NHS England put make volunteers a priority via ‘HelpForce’

HelpForce is a new national initiative to increase the use of volunteers in healthcare and has started investigating experiences within a group of 14 NHS providers and voluntary sector organisations.

Perhaps it is just me but the similarities between the terms “workforce” and “helpforce” jump out as being particularly interesting, and reflect concerns in other areas of public service regarding the way volunteering is sometimes positioned as a supplementary labour force.  From Twitter I understand the NCVO are also involved and their expertise and understanding of the issues facing the voluntary sector will be essential if the programme is to achieve its ambitious aims.

This initiative is in the early days but the website is already up and running, providing details of the initiative and the overall aims, including:

HelpForce will enable the NHS to make the greatest possible use of volunteers, volunteer-led and VCSE sector projects to deliver more effective services to patients. HelpForce will unlock community assets and mobilise greater involvement to supplement the volunteer work already provided by NHS organisations and partner charities. We will act as an ‘aggregator’ to expose and scale existing, proven examples of innovation and best practice of volunteer-centred interventions that have made an impact on the NHS”

It will be particular, interesting to see how smaller community and volunteer organisations are engaged with this initiative and it must be hoped that this will not result in even more concentration of funds in the currently dominant large charities in the sector (or a continued concentration in London).

This initiative appears to have links to the recently established “Health and Wellbeing Alliance” has been announce which aims to include the “voluntary, community and social enterprise’s sector’s voice and expertise into national policy making”  , or at least it was good to see discussions on twitter last week about how to ensure these join up!

And of course our interest will be in the way in which volunteering is constructed through these discussions, and the implications for the experience of volunteers themselves particular in relation to any emerging emphasis on the digital in this context.


Publishing Social Media Research

Have you experienced problems getting your social media research published? Dr Sarah Glozer (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Dr Chris Carter (University of Nottingham) are organising an event around the challenges of publishing research based on social media data in the management/organizational field. Taking place on July 25th in Nottingham, speakers and attendees will have the opportunity to share and discuss their own experiences and learn from others.
Follow the link to learn more and sign up.

Research Methods for Digital Work: The Storify

Many thanks to all the great participants who joined us for a great two days at Surrey University for our “Research Methods for Digital Work” event last week.  Particular thanks to our keynotes: Diane E. BaileyMonika Büscher and Richard Rogers.

Throughout the two days we were all tweeting away under #RMDigital so if you weren’t able to make it or you just want to re-live the experience you can look through our storify below.

NCVO 2017 Almanac: the state of the voluntary sector

As always the NCVO Almanac provides an invaluable resource to all those working in the Voluntary and Community sector.  Offered in bite size chunks but enabling access to more detailed data and analysis this is an essential source of information.  At coming as it does in the run up to a general election, the 2017 version could not be more timely.  However as some commentators point out the facts and figures are generated from the year 14/15.  Kirsty Weakley, writing in for Civil Society, is among those to point out that this pre-dates some major fundraising scandals and of course the Brexit referendum.

As well as warning regarding the financial state of the sector overall (particularly the lack of prospects for growth), the huge concentration of assets in a very small number of organisations.  As summarised on the website Third Sector : “90 per cent of the sector’s £112.7bn of total assets – such as property, cash and investments – are held by just 3 per cent of charities, with the top 100 asset owners accounting for half of the sector’s total.” and in contrast: “Approximately 48 per cent of all charities are described as “micro”, defined as those with annual incomes of less than £10,000, the almanac says. Another 34 per cent it categorises as “small”, with annual incomes of between £10,000 and £100,000.”

While it will take a while to digest the full reports a few other interesting facts caught my eye:

  • volunteering rates remain largely unchanged although rates of regular formal volunteering among young people have dropped slightly for the first time since 2010/11
  • overall there is little gender difference in participation but type of activities are somewhat gendered (with women performing more care related roles)
  • 35% of unemployed people reported regular formal volunteering, compared with 27% of people who were employed and 27% who were economically inactive.
  • When presented with a list of charitable services, more than nine in ten people report having accessed at least one service, with children and young people once again the most common beneficiary group

Importantly the NCVO highlight the need to “guard against complacency” highlighting that there are likely to be very challenging times ahead.

Please see the NCVO for full details of the almanac.  Congratulations to all involved in once again producing this excellent report.


Register Now! Research Methods for Digital Work 25-26 May

Fantastic opportunity to explore issues at the leading edge of research practice and hear our great keynote speakers (see abstracts below and full programme).

Register before 15 May!

Diane E. Bailey Associate Professor in School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin

Wrestling with Digital Objects and Technologies in Observations of Work

Observing people who use computers at work can be difficult. A person working with physical objects and physical technologies behaves in ways that an observer can readily track. For example, in early motion and time studies, the Gilbreths devised a system of 18 elemental movements (e.g., select, grasp, move, inspect) to analyze what workers did. A person working with digital objects and digital technologies poses a greater challenge for the observer because small, nearly indiscernible actions (such as typing a single letter) may initiate a series of work actions on the computer. Worse still, a person may be hard at work when away from the computer while software programs run “in the background.” In this talk, I discuss the methods that I developed with my colleagues to combat these issues in our multi-year field study of engineering work and technology. Our methods blend the industrial engineer’s eye for detail with the ethnographic tradition of observation and interpretation. I discuss in particular methods for collecting and analyzing digital objects and for understanding the array of digital technologies in a workplace.

