Change in the Making

Austerity measures and welfare reform are contributing to a particularly unsettled environment for third sector organisations. Many are grappling with substantial change.

The Third Sector Research Centre has received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Barrow Cadbury Trust to explore how change is created, contested, understood and experienced within the third sector. Running over 3.5 years, the project will provide a unique, longitudinal, qualitative evidence base on change in the making within the third sector.

Whereas existing research tends to study third sector organisations at one point in time, Change in the Making follows a set of organisations over time to study change as it happens. In doing so we’ll be looking at different perspectives from a wide range of stakeholders – board members, chief executives and senior management, frontline workers and volunteers, service users - to explore how each is involved in shaping change.

Working with four sites of voluntary action operating at different sizes and scales, in different locations and within different policy fields, the study is addressing the central research question of how we can explain the processes by which change is negotiated, created and experienced within voluntary action. We are interested in: how people think and speak about change; how different sets of actors are involved in change; how the broader environment shapes change within voluntary organisations; and the extent to which change is directed by past experiences.  The study runs from 2016 through to 2020, with three waves of research taking place in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Each wave will involve a series of interviews and/or focus groups and observations with a range of stakeholders from our each of our case study sites. In addition, we are exploring the contexts within which each of the cases operate, by analysing documentary evidence and quantitative data on organisational income and expenditure. This will provide new insights into how organisations are positioned with respect to each other, and of some of the external factors which may shape change within individual organisations.

We believe that 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. We hope it will strengthen our understanding of the influences that shape change in voluntary action, as well as contributing to practical action for third sector organisations. We will work in various ways throughout the project to help ensure it makes a positive contribution to third sector policy and practice, including: establishing an Advisory Group and sounding board, holding a series of workshops and reflective learning events, publishing working papers and academics articles, and engaging in a range of other dissemination activities. We will keep this page updated with news about these activities as they emerge. 


Ten years of change in the voluntary sector

5 February 2020, 10am-4pm.

Based on a long-term national research project, with Karl Wilding from NCVO as keynote speaker, the conference offers a chance for discussion on the scale and nature of change in the voluntary and community sector. 

For the past ten years a research team associated with the Third Sector Research Centre has been following a group of voluntary organisations to understand how they experience, navigate and bring about change. The Change in the Making study involves voluntary organisations of different sizes and geographical remits and has taken place during what have been ten incredibly challenging years for many in the voluntary sector. 

Although austerity and increasing political uncertainty have put voluntary organisations under significant pressures in supporting their work and meeting their objectives, the research findings suggest that voluntary organisations are not just passive recipients of change, but employ significant creativity in navigating change, as well as shaping events in their own right. 

This conference will give representatives from the voluntary and community sector, in Greater Manchester and beyond, an opportunity to explore and reflect on their own experience of change over the past ten years in the context of the research findings. Alongside presentations from the Change in the Making team, three organisations from the local area will talk about how they have experienced change and Karl Wilding from NCVO will provide an overview of the national context.

Please note, although the conference booking page focuses on Greater Manchester, the event draws on research which is England-wide and will have relevance to organisations from across the country. 

Volunteering and Sustainable Development: Home and Away

On the 4th and 5th of December 2018, a group of 30 academics and practitioners came together to discuss volunteering and sustainable development – both in the UK and internationally. The workshop was a joint initiative of the Third Sector Research Centre and the International Development Department at the University of Birmingham and the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois. 

The conference ran for one full day exploring various themes concerning volunteering and sustainable development with a second half day focusing on possible ways forward through research collaborations.  Participants were invited to attend either or both days of the event.  Participants were drawn from both academic and practitioner contexts and included a small number based outside the UK. 

Cliff edge? Unsettlement? Plus ca change?

Exploring change in the third sector

Towards the end of 2017, the Third Sector Research Centre's 'Change in the Making' research study team, worked in partnership with NAVCA (National Association for Voluntary and Community Action), Voluntary Action Rotherham and Voluntary Action Sheffield to organise an interactive workshop exploring different sources of evidence on change in the voluntary sector. The workshop was aimed at practitioners within the voluntary and community sector. We have produced a short report summarising the day. Embedded within it are the presentations. 

Contact us

Professor John Mohan (Principal Investigator): 

Dr Rob Macmillan:

Dr Angela Ellis Paine: