THINK PIECE ON CIVIL SOCIETY by etssetcf

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									                                                 Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland



                 Volunteering as a Uniting Force for Civil Society
             -    a submission to the Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland

Clifford Davy
BTCV
c.davy@btcv.org.uk



Summary

In the last decade government has recognised the critical contribution that volunteering makes to building
a strong and cohesive society, and it has developed numerous policy initiatives to involve, deploy and
support individual volunteers, volunteer-involving organisations, and volunteering infrastructure bodies.

While volunteers, volunteer-involving organisations and volunteering infrastructure bodies have, in
general, welcomed government’s interest and support, they have had concerns about government’s
expectations, provision of funding, and ways of working.

Our analysis is that:

Support for volunteering is variable. There are many examples of good practice, but still too many
instances of short termism and poor planning by funders.

Policy demarcations are a barrier. Government programmes to promote volunteering are not always
joined up with programmes in other areas.

The Compact needs champions. The relationship between government and the Third Sector works best
when it has high level commitment from known individuals in government.

Our view of the future is that:

•   Volunteering is a force for delivering public services. Volunteering is a service in itself, and already
    various government providers rely heavily on third sector providers. However, true partnership would
    be based on a strategic view, in which public and third sector providers together plan and develop
    service delivery, based on open dialogue and supported by reliable funding.

•   Volunteering is a force for sustainable development. Or could be - if the environment sector and
    social policy organisations could be encouraged to plan and work together better - and to understand
    mutual goals and outcomes.

•   Volunteering is a force for integration and cohesion. BTCV's experience is that volunteering can bring
    people together across ethnic and cultural boundaries for common purpose and mutual benefit. But
    this depends on a clear organisational strategy, backed from Chief Executive level down.

Our recommendations for policy and practice are:

•   Government at all levels should give volunteering appropriate political backing. This would include
    high level champions, clear volunteering strategies, and an understanding of volunteering as a
    delivery mechanism for Public Service Agreements and other targets.
                                                  Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland

•   Employers should incorporate volunteering within Corporate Social Responsibility strategies.
    Volunteering should link to staff training and development, should connect employees with real life
    needs in local communities, and should generate visible and active volunteering by senior staff.

•   Volunteer-involving organisations should consider how they can continuously improve their offer to
    volunteers. They should be mindful of the need to represent volunteers (ie looking at human needs)
    as well as representing the voluntary sector (ie looking at organisational needs).

•   Funders and policymakers should be aware of the fact that engaging with ‘hard to reach’ sections of
    the community is a long term process that depends on building trust and commitment. Short term
    programmes and stop-go funding streams can seriously undermine this.

Our conclusion is that:

Volunteering is a powerful force for strengthening civil society - in terms of associational life and the
‘good’ society and the arena for public deliberation. Government seems to recognise this, and to be
making a concerted effort to develop third sector capacity. However, the fact remains that support for
volunteering remains inconsistent at all levels of government.

Developing volunteering as a strengthening force in civil society depends on:
• Consistent political backing at all levels of government
• Volunteering becoming an integral part of Corporate Social Responsibility
• Volunteer-involving organisations becoming more attuned to the needs of volunteers, as opposed to
   the needs of the organisation
• Greater stability in policy and funding to underpin concerted efforts to reach sections of society that
   are under-represented in volunteering




1. Introduction

In the last decade government has recognised the critical contribution that volunteering makes to building
a strong and cohesive society. It has promoted volunteering as the essential act of citizenship, a means
for combating social exclusion, and an important contributor to the delivery of high quality public services.
To this end it has developed numerous policy initiatives to involve, deploy and support individual
volunteers, volunteer-involving organisations, and volunteering infrastructure bodies.

Volunteering, whether informal or formal, is an activity in which all people can participate. However, it is
not an activity in which all people do participate – some people never volunteer. Some people volunteer
throughout the course of their lives and others volunteer at different stages in their lives. Volunteering is
an activity which occurs in a specific context. It is shaped by and in turn shapes, the constitutional
arrangements, politics, economics, social conditions and culture of the society in which it takes place.

While volunteers, volunteer-involving organisations and volunteering infrastructure bodies have, in
general, welcomed government’s interest and support, they have had concerns about government’s
expectations, provision of funding, and ways of working. Further consideration of how the relationship
between government and the stakeholders of volunteering can be improved will help to contribute
towards the debate on what constitutes a good civil society.


2. Analysis of the current situation
                                                 Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland

BTCV has been delivering environmental volunteering for nearly fifty years – very often with and for
national and local government. Our experience of participating in government programmes has varied
enormously. Our analysis is as follows:


2.1 Support for volunteering is variable

A current example of a good experience is our strategic relationship with the Office of the Third Sector,
where there is a high commitment to volunteering, from the Minister down, where Compact principles are
well understood, where there is a sense of genuine partnership and where funding has been offered over
a sensible timescale.

