Third Sector Research Centre plans "more networked" future

Funding for the centre from the Barrow Cadbury Trust and Birmingham University has recently expired

The Third Sector Research Centre is exploring the possibility of teaming up with other organisations and funders to conduct academic research of the voluntary sector.

John Mohan, director of the centre, put forward the idea of a "more networked" future at an event last week at BVSC, the Birmingham infrastructure organisation, marking the centre's 10th anniversary.

The event sought ideas from academics, policymakers, practitioners and funders on future areas of research and how they might be delivered.

Core funding for the centre from the Barrow Cadbury Trust and Birmingham University recently expired.

It still has funding for individual projects but Mohan said its long-term future may be as part of a network that includes other academic institutions and sector bodies.

Speaking afterwards to Third Sector, Mohan said: "It would make a lot of sense if key players and funders coordinated their actions.

"What needs to happen is an effort to identify key sector research needs and use that to inform future research planning.

"Unless we persuade funders there is a core non-academic need and demand for a research centre/network like ours, we are not going to get far."

The centre, which is based at Birmingham University, works with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations to produce the UK Civil Society Almanac.

It has also identified a "civic core" of volunteers and questioned the merit of attempts to increase levels of volunteering, studied the robustness of various methods used to measure impact and researched the effectiveness of government programmes affecting the third sector, such as Transforming Rehabilitation and the Work Programme, the results of which have been quoted in parliament.

Mohan said there was a greater need than ever to make open, accessible third sector research available.

"We have employed a number of talented early career researchers, many of whom have gone on into longer-term academic posts," he said.

"The opportunity is there to build on this through a networked organisation but these people are now scattered across many institutions and there are few places that have significant critical mass."

In the meantime, he said the centre would continue to seek funding for individual academic projects while attempting to secure core funding.

Dan Corry, chief executive of the think tank NPC, said during his keynote speech at the Birmingham event: "It's time for a dedicated funding stream for this sort of activity."

Corry said the sector faced an "anti-charity" bias in some elements of society, including the "Corbyn wing" of the Labour Party, which preferred the public sector.

He also said some charities had an "anti-academic bias".

He said: "Many don't want to know what works, especially if they are being funded and it could end."

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