this more recent survey they actually invited us in to talk about the questions we were going to ask and see if they could get a couple of questions included in things they were interested in, so in terms of measuring success I see that as the difference between having to get around the table or being invited to the table.” 

Lessons learnt 

Lessons learned for generating impact have emphasised the value of: 

  • The willingness of the research team to adopt a flexible approach in order to work with realities of a rapidly changing policy landscape and changing requirements of a partner organisation.
  • The value of genuine co-produced research where both partners engage in a learning process.  
  • A flexible response to reporting and communications to meet opportunities presented by the developing policy agenda, and policy makers’ needs.
  • Working with a specialist academic team from a dedicated research centre focused on the sector, expedited the research minimising the time needed to get the project up and running.
  • Engaging with a funded research centre with a broader remit representing greater value for money as an important issue for the charitable sector. 


Selective coverage


Given the policy salience of our work on voluntarism and voluntary organisations, we have featured on Radio 4 on a number of occasions, listed chronologically below.

Thinking Allowed, 22nd November 2010 – John Mohan discussed TSRC’s work on the civic core (the idea that the great bulk of pro-social behaviours such as volunteering and giving to charity are concentrated among small proportions of the population: (this was also discussed on Hard Talk, 20th December 2010, interview with Sir Stuart Etherington).

You and Yours, 16th June 2011 – John Mohan on the potential impact of public funding cuts on charities, drawing on work he and David Clifford had done for the previous year’s Comprehensive Spending Review, published as a TSRC working paper and in revised form in Urban Studies

BBC R4 Today programme, 4th October 2011: the 8.10 slot featured the then PM, David Cameron, putting TSRC’s civic core data to him as an illustration of the challenges his “Big Society” ideas faced, to which he responds, somewhat dodging the question, by asserting that the “decline in volunteering has stopped”. Unfortunately the episode is no longer available - the link is - so you’ll have to take our word for it although you can read a summary of the interview 

BBC R4 Documentary, “How new is the ‘new’ philanthropy”, 26th December 2011 - John Mohan was interviewed about historical precedents in the study of the distribution of charitable resources (and also playing the piano…it’s a long story which is explained in the recording)

World at One, 4th September 2012, John Mohan interviewed on the impact of the London Olympics on volunteering.

Analysis, 20th October 2013:  John Mohan interviewed on the changing funding mix of charities

Thinking Allowed, 14th March 2016, John Mohan discussed his book, The Logic of Charity.


Our work has featured on numerous occasions in Parliament – below we give some of the more prominent examples.

Quoted in debates or answers to questions

Baroness Warsi, House of Lords, 11 May 2011, referred to the civic core analysis by John Mohan.  

Role of the voluntary sector in criminal justice:  5 December 2013, Baroness Massey;

Answers to questions

Public funding of charities: 22 October 2010, N Hurd, MP;  1 November 2010, N Hurd MP;  22 November 2010, N Hurd MP;  1 December 2010, N Hurd MP; 16 December, 2010, N Hurd MP;  17 March 2011, N Hurd MP.

At the time, Nick Hurd was the Coalition Government Minister for Civil Society, and he was acknowledging the input of research by TSRC to deliberations for the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review. Our work had identified the distribution of organisations most likely to be exposed to funding reductions in the context of the government’s austerity measures. This research was acknowledged as forming an input into the Government’s decision to allocate a £100Mn “transition fund” to the voluntary sector, to bail out organisations at risk of substantial public funding cuts.

Quoted in reports

By the Public Administration Select Committee, report on The Big Society, 2012, at paragraphs 34, 45, 46.

House of Lords Committee on charities, 2017, at paragraphs 48, 90, 121, 293, 305.

Capacity and Careers

A significant investment such as TSRC ought to make an impact through developing research capacity and over twenty former research staff and students in TSRC have gone on to take up academic appointments in British and overseas universities.

Reflecting our approach to research – particularly to collaboration with non-academic partners  – we are particularly proud that former PhD students and staff have gone on to research and policy roles in major voluntary organisations. Examples include positions as directors of research / policy in the Church Urban Fund, Scope and the National Development Team for Inclusion; policy roles in NCVO and the Charity Finance Group; and CEO positions in Volunteering New Zealand and the Kent Refugee Action Network.

A direct example of capacity-building through our activities has been that a number of early career researchers and academic staff involved in our work have subsequent obtained funding or other research recognition for work in our field. The following provide examples:

A Fulbright Scholarship  (2010), awarded to Rosie Meek, drawing on her TSRC-funded work on the role of third sector in criminal justice.

Funding for an ESRC Seminar series on social enterprise – Simon Teasdale 2012 (with Nicholls, Oxford) – this provided a space for dialogue between social enterprise practitioners and academics to develop an agenda for critical research on social enterprise.

An ESRC Future leaders award 2013 to David Clifford  - these awards recognise a small number of individuals across the social sciences who are no more than four years from completing their PhD. David’s research explored new data from the Charity Commission regarding the overseas activities of English and Welsh charities.

An ESRC knowledge exchange project (2013-14) exploring change in the third sector: Rob Macmillan, working with the Timescapes project at the University of Leeds, brought together various prominent research projects with a shared concern about longitudinal change in the third sector, along with practitioners, to reflect on how the findings could inform practice.

Two awards from the ESRC Secondary Data Analysis initiative, the first (2013-4) for a study of Continuity and change in volunteering – Rose Lindsey and Sarah Bulloch (an award which resulted in a major monograph, Continuity and change in voluntary action, published in 2018). This initiated a long-running research collaboration with the social research charity, Mass Observation, which has resulted in two further awards from ESRC. One of them developed the use of Mass Observation as a research resource by producing an online version of Mass Observation’s database about its volunteer writers, whose contributions are a major resource for social scientists and historians. A further award from ESRC (2017-19) on Discourses of Voluntary Action involved Macmillan and Ellis Paine plus various collaborators. The project investigates the debates that have taken place on the role, position and contribution of voluntary action in the provision of welfare in the 1940s and 2010s, and it will contribute to new understandings of voluntary action and to practical action for third sector organisations and policy makers.

Involvement in a major MRC-funded project, Social enterprise as a public health intervention, by Simon Teasdale (former TSRC researcher, 2008-13, now holds a chair at Glasgow Caledonian).

Other significant research projects in which our early-career staff have played central roles include an extension from ESRC of our longitudinal work which tracks a small number of third sector organisations since 2009, involving Rob Macmillan, Angela Ellis Paine, and John Mohan;  work funded by NIHR on role of the voluntary sector in mental health crisis care  (2016-19), with James Rees, now at the Open University, and a former research fellow at TSRC; and a project led by James Rees, funded by the Lloyds Bank Foundation (2016)  on the value of small and medium-sized voluntary organisations, a project which also involved Chris Damm and Vita Terry, former ESRC-funded PhD students at TSRC).

A prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prize (2017), awarded to David Clifford for the further development of his large-scale quantitative work on organisational change in the third sector, using TSRC datasets which he played a significant role in creating.

An award from the Marsden Fund, New Zealand (2017) to Alice Mills (formerly TSRC, now at the University of Auckland) on supporting ex-offenders in desistance, building on her work with TSRC.

Charles Rahal, now at Oxford, who has a British Academy postdoc fellowship which develops and extends the work he did with TSRC on the ESRC-funded civil society data partnerships projects – he is developing refined procedures for linking together open data on public sector procurement to financial data on third sector organisations.


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