Based on our current knowledge of the research projects, the following key themes and questions informed our synthesis and secondary analysis:
- Sustainability – How are third sector organisations and their activities and services reproduced, developed and sustained over time, and how do they understand and address key challenges, particularly in an ‘unsettled’ and turbulent context?
- Independence – How do third sector organisations understand and negotiate the tension between their independence, mission and ethos-driven social action on the one hand, and delivering commissioned and contracted services for public bodies on the other?
- Hybridisation – What are the processes behind the purported trend towards hybrid, innovative and transformational organisational forms and financial models of third sector activity? This includes the intersection of third and private sectors through income generation and social enterprise models; the intersection of public and third sectors to support vulnerable families and individuals and to develop communities; and the development of new financing mechanisms such as social investment and personalisation.
- Participation – What are the changing hopes, trajectories, expectations and demands on those taking on unpaid roles in the sector (such as volunteers, active community members, and trustees); how are these roles understood, negotiated and managed within varied organisational contexts? What are the opportunities and constraints on the policy drive to increase participation in civil society?
- Inter-organisational relationships – How do third sector organisations relate to similar organisations in their specific geographical contexts and service fields, including the negotiation between potentially rivalrous and collaborative relationships? What are the implications for partnership working and mergers?
- Impact – How are various tools and frameworks for articulating, demonstrating and measuring outcomes and effectiveness of third sector activity judged and used, and how are they viewed by their funders and other stakeholders?
Research Strand 1: Networking, Archiving, Knowledge and Data Exchange
The first strand was led by the study Director, Dr Kahryn Hughes, in collaboration with project partners and network members. This strand involved ingesting two large datasets into the Timescapes Archive. These data sets were produced by the Pathways through Participation project, run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and the Real Times study run by the Third Sector Research Centre.
As part of this process, these two project partners were advised and supported on both deposit and re-use of the datasets. Depositing data into the Archive involved data preparation, including gaining consent for archiving, arranging for the secure transfer of the data, ingesting it into the resource, running an advisory service for archive users, and liaising with the University Library, UK Data Service and the Changing Landscapes Network. Protocols for these were developed under ESRC Timescapes, and these were refined and updated as part of a longer-term strategy for continued archiving in the Timescapes Archive.
Research Strand 2: Secondary analysis and synthesis of evidence
The second strand was led by Dr Rob MacMillan of the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham, in collaboration with project partners and network members. This strand in the research included synthesis of evidence across the network and enhanced analysis of data from two datasets and other selected data. As part of this strand there were two specific events in the synthesis and sharing of data.
First, a data sharing workshop, in Leeds, in which the two depositor projects brought together selected data in order to explore and refine key themes for the study.
The second was a Knowledge Exchange Workshop for all member projects in the study network. This workshop brought together key findings and outputs from the range of projects in order to begin the synthesis and review.
Working with and across the network, the research team identified and honed key themes of analysis and synthesis, developed a specification for the outputs and work towards a final project report, briefing paper, and training and web based resources.
This strand also included a final conference, organised by Vèronique Jochum, from the NCVO, and a special issue journal based on the conference proceedings.
These two interrelated strands enabled us to develop outputs tailored to third sector use and include case materials charting varied pathways through the changing third sector landscape and interactive web-based knowledge bank on Changing Landscapes for the Third Sector.
The study received additional Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) from the University of Leeds to support and develop a broad range of knowledge exchange activities between universities and colleges and the wider world, which resulted in economic and social benefit to the UK. In Changing Landscapes, the HEIF funding was used to pilot and refine training and web based resources in two practitioner-based workshops in order to enhance their impact for the sector as a whole.