2019 Voluntary sector and volunteering research conference

A civil society for the future: setting the agenda for voluntary sector and volunteering research in the 2020s

September 10 and 11, 2019

Location: Aston University, Birmingham

Key dates  
13 May 2019 (now closed) Deadline for abstract submissions (now closed)
12 July 2019 @ 17.00 Early bird rate ends
12 August 2019 @ 17.00 Deadline for full paper subsmissions
10-11 September 2019 The conference

Call for papers (now closed)

Increasingly the voluntary sector and volunteering is viewed through the lens of ‘civil society’ and the past 12 months have witnessed considerable public and political debate* about how civil society can be at the heart of the changes needed to ensure that all communities can thrive. This includes how to strengthen social value within communities, how civil society can revitalise and enhance democracy, and the potential for reshaping state-civil society relationships.

These debates present opportunities and challenges for civil society actors and for research undertaken on, with and for them. Each year, the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference – organised by the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) – provides a unique opportunity for academics, policy makers and practitioners from the UK and further afield to come together to share findings and discuss the implications of research.

This year’s conference will build on ongoing debates in the research community to consider the implications of current political and economic uncertainties, and the seemingly relentless rise of social inequality on civil society, the voluntary sector and volunteering. In support of this our ‘Conference Track’ invite contributions focused on the future of civil society and the broader issues facing the voluntary sector and volunteering at this time. These could include, for example: critical reflections on the Civil Society Strategy and Civil Society Futures, and their implications for policy, practice and research; international, jurisdictional and comparative perspectives including to what extent is ‘civil society’ mobilised differently across different contexts; how we conceptualise and measure civil society; and the evolution of civil society over time.

*See for example to the Civil Society Strategy and Civil Society Futures


The conference aims to:

    • contribute to evidence and theory-building in the field
    • develop emerging research ideas
    • inform and be informed by the work of practitioners
    • inform and influence policy
    • to strengthen the voluntary sector research community.


The conference will focus on the following streams:

  1. The Conference Track – Critical Reflections on the Future of Civil Society
  2. Democracy and grassroots voluntary action
  3. Diversity, race, (in)equality and inclusion
  4. Volunteering, participation and social action
  5. Advances in theory and methods
  6. Resources, including funding, fundraising, philanthropy, social enterprise and social investment
  7. Organisational management and governance, including law and regulation
  8. Historical perspectives on civil society, the voluntary sector and volunteering
  9. Civil society at the boundaries: relationships with the state and/or private sector
  10. Measuring civil society: outcomes, impact and social value
  11. Social housing developments (governance, discourses, commercialisation, accountability, tenant involvement)
  12. New researchers stream.

You don’t need to present a paper to attend. When submitting abstracts, authors will be asked which streams they feel their paper will fit best within. We welcome contributions from a variety of disciplines, including sociology, social policy, politics, psychology, geography, economics, business studies, social anthropology, philosophy and ethics.

Two types of sessions are planned for the conference: individual papers and themed panel sessions or workshops.

New this year: World cafes

As a new addition to the conference, this year the programme will include space in the programme for a series of ‘World Cafes’: informal roundtables where participants will have an opportunity to meet and share ideas with new and experienced researchers in their field, developing social and professional networks and agendas for future research.

New researchers

The Conference is an ideal opportunity for new or early career researcher looking to meet, discuss and present their research with other new researchers in a supportive setting. A special series of parallel sessions will be run as part of the conference for ‘new’ researchers. Attendance at this part of the conference is subsidised, and is intended for all early career researchers in the field of voluntary sector studies, whether postgraduate students or working/volunteering in the voluntary sector. Applications to the New Researchers stream are now closed, but information for attendees is available here.

Additional stream – Social housing developments

This year the conference will also feature a Social housing workshop sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT). The seminar takes place on the second day of the conference (Wednesday 10th September) and aims to provide a forum for research dissemination, academic and practitioner insights on various aspects of social housing, and a professional network.

How to submit a proposal

Applications for the main conference are now closed.

If your submission was successful, you will be asked to send a 2,500–4,500 word paper for inclusion in the conference. We will advise on the format of the paper when we confirm acceptance of your abstract. Papers presented in parallel sessions will be made available online during the conference.

If your proposal is accepted you still need to book a place at the conference.

Submission deadlines  
13 May 2019 (now closed) Deadline for abstract submissions (now closed)
24 May 2019  Notification of accepted submissions&nbsp
12 August 2019 Full paper to be submitted


All delegates at the confernce must pay the conference rates in order to participate, including those presenting a paper. 

Delgates must book onto the conference via the Aston Business School websiteThe early bird rate deadline is 12 July. 

Delegate type Early bird price (until 12 July) Regular price                             Conference dinner                       
Two-day member rate* £285 £310 included
Two-day non-member rate* £375 £400 included
One-day member rate* £175 £200 £35
One-day non member rate* £240 £265 £35
New researcher stream* (FULL) £100 £100 included

*To qualify for the member rate or the subsidised rate for the new researcher stream, delegates must be members of either VSSN or an institution which is a member of NCVO.

Best paper prizes

Campbell Adamson Memorial Prize

Each year NCVO awards a prize for the best paper submitted to the conference, in memory of the late president of NCVO’s advisory board. All papers submitted by the deadline 12 August will be considered for the Campbell Adamson Memorial prize for best paper, which includes a £500 prize.

The prize will go to the paper that best meets these criteria:

    • Research quality
    • Relevance to practice or policy
    • Accessibility of style and approach.

New Researchers Prize

Participants in the New Researchers sessions who submit a full paper prior to the start of the conference will automatically be considered for the New Researchers Prize for best paper, which includes a £100 prize.

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