Monika Büscher Professor of Sociology, Director of the Centre for Mobilities Research and Associate Director for the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University

Is IT Ethical? Mobile Work, Mobile Data, Mobile Methods in Crises

Disaster response can involve extreme physical and digital mobilities. In the aftermath of the 2015 Germanwings crash, for example, hundreds of emergency personnel from local and international agencies converged to scour two square miles of steep, rocky terrain for debris and DNA. Surrounding such physical mobilities are often myriad efforts to mobilise information and coordinate actions through digital technologies. New capabilities for mobile work that emerge in this context can be very positive, but they can also raise complex ethical, legal and social challenges. In collaborative research with practitioners, information technology developers and interdisciplinary teams of researchers, I explore what it means to do work on the move in crisis management to gain insight into the relationship between embodied practices of mobile work and the im|material im|mobilities of data. This takes the form of engaged ‘speculative’ sociology and involves a mixture of mobile methods, including participant observation and participant intervention, ways of ‘following the information’, affirmative critique, disclosive ethics, utopia as method, ethical and privacy impact assessment, and speculative design. These methods are a means for ‘staying with the trouble’ of often ambiguous emergent ‘intra-actions’ and effects. In this talk I provide examples from this collaborative research to explore how we can combine methods or devise new methods to capitalise on diverse forms of data to build rich and practically as well as theoretically fruitful understandings of digitally-suffused working life.

Richard Rogers Professor in New Media and Digital Culture, University of Amsterdam

Social Media Engagement: Beyond Vanity Metrics

In the age of social media one dominant mode of engagement is distraction. Whilst appearing oxymoronic, distracted modes of engagement have invited the coining of such terms as ‘flickering man’, ‘continuous partial attention’ and ‘ambient awareness.’ One’s engagement with social media (however much in a distracted state) is also routinely measured. Klout scores and similar are often called ‘vanity metrics’ because they measure performance in (what is referred to as) the ‘success theater’ of social media. The notion of vanity metrics implies at least three projects: a critique of metrics concerning both the object of measurement as well as their capacity to measure unobtrusively or only to encourage performance. The second is a corrective interface project, for users are continually distracted by number badges calling to be clicked; there is a recently revived movement afoot for so-called ‘encalming technology’. A third project could consider how one may rework the metrics. In the project I call critical analytics, I propose to repurpose altmetrics scores and other engagement measures for social research, and seek to measure the ‘otherwise engaged,’ or other modes of engagement (than vanity).

Keep in touch with event news on this blog and via twitter #RMDigital

The meeting is being organized by Christine Hine (University of Surrey), Katrina Pritchard (Swansea University) and Gillian Symon (Royal Holloway, University of London) in association with the Digital World Research Centre at the University of Surrey. The meeting has received funding from the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Surrey and the RCUK-funded NEMODE Network Plus.

Volunteering decline?

The UK’s Office of National Statistics has recently released figures that show a worrying trend in the amount of time that volunteers give to their communities. Measuring formal volunteering, that is work contributed via groups, clubs or organizations, the figures show a decline of 7% in the amount of time given between 2012 and 2015 as part of an ongoing decline in overall volunteering time since 2005. This pattern is not, however, evenly spread across age groups. In the younger age group, of 16 to 24 year olds, time spent volunteering has gone up, while the time given by 25 to 34 year olds has gone down. The figures hide a complex back story combining a challenging labour market, constrained public spending, transformations of higher education, changing family structures and a proliferation of initiatives aimed at promoting volunteering and providing new digital infrastructures. Clearly these factors hit different demographic groups in different ways and what drives some towards volunteering may drive others away, at the same time as volunteer work is as sorely needed as ever. Delving into individual stories and tracking cohorts over time may give some clearer insights into what is going on.

Inspire (and be inspired by) volunteers!

