Governments’ attempts to encourage volunteering can deter people from getting involved in their communities, according to a new research report.
The publication, Pathways Through Participation, was compiled by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Institute for Volunteering Research and the think tank Involve and is released today.
It says 101 in-depth interviews with members of the public, in which they discussed how and why they participated in voluntary and community activities, showed many were sceptical about attempts by governments to play a role in this field.
"Government policy was never described as a motivating factor by the interviewees, and any influence was reported negatively," it says.
"Imposition of government agendas and intentions on people’s existing activities, for example, was viewed as politicising their participation and was almost unanimously rejected."
The report adds that the nature of successive governments’ involvement in encouraging volunteering has had damaging effects, but does not name any individual government.
"People’s negative reaction to the imposition of agendas that are not theirs has potentially been exacerbated by government’s encouragement of comparatively narrow, highly formalised and structured forms of participation," it says. It cites the promotion of formal volunteering and involvement in public consultations and regeneration boards as examples of this.
It says encouraging these activities "can dissuade some people from participating and limit the diversity of people involved, or kill off local groups through, for example, processes and demands that are too formalised, and generally inhibit less structured forms of participation."
The report says policy-makers focus on the positive impact of people’s involvement in voluntary and community activities, but says they should acknowledge that this type of participation "does not always happen in the ways policymakers and practitioners want or expect." It says this type of activity "frequently involves conflict and tension".
"We heard examples of conflict being an intended consequence of participation with people in direct opposition to the state or other forms of authority, seeking or resisting change, enacted through lobbying local MPs or taking part in marches," it says.
It says researchers also "found evidence of the difficulties caused by clashing or dominant personalities within groups, the development of cliques, and disagreements over how to achieve the mission of an organisation."
It says: "Furthermore, some people we spoke to had become burnt-out at especially stressful or busy periods within the organisations they had been involved in or their personal relationships had been put under considerable strain. Such experiences had led some people to stop their involvement."
The report also says many people become involved in community activities through personal connections and there is scope for the voluntary sector to make people more aware of the range of volunteering opportunities in their area.