Monthly Archives: February 2016

Examining co-production in the academic literature

The latest issue of VOLUNTAS includes an interesting paper about co-production which brings together many disparate streams of debate amongst academics:

Sancino, A. (2016). The Meta Co-production of Community Outcomes: Towards a Citizens’ Capabilities Approach. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 27 (1) 409-424

The paper unpacks key definitional issues highlighting the basic principle that co-production is a means of ensuring outcomes are those valued by “service users and citizens” and “not simply those which are valued by politicians, service managers and professionals” (p. 410).  Although the term ‘simply’ here seems somewhat misleading as it might suggest that there is a common view amongst those groups included in the list.  And as the author points out, the same is true for the issue of service users and citizens and others deemed to be part of the ‘public’ involved in the processes of co-production who may be working to a variety of political, organisational, community and personal agendas.

The paper highlights the many different forms of relationships that can be classified as varying types of venture.  The author distinguishes between coproduction in terms requiring cross-sector involvement vs. ‘peer production’ which involves self-organising communities, apparently without any additional involvement.  It seems to me that these forms of fine-grained classification are not particularly useful for practitioners who I expect are more interested in the practicalities of working together on the ground.  Indeed within the paper there is an implicit critique of the decontextualized approach to theorising co-production in the academic literature.  The author goes on to review different aspects of the debate in the literature which reflect the many different fields from which academics writing about co-production; so there are economic perspectives, leadership perspectives, policy perspectives etc. etc.

A key feature of the paper is the ‘value’ chain diagram of co-production which is rather something of a value maze, with a community outcome hidden at the centre of a complex web of inter-relationships.  This maze I think represents a fundamental issue with the ‘principles’ of co-production and the potentially huge gap from this to the practices that are being implemented.  Within the diagram are several contexts that impact the outcome, perhaps from our perspective the most interesting of which is technological context.  Although these ‘contexts’ are not specifically addressed within the paper a key question that arises in relation to our research interest is how is co-production (in whatever form) technologically mediated and how is this reflected in the different day-to-day practices of those involved.  This is particularly challenging when co-production involves the close working relationships between different groups who may well have different assumptions about the role of various digital and social media.  Our own research aims to explore these issues within the work of volunteers, working from the bottom up if you like rather to understand how they find their way through the sort of co-production maze presented in this paper.  While we would like to see various aspects of debate further developed, this paper does a good job of pulling together different perspectives so this debate can start.  I have to admit it was not until I had read the paper and written this blog that I realised the paper is indeed written by a college of mine at The Open University, so I will be contacting him for a coffee to start that debate sooner rather than later!

Volunteering and data security: exploring challenges emerging from recent news stories

At the start of the year, the Alzheimer’s Society were in the news regarding data security breaches.  They have responded to concerns and stress that as far as they are aware no personal data was compromised.

As reported in many leading papers including this story in the Telegraph, one of the breaches related to the sharing of information by volunteers using their personal emails, storing papers at their home and not encrypting data on personal PCs.  It further appeared that this particular group of volunteers had not received any training in data protection or related issues.

This highlights a particular challenge in light of the increasing use of a wide range of digital and social media in the voluntary sector.  That is, how do these organisations ensure that those individuals whose participation in their activities is entirely voluntary understand and follow the appropriate processes regarding data security and protection.  When in many (if not most) cases an organisation is not only relying on the volunteer’s time and skills but also on the fact that they will use their own equipment perhaps working at home or even at their workplace.

While here the issues relate to data of clients and their families, the types of personal details accessed by volunteers across a range of organisations is likely to be wide and varied.  The ICO (Information  Commissioner’s Office) have rightly suggested that  voluntary organisations have a responsibility towards its own volunteers to ensure they are aware of the appropriate processes and that they are supported effectively, as discussed here in Computer Weekly.  However, there has been no discussion as far as we have seen of the most appropriate ways of achieving this in a voluntary context.  As we see an increase in opportunities for data driven volunteering via a variety of digital media this is likely to be an issue that will impact more and more groups in the Third Sector.  Here we have seen that even a large, well established charitable organisation has by the ICO’s standards failed to manage this issue appropriately, which must raise concerns for the sector more broadly.

Research examines volunteering in retirement

Researchers at the University of Leipzig have recently published a paper which considers the impact of occupation and career on volunteering during retirement:

The paper explores volunteering within a German context, using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel.  While the full paper includes some tricky statistics, we felt a summary of some of the issues highlighted would be useful to explore in our blog.
The overall premise is that those employed in high-status occupations will be particularly impacted by the process of retirement, and that for these individuals acquiring social status through volunteering helps address this impact.  Though the authors highlight the need for more investigation on the type and nature of volunteering that was not possible to explore via the existing data set.  Also of interest are the questions raised about the stratification of volunteering in terms of the potential benefits for retirees; which here become the preserve of the already well off in terms of physical and social capital.  The authors term this the ‘long shadow’ of an occupation, which goes on impacting individual well-being for many years after retirement.
However the assumption that retirees have ‘plenty of spare time on their hands’ might be an assumption worthy of challenge?  Certainly we seem to be seeing in the UK at least an extension of working lives and a much longer transition to retirement through various transitions which can still involve paid employment.   Perhaps then the idea of ‘loss’ of occupational status at a single point may not hold true in the future?  This said we do see that the idea within the paper of the need to explore more the social relationship aspect of volunteering and it’s interaction with paid employment is a very worthwhile endeavor.  This is particularly pertinent as employer-led volunteering is becoming more high profile particularly in the UK.

Giving up to give: abstinence vs volunteering

The traditional January new year’s resolution has become a means by which Charities draw attention to particular issues and aim to capitalize on abstinence.  But does giving up result in any meaningful connection with the charity?  This is the issue tackled in the Guardian who ask: Dry January: how much do people care about the charities involved?  This article also looks at the trend for fundraising by social media, this time with a focus on not doing something.  Perhaps this highlights a new type of ‘slacktivism’.  This is the concern that we believe we are making a meaningful contribution to a cause or an issue by simply ‘re-tweeting’ or ‘liking’ a photo or statement.  Does this become even more of a concern when the ‘re-tweet’ or ‘like’ is for someone not doing something?  This becomes even more problematic when we use social media to circulate our successful abstinence but don’t share the difficulties or the failures.

The article does not go onto explore what these sorts of activities mean for the way in which we understand how we might give our time or become involved with a charity.  At a time when many sporting or challenging activities have become dominated by the charitable participant, to see this move to a non-activity or abstinence must seem puzzling for those who want to directly give their time or become active in a volunteering role themselves.  It seems that these roles are, in social media coverage at least, in danger of going unheard.