Volunteering research: Strategy, quest or joy?

Leaders of volunteering have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to research on volunteering in Australia.

In 2010, a colleague stopped me in the stairwell at work. ‘Now Roz, how would you like to have a rigorous research framework applied to the new volunteering program you are setting up so that you can influence those who make decisions?’

How refreshing.  A colleague was suggesting that volunteering was important enough to have a research framework.

While the environment is changing, advocating the need for a volunteering strategy or research framework in many volunteer involving organisations can still be like pulling teeth or working in an isolation bubble. Too often, volunteering is not a strategic imperative but more an ‘on the side’, misunderstood and devalued ‘unpaid labour force’ to be utilised as a cost-effective measure.

Could research help us overcome this barrier? Doesn’t leadership respect research and evidence and use it to advance their purpose?

In our quest to value volunteering, we are aided by those who do it the best – researchers. Many of us know internationally renowned Australian researchers by their first names – Melanie, Liz, Art,  Leonie, Jeni, Megan, Peter, Kirsten, Marc and Rachel are only a few. We connect at conferences, online, and at forums such as Volunteering Victoria’s Research Roundtables.

University PhD students, skilled volunteers and research interns also support us by contributing to literature reviews, advocacy papers, program evaluations, and policy statements. There can be nothing more satisfying than seeing someone else more eloquently and more substantially say what is niggling away at you in the back of your mind.

Yes, there will be surprises along the way.  Leaders of volunteering know that some research won’t see the light of day if it doesn’t support the prevailing organisational perspective. The need for ethics boards, reference groups and supervisory review is ever-present. Methodology, ethics, alternative collective knowledge systems, and lenses all intersect and must be critically examined.

A research question is ultimately, only ever an ongoing desire. A desire to explore, learn, and apply what the human mind and emotion has attempted to pack into a version of ourselves, our world and our joy for life.

See the ANZTSR ‘Research on Volunteering’ for the research article “Seeking common objectives: How research-driven practice can align organisational strategy and volunteering values” recently co-produced by Leanne McCormick and Roz Wollmering. (note: subscription required.)

You can purchase the entire ANZTSR special edition “Volunteering as a subject for research” here.






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