Blog written by: Angela Ellis PaineRob MacmillanSophie Wilson and Paul Coates 

In mid-December 2020, BVSC, the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham and CRESR, the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University worked in partnership to deliver two online leadership development sessions for voluntary organisations in Birmingham, focusing on navigating change in the third sector. These sessions built on a series of activities we have been running together to provide spaces for third sector leaders to reflect on change within voluntary action, in connection with our ESRC-funded Change in the Making research 

The first leadership development session focused on understanding what change looks like and how it happens (sources of change) in voluntary organisations. After first sharing insights into what change looks and feels like, we considered the extent to which voluntary organisations determine their own futures or are simply subject to external forces and what this might mean for aspiring leaders. The second workshop focused on exploring the role of different stakeholders (influencing and experiencing change), particularly considering the involvement of service users, volunteers and staff in shaping change. We discussed, for example, how the intentions of voluntary organisations are understood, debated and contested by different stakeholders, how the identities of those stakeholders (e.g. service users, volunteers, staff) are themselves constructed, and how this may affect their interactions and relationships, and their relative influence on change. We also considered what it means to lead change within voluntary organisations and across systems