Conversely, a recent BTCV project with refugees and asylum seekers was particularly hard hit as the
funding offered was for only one year. This meant that succession funding bids had to be submitted
before the approach of the project was proven and before evaluation and outputs could be demonstrated.
The succession bids consequently failed, resulting in completely wasted effort in terms of the start-up
phase and learning curve of the project.


2.2 Policy demarcations are a barrier

We have found that government programmes to promote volunteering are not always joined up with
programmes in other areas. BTCV uses environmental volunteering as a vehicle for outcomes including
biodiversity conservation, active citizenship, learning and skills, health and well being, and more. This
brings us into contact with a range of Departments and Agencies including Defra, Natural England,
Connexions Partnerships, DfES, LSC's, JC Plus, Department of Health and Primary Care Trusts.

While some individuals and teams are very switched on, it is in general a constant struggle to get funders
and policymakers to understand how volunteering relates to their areas of work and can help to deliver
Public Service Agreements and other targets. This lack of understanding is compounded by structural
barriers to the integration of volunteering in policy delivery – this can be illustrated by two examples.

Defra and its agencies repeatedly state voluntary and community engagement as a priority for delivery of
the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (and related biodiversity strategies) while repeatedly expressing concerns
that delivery of the ‘people’ elements of these strategies is weak. And yet there appears to be no funding
stream within Defra or Natural England that is dedicated to delivery of environmental volunteering.
BTCV’s current environmental volunteering delivery is funded through the Countdown 2010 Biodiversity
Action Fund – but that fund’s focus is on biodiversity outcomes rather than volunteering outcomes,
creating a sometimes awkward fit for our programme.

BTCV is a major provider of learning opportunities for volunteers – unfortunately changes in funding
priorities, focused on employer needs rather than social benefits, mean that BTCV’s support for volunteer
learning has decreased substantially. In the 2004/5 academic year, we supported over 12,000 volunteer
learners through Further Education provision. In 2005/6 the number was 5,500 and in 2006/7 it dropped
still further. There seems to be a failure to recognise that learning is a powerful motivator for volunteers
and that lifelong learning can be a valuable driver of active citizenship, over and above any benefits to
employers.

2.3 The Compact needs champions

The relationship between government and volunteering has improved somewhat, with the introduction of
formal partnership arrangements such as the Compact and the Volunteering Code of Good Practice. We
are keen to see these arrangements developed, and have been actively involved in the Defra Compact
Group since its inception. BTCV has also worked closely with ACEVO on the development and testing of
Full Cost Recovery principles and models.
                                                Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland

Our experience is that shifting the culture and practice of government bodies dealing with volunteering is
a long term process that will require a senior level engagement within government. Champions such as
Alun Michael MP, who set up the Defra Compact Group and Ed Miliband MP, previously of the Office of
the Third Sector, have played a crucial role in making the government’s commitment visible.


3. Future driving forces and how they may impact the issue in question.

We think that government, employers, volunteer-involving organisations, volunteer infrastructure
organisations and funders/policymakers can do a significant amount in the future, to help people to
volunteer and organisations to involve volunteers. Some trends and issues that we see emerging in
future are as follows:

3.1 Volunteering as a force for delivering public services

With regard to involving volunteers in the delivery of public services, we would argue that formal
volunteering is in itself a public service, in that it offers people the opportunity for social contact,
purposeful activity, learning and skills, routes to employment and more. Volunteers are of course already
heavily involved in supporting public services. We question where schools would be without parent
governors and PTA members. Or HM Coastguard without the RNLI. Or the emergency services without
St. John’s Ambulance, voluntary firemen and Mountain Rescue.

BTCV’s own contribution comes from mobilising and supporting tens of thousands of volunteers every
year on conserving and improving everything from national parks through urban green spaces to school
grounds. We have been welcomed by local authorities and other statutory agencies which recognise that
voluntary and community involvement is an essential ingredient in providing green space as a public
service from which so many quality of life benefits arise. At the same time, this welcome tends to be short
term, piecemeal and dependent on the front line understanding of rangers, wardens and other types of
land managers. Rarely if ever has our long term investment (often with funds raised ourselves) in
communities and green spaces been appreciated as a strategic opportunity for public service providers –
one that should be written into local strategies, formalised through mutually beneficial partnership
agreements and funded on a longer term basis.

