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. 
Aston University, Birmingham.

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

About VSSN

The Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) promotes understanding of the UK voluntary sector through research and provides a voice and a meeting place for voluntary sector researchers in the UK.
We're a membership organisation, with members around the UK and internationally from academia and the voluntary sector itself. Find out more about VSSN and join our growing network.

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’ invites 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.

This year the Birmingham VSSN 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) and aims to provide a forum for research dissemination, academic and practitioner insights on various aspects of social housing, and a professional network.

*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

We welcome submissions for individual papers, panel sessions and workshops. We are particularly keen to receive proposals for the Conference Track that look to the future of civil society, but we do also welcome papers that address a range of issues relevant to volunteering and the voluntary sector, aligned to 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. New researchers stream
  12. Social housing developments (governance, discourses, commercialisation, accountability, tenant involvement)

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.

We welcome two types of proposals for the conference: an individual paper or a proposal for a themed panel session or workshop. Any topics relating to the voluntary sector and volunteering are welcome.

  Session description Submission
Individual paper Grouped by stream, these will include several 15–20 minute paper presentations, followed by discussion. A 150 word summary and a 400–600 word abstract of your paper. We welcome submissions discussing preliminary findings and completed projects. References are not needed at this stage.
Panel or workshop session A series of linked papers, a round-table discussion of a topic or research introduced by a panel of commentators, or a themed workshop. Please submit a list of the panel or workshop contributors, with a 150 word summary and a 400–600 word abstract providing an overview of the topic to be discussed and the contributions to be made by each panel/workshop member. For a series of linked papers, the proposal should include brief abstracts for each contribution.
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.
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. For more details about how the New Researchers session works, please click here

You can submit a proposal for either a single paper presentation or a panel session. You may submit only one paper as a lead author but you can still be a co-author for papers submitted by others.

Abstracts must be submitted via EasyChair and prepared using the conference ‘Abstract Submission Template’. This template can be downloaded by following this link. This template is also saved on the conference pages of the EasyChair website.

Please follow these steps to submit your abstract:

  1. Save the ‘Abstract Submission Template’ with the file path VSVR_Abstract_YOUR_NAME to your computer or server (e.g. VSVR_Abstract_Chris_Dayson)
  2. Prepare your abstract within the template and re-save with the file path VSVR_Abstract_YOUR_NAME to your computer or server
  3. Save and close your completed Abstract Submission Template before submission
  4. Upload your complete abstract via EasyChair by following this link: https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=vsvr2019. If you have not used EasyChair before you will need to create an account to manage your submission.
  5. Submit your abstract by following the on-screen instructions. Make sure you upload your completed ‘Abstract Submission Template’ when prompted.
  6. Check that your abstract has successfully uploaded.

If you have any problems submitting your abstract please email conference@vssn.org.uk and someone will be able to help you.

You can read one of our abstracts from previous years to help you formulate your proposal. Proposals that do not contain sufficient detail will not be considered for inclusion in the conference.

If your submission is 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 Paper proposal to be submitted 
24 May 2019 Notification of accepted submissions
12 August 2019 Full paper to be submitted


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

Delegate type
Delegate typeEarly bird price (until 12 July Regular priceConference 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 participant * £100 £100 Included


The registration fee includes the conference dinner for the two-day member*/ non member and the New researcher*
The conference dinner is an optional extra and is not included in the registration fee for the One day Member /non member.

* To qualify for the member rate or the subsidised New Researcher rate, delegates must be members of either VSSN or an institution which is a member of NCVO

Please note

As a new researcher participant you are signing up for the new researcher stream , not for the main conference

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.

Our allocation of bedrooms at Conference Aston has now been released back to the hotel.

Please contact Raj Biran for room availability and the daily rate.


Local Hotels within 12 minutes walk from Aston University:

Holiday Inn Express, Snowhill

Clayton Hotel

Premier Inn Waterloo Street


Accommodation booking sites for example :





The Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) is an independent membership body that aims to support, represent and champion people in volunteer management in the UK regardless of field, discipline or sector. It has been set up by and for people who manage volunteers.

Our stand will have information about AVM membership and upcoming events, and will be an opportunity for delegates to speak to our Chair of the Board, Ruth Leonard, about AVM.

european solidarity corps

The European Solidarity Corps is the European Union initiative which funds opportunities for young people to volunteer or work in projects in their own country or abroad that benefit communities and people around Europe. In the UK, the initiative is implemented by the Erasmus+ National Agency, a partnership between the British Council and Ecorys UK. Find out more.

policy press


Policy Press, an imprint of Bristol University, is committed to publishing the highest quality scholarship in the social sciences and aligned disciplines. As a not-for-profit university press, our aim is to publish work that makes an impact in the world. Voluntary Sector Review is an international journal published by Policy Press in association with the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN). It publishes accessible, high-quality peer-reviewed papers on all aspects of the voluntary, community, civil society and third sectors.


 As per previous NCVO conferences, a stand representing Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data & Methods



  • TSRC (SIAN /Angela)