Voluntary Action South West Surrey focused their annual conference on 4th April 2017 on the theme of inspiration and the event certainly delivered with a stimulating series of sessions exploring both why volunteer efforts are so highly valued and rewarding and how to face up to the challenges of finding, supporting and recognising volunteers. A packed hall of delegates listened to Jessica Taplin, CEO of vInspired talk about the challenges of raising a new generation of young volunteers. Jessica explored the distinctive needs of this grouping of volunteers and stressed their huge potential to contribute, provided that opportunities are tailored to their motivations and their availability. These points were revisited later on in the day by Maddie Thomas, Volunteer Coordinator at the University of Surrey with an overview of the huge potential in the voluntary workforce offered by students in Guildford, tempered by realism about what the right kinds of role might be. Giles Mahoney and Dominic Wright, representatives from the local hospital and clinical commissioning group, talked about their bold plans to transform healthcare provision and keep the community at the heart of their decision-making and about the integral role of the voluntary sector in health and social care. Helen Cammack of interests.me gave a plenary session and later workshops that explored the promised offered by social media as a way to advance the work of voluntary and community organizations. Again, the inspirational message was one of hope (recognising the huge potential of social media as a way to advance a cause without a massive media budget) tempered by realism (that social media require creativity and persistence if they are to make a difference and that messages delivered online often don’t hit home as reliably as we think they do). The day ended with some compelling stories of individual efforts to set up organizations to make a difference across areas as diverse as time banking, tree planting and storytelling. The day as a whole demonstrated both the vibrancy and the struggles of the voluntary sector and emphasized the commonality of many of the issues being faced, across an incredibly diverse set of activities.

Registration Open: Research Methods for Digital Work Event 25-26 May 2017

Research Methods for Digital Work: Innovative Methods for Studying Distributed and Multi-modal Working Practices

University of Surrey, Guildford, UK, 25-26 May 2017


As digital technologies have matured, various forms of distributed working have become commonplace and work has become both spatially and temporally complex. This complexity provides many challenges for the researcher aiming to capture and understand these practices, requiring tracking activities – and their meanings for participants – across multiple formats connected in an unpredictable fashion. This meeting therefore focuses on a key question for studies of contemporary work across disciplines: how can we combine methods or devise new methods to capitalise on diverse forms of data to build rich and theoretically-fruitful understandings of digitally-suffused working life?

Participation at the meeting is limited to 50 attendees so please do sign up quickly to reserve your place. Registration fees are £60 (£40 for students/unwaged). Attendees are responsible for their own travel and accommodation.  Links to possible local accommodation can also be found on the registration page.

Keynote Speakers

Diane E. Bailey Associate Professor in School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin: Wrestling with Digital Objects and Technologies in Observations of Work

Monika Büscher Professor of Sociology, Director of the Centre for Mobilities Research and Associate Director for the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University: Is IT Ethical? Mobile Work, Mobile Data, Mobile Methods in Crises

Richard Rogers Professor in New Media and Digital Culture, University of Amsterdam: Social Media Engagement: Beyond Vanity Metrics

The aim of the meeting is to promote cross-fertilization of approaches across disciplines and to instigate conversations on the theoretical purchase offered by different ways of studying work. During the two-day programme, speakers from a range of disciplines will present examples of current projects that have developed new methods or applied known methods to capture and understand both traditional work as it has moved on-line and emerging forms of digitally-mediated work. Additionally, there will be an ‘open session’ during which attendees can briefly introduce their own ongoing projects or those in development, providing an opportunity to discuss any design issues, challenges and potential solutions arising from these with other meeting members.

The meeting is being organized by Christine Hine (University of Surrey), Katrina Pritchard (University of Swansea) and Gillian Symon (Royal Holloway, University of London) in association with the Digital World Research Centre at the University of Surrey. The meeting has received funding from the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Surrey and the RCUK-funded NEMODE Network Plus.

Can we still distinguish voluntary work from other forms of work?

One of the issues facing many researchers and policy-makers is how to differentiate between various kinds of volunteering in order to understand different kinds of experiences. Consequently a typology of volunteering seems like it would be a very helpful tool for the sector.  This week we see such a typology – based on differences in motivations and activities – published in the journal ‘Sociology’.

From interviews with 30 volunteers, Mihaela Kelemen, Anita Mangan and Susan Moffat distinguished four categories of types of volunteering

  • Altruistic: Perhaps most readily associated with voluntary work, volunteering as activities that help the local community
  • Instrumental: Possibly on the rise in the current economic context, volunteering as activities that enable individuals to improve their CVS
  • Militant: also possibly on the increase as social services face increasing cuts, volunteering as activitism
  • Voluntolds: encompassing corporate volunteering schemes and political policies that ‘encourage’ benefit claimants into volunteering

However what is particularly interesting about this typology is that the authors argue the boundaries between categories are very permeable.  For example, while some volunteers seemed to be ‘voluntolds’, this also involved the altruism of ‘giving something back to the community’.   The recognition that we can construct typologies but that they will always be inter-related reveals the complex nature of volunteering and is an argument for not setting up false dichotomies between volunteering groups.  More fundamentally, Kelemen et al argue that it calls into question any very firm distinction between volunteering and paid work.  Indeed they suggest that given the activities volunteering encompasses – planned work that delivers a service and is not necessarily a matter of personal choice – it should be considered as ‘work’.

In the 21st Century, digital technologies are also implicated in a narrative of increasingly permeable boundaries between life and work.  While Kelemen et al’s research does not consider the role of technologies in volunteering, there are clearly points of contact.  Our research assumes fluidity between using digital technologies for different kinds of (paid or unpaid) activities and adopts a generally dynamic construction of digital volunteering.