3.2 Volunteering as a force for sustainable development

Demarcations in policy and practice at the governmental level are to a large extent mirrored by similar
demarcations within the third sector. The environment sector, for example, tends to focus on habitats and
species, and to manage nature "reserves", as if nature needs to be reserved (implication: held apart from)
the general public. At the same time, organisations supporting volunteering in health, education and
social welfare sometimes fail to see the opportunities and benefits that an engagement with nature can
bring. We believe that there is an opportunity for a more holistic approach to deliver sustainable
development outcomes, with benefits for environment, society and the economy.

3.3 Volunteering as a force for integration and cohesion

We see volunteering as a means of bringing people together across ethnic and cultural boundaries for
common purpose and mutual benefit. BTCV’s outlook and experience of involving volunteers shifted
following the publication of our Strategic Plan 2000-2004, entitled ‘Expanding the boundaries of
conservation volunteering’. The plan explicitly stated BTCV’s goal of broadening our reach beyond the
environment sector’s traditional audiences.

A key aim was widening participation – BTCV would identify and remove the barriers that deterred people
from taking voluntary action, to fully include disadvantaged communities, especially Black and Minority
Ethnic, disabled and low income groups/individuals. Diversity and inclusion continues to be a priority for
us, and is embedded in our current Strategic Plan.
                                                 Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland




4. What changes in policy or practice may be necessary to diminish possible threats or maximise
emerging opportunities.

Our recommendations would be as follows:

•   Government at all levels should give volunteering appropriate political backing. This would include
    high level champions among MPs and civil servants, volunteering strategies being funded to
    appropriate levels and over sensible time scales, volunteering organisations being regarded as
    strategic partners within national, regional and local government, and civil servants/local authority
    staff being helped to understand the role of volunteering as a delivery mechanism for Public Service
    Agreements and other targets.

•   Employers should incorporate volunteering within Corporate Social Responsibility strategies. They
    should incorporate volunteering within staff training and development plans, develop volunteering
    opportunities that respond to a range of staff interests, and which connect employees with real life
    needs and activities in local communities, and actively endorse volunteering through visible and
    active volunteering involvement by senior staff.

•   Volunteer-involving organisations should consider how they can continuously improve their offer to
    volunteers. The often heard question ‘how can we use volunteers?’ is the wrong one. A better
    question is, ‘how can volunteers make use of the kinds of opportunities that we can offer?' Volunteer
    infrastructure organisations should always be mindful of the need to represent volunteers (ie looking
    at human needs) as well as representing the voluntary sector (ie looking at organisational needs).

•   Finally, funders and policymakers should be aware of the fact that engaging with ‘hard to reach’
    sections of the community is a long term process that depends on building trust and commitment.
    Short term programmes and stop-go funding streams can seriously undermine this, leading to
    fractured relationships, wasted effort, and loss of staff skills and organisational learning.


Conclusion

Volunteering is a powerful force for strengthening civil society - in terms of associational life and the
‘good’ society and the arena for public deliberation. Government seems to recognise this, and to be
making a concerted effort to develop third sector capacity. However, the fact remains that support for
volunteering remains inconsistent at all levels of government.

Developing volunteering as a strengthening force in civil society depends on:
• Consistent political backing at all levels of government
• Volunteering becoming an integral part of Corporate Social Responsibility
• Volunteer-involving organisations becoming more attuned to the needs of volunteers, as opposed to
   the needs of the organisation
• Greater stability in policy and funding to underpin concerted efforts to reach sections of society that
   are under-represented in volunteering
                                                     Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland




Author’s biography

Clifford Davy joined BTCV in 1996 as Manager of Commercial Operations for London and the Southeast.
Prior to this he was Director of the Trust for Urban Ecology for 4 years. Clifford’s job evolved until 2002,
when he was appointed the London Regional Director, a position he held until June 2006. From July 2006
he was appointed the Head of Diversity for BTCV UK, a position he currently holds.

Whilst with BTCV Clifford held a number of external positions including the FEFC (Further Education
Funding Council) Committee Member for London, member of the government’s Urban Green Spaces
Task Force and Board Member of Eco-Actif (New Deal consortium in SW London).

Clifford Davy is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, member of the British Mycological Society and
The Green Alliance. He is an Ecologist and Mycologist; he has lectured in the latter field including training
courses and fungus forays.


For further details on this paper, please contact:

Clifford Davy
Head of Diversity
BTCV
80 York Way
Kings Cross
London
N1 9AG
202 7843 4271
c.davy@btcv.org.uk




            Disclaimer: Please note, the Carnegie UK Trust normally does
            not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views
            presented in the think-pieces do not necessarily reflect the
            views of the Trust, its officers, staff, or trustees.
Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland

								
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