This blog is by Dr Carol Jacklin-Jarvis, Director of the Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership, an Academic Centre of Excellence in the OU Business School.
After two years of online research interviews and catch-ups via Teams and Zoom, I made my first post-pandemic visit to a small charity’s offices recently. I say ‘offices’ but actually this small, local, volunteer-dependent charity inhabited the former reception rooms and kitchen of a once stylish and expensive Victorian house, now managed by a slightly larger charity from upstairs in the former bedrooms. The Victorian cornices and fireplaces were hidden behind racks of supplies for the charity’s poverty relief work. My visit was short in part because there was limited space for the volunteers to work and no capacity to supervise me, in spite of my willingness to jump in and help.
The charity had carried on working in the building through the pandemic and had significantly grown their operation, with limited use of technology. This is not to suggest they were unaware of more ‘business-like’ processes. We spoke about referral systems (on paper), risk assessment, health and safety and the challenge of managing capacity as need grows - due to poverty, refugee arrivals and the ongoing impact of Covid. Moreover, in spite, or perhaps because of the limitations of the office base, social media applications are the primary mechanism of communication with and between volunteers, and important information from partners is conveyed online. As I drove home, I reflected on the everyday realities of making things happen through voluntary action in and through this small organisation, and the internal and external factors that impact on what happens – and what does not happen.
At CVSL’s 2022 conference, we will explore the changing and hybrid spaces in which voluntary action is taking place, the factors that are shaping these spaces, and the implications for leading and learning in the voluntary sector. ‘Hybridity’ has long been a theme in the voluntary sector literature, enabling scholars to point to the complex (even messy) organisational forms in the sector, with their elements of business, public service and charitable purpose. Recently, we have begun to use the term ‘hybrid’ to refer to the combination of on and offline that now characterises organisational life. But, more broadly, the term ‘hybrid spaces’ is a useful one for helping us think about the different, complex, sometimes even competing, factors that shape organisational life in the voluntary sector. One example is the continuing importance of local, relational interactions for so many small charities, in a context where online communications enable us to by-pass local to interact at national and international levels. Imagine what this might mean for charities, like the one I visited, that are dependent on local resources, including goodwill, giving and volunteering.
The conference will explore insights from CVSL’s research and teaching in leadership development that relate to this theme of hybridity. Our topics will include - how the spaces of voluntary action are responding to inclusion challenges; how infrastructure organisations continue to sustain local voluntary action; and how online learning can contribute to professional development and capacity building in a context where small charities have increasingly stretched resources. We will also explore the ethical dilemmas that arise for leadership in the complex spaces of voluntary action. Join us on 9 June, 2022.
14th April 2022