What will charities look like in 2045?

Cordery, Smith and Berger publish an intriguing examination of future scenarios for the charity sector in latest issue of Public Money and Management journal. To arrive at these scenarios the authors identify some key drivers of change apparent within the sector at present, and play out the possible interactions between these drivers. The analysis draws on familiar themes of population change, technological innovation and austerity as they pose challenges for the activities of charities in terms of the services that are required of them, the source of their funding and their relations with volunteers and clients. The drivers that specifically affect the charity sector are, the authors argue, fourfold: demographic shifts towards an ageing population beset by inequalities producing both an increase in potential volunteers to be managed and an increase in those who need voluntary assistance; technological changes that allow for crowd-sourcing and a global stage for campaigning but disrupt established networks; a constrained funding climate that may require charities to forge close alliances with government or corporate funders and in turn impact on charities’ missions and brands; and changing forms of volunteer engagement, with the rise in corporate volunteering and also virtual, or micro-volunteering enabled by digital technologies, each of which pose challenges for volunteer management. Mapping the four drivers together across two dimensions (from marketized to compassionate, and from local to global) leads to four thought-provoking extreme charity sector scenarios for 2045 in the “government-funded elite”, “corporate co-operation”, “home-grown” and “crowd-sourced” models. Within these models some potentially troubling risks emerge for the sector’s ability to recognise and respond to social need, depending on the path taken. Current charities will do well to use these scenarios to reflect on their long term future trajectory even as they strive to respond to immediate challenges on the horizon.


Keynote abstracts! Research Methods for Digital Work: Innovative Methods for Studying Distributed and Multi-Modal Working Practices 25 May 2017 – 26 May 2017

We have a great programme resulting from our call for papers which we hope to share soon.  In the meantime to whet your appetite the abstracts for our keynotes are posted below with more details available on the event website and dedicated blog page.

We will be opening registration soon, watch this space!


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).


Student Volunteering Week


As Student Volunteering Week gears up for the launch of the 2017 event on February 20th so too does its social media campaign, active across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (#SVW2017). This initiative (now in its 16th year) builds on the long tradition of student volunteering as described by Georgina Brewis in her social history of student volunteering across a hundred years. Brewis showcases the enduring significance of student voluntary effort while arguing that it takes a distinctive form in the social and political conditions of each time in history.


Figures released last year (as reported by NCVO) showed a significant increase in the number of young people volunteering in recent years – a rise that was attributed in part to the success of initiatives and campaigns that raise awareness of volunteering and in part to the rise of online recruitment platforms that give easier access to opportunities. As a product of its time, Student Volunteering Week combines some features of these two factors – putting together a concerted online campaign with on-the-ground initiatives at universities, schools and colleges across the country connecting potential volunteers with opportunities to contribute their time and their skills where need arises. Many of these opportunities are not just one-off occasions for Student Volunteering Week, but ongoing efforts that are brought to a new audience through this event. Contemporary volunteering capitalises on the potential of digital technologies to connect people with opportunities but much of the work being done still takes a very recognisable form, involving ongoing face-to-face work with beneficiaries and other volunteers, getting the job done. Digital technologies complement and augment the volunteer experience and potentially bring new participants into the mix, but in many ways the student volunteering scene remains true to its historical roots.


The relationship between on-line and off-line volunteering

It has been assumed that those taking part in off-line volunteering are a different group from those taking part in on-line volunteering.  Indeed, there has been some concern that those engaging in on-line volunteering were less committed and engaging in ‘clicktivism’ as a very minimal type of involvement.  However new research by Jennifer Ihm, published in Voluntas recently, suggests that these assumptions need to be re-examined.

Based on the results of a large scale survey in the U.S. , Ihm  concludes that we can differentiate between low level volunteers and high level volunteers and that the latter engage with volunteering more often and in more organizations than the former, whether this is on-line or off-line.  In other words , committed volunteers use both on-line and off-line channels to further their volunteering activities.  As Ihm concludes:

“volunteering is a complex activity where individuals manage their commitment and time to participate within varying organizational contexts, to different degrees, in order to maximize their reach to both online and offline spheres”.

However the results also indicate that lifetime volunteers (20+ years), perhaps because they began volunteering before online volunteering gained momentum, are less likely to move into the online sphere.

This research is very important in focusing on the relationship between online and offline volunteering and in its findings that the two are related.  In our research, the objective is to also explore this relationship, but in a more qualitative way.  If volunteers are engaging both offline and online, how do they negotiate these different kinds of interaction on an everyday basis?  Do they find that their experience differs even with the same organization across these two different spheres?   How can they integrate this intensive volunteering into already busy lives?

Ihm’s work is important in recognising online and offline are related, but this is only the tip of the iceberg in understanding volunteering in the digital age.

Call for papers: Deadline extended to 10/2/17 #RMDigital

Research Methods for Digital Work: Innovative Methods for Studying Distributed and Multi-Modal Working Practices, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK , 25-26 May 2017

Many thanks to all those who have submitted abstracts so far.  We are delighted that we have had so much interest from across the world!  We have had a few requests for an extension to the submission deadline (as we understand the end of January was a popular deadline for other conferences too).  With this in mind we will be please to accept abstracts before the extended deadline of Friday 10th February. Extended abstracts of no more than 1500 words should be emailed to c.hine@surrey.ac.uk  using the subject line “Research methods for digital work”.  Full details available from Surrey University.

