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. 


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 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.