Guest blog: Collaborating with the Public over Social Media in the Museum Sector

We previously published a guest blog on digital volunteering in Birmingham Museums by Becky Fletcher.

This guest blog by Dr Krista Godfrey, School of Management, Royal Holloway, builds on this topic and reports on her research on social media use in the museums.

Engaging the public over social media is now commonplace in the museum sector.  Whilst some museums have social media experts to deal with this activity, it often requires the input of professional museum staff such as curators, historians, and archivists.  I was interested in how social media engagement has affected the experience of these professionals.  I focused on ‘living memory’ history, which deals with contemporary events such as the First World War or the Falklands Conflict because it is the stories around objects that are uncovered that build interest in museums:

Our medal room is just basically a room full of really shiny objects.  That’s not what makes it interesting.  What makes it interesting is the story of the people that held on to those medals.” [Curator]

Many museum staff are now reaching out to the public over social media to help them with a richer, deeper understanding of artefacts; not just what an item is, but how it was used or modified. In effect, turning members of the public into citizen historians through crowdsourcing.  My research showed that the public have an almost unconditional willingness to share high quality of information with museums.  I have termed this exchange of historical information a network of public.  A network of public extends the idea of networks of practice, in which most participants are inter- or intra-organisationally relted.

 The network of public is less bounded, catering to individuals who are interested in a range of information; whether that is sharing knowledge of how to repair a particular make of car or engaging with museums on the uses and modifications to Challenger tanks.museum-blog

I expected that museum staff may feel a sense of de-professionalization through the museums’ remit to collaborate with the public.  Many years of education and training are undertaken to become a curator so it was possible that asking the ‘amateur’ public for their opinion or information may be resisted.  However, every individual I spoke to found collaborating with the public both interesting and beneficial to the museum.

Using common social media tools aids such exchanges:

“Because people know how to use them [social media], because they use them all the time, they don’t have to learn something new.” [Curator]

However, museum staff also commented that the public are quick to adapt and learn to help museums with crowdsourcing projects, as can be evidenced by the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Operation War Diary’ project.  The public were keen to learn this new technology in order to contribute.

However, while staff want to engage with the public, they are not usually allocated time to do this, which means that their main role – curation – can be affected.  Providing time and support to museum staff for engagement activities is beneficial in the long-term.  The public become more involved with the museum and act, in many cases, as virtual volunteers, giving up both time and knowledge to help the museum to grow its collections.

Digital volunteering through social media technologies is on the increase, and museums are well positioned to take advantage of this.  My research encourages museums to appreciate the value that is gained from engaging the public over social media, in order to add rich descriptions to existing collections or undertake large-scale, dedicated projects (crowdsourcing activities).  It shows that collaborations over social media are providing methods of gaining new knowledge, both for the museums themselves as well as for the public.


Embedding Social Value in Digital Design

Our research has been oriented to understanding the implications digital technologies have for volunteers’ experience of volunteering, whether in terms of mediating communications or supporting specific voluntary activities.  However, what are the implications for volunteers of the way these technologies were designed in the first place?  We were very interested to hear about the CAST team who operate out of the Impact Hub Brixton and seek to work specifically with non-profits to build technologies to support social ventures.  Just lately CAST (Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology) have been publicising the ‘Six Tenets of Tech for Good’ which seeks to embed a social engagement orientation in the design process itself, for example by promoting the recycling of hardware and software, the open sharing of digital developments, user-led design and social value orientation.  What seems particularly helpful in this manifesto is the promise to design technology that addresses the challenges non-profits face rather than coming along with ready made solutions.  Building these commitments into design sounds like a good idea and we are intrigued to hear more about how this particular approach may deliver a specific kind of digital experience for non-profit users.  Is it enough to try to have excellent user-oriented implementation and ongoing user evaluation plans or do we need to go further back in the process as CAST suggests, embedding social values in the design process from the beginning?

Keynotes confirmed for Research Methods for Digital Work event 25-26 May 2017

We are delighted to announce that the three keynote speakers for this event have been confirmed as:

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

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

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

Read more about the Research Methods for Digital Work Event, 25 -26 May 2017 and see the full call for papers (Deadline 31 January 2017).

Calls for investment in digital

The interesting in harnessing digital media and tools for volunteering is not new:

However there remains much debate about the extent to which the third sector may now be lagging behind other sectors.

The Third Force News article linked in the tweet above uses the Lloyds UK Digital Index to highlight that “49% of third sector organisations lack basic digital skills”.  They go onto focus on the Scottish Third Sector’s response and their “One Digital Programme“.
We have already begun to look at both the challenges and opportunities in our preliminary research: read our report.  We also recognise the need to examine the experience of volunteers using various social media and digital tools.  But this poses many methodological challenges.  It you are interested in discussing more about research approaches, check out our event “Research Methods for Digital Work“.  The call for papers is open now!


Call for Papers: Research Methods for Digital Work, 25-26 May 2017

Chris, Gillian and I are delighted to launch the call for papers for this event to be held at University of Surrey, 25-26 May 2017.

Extended abstracts of no more than 1500 words to be submitted on line  by 31st January 2017.  We will be posting details of key note speakers shortly!

Further details on our dedicated blog page and on the event page at the University of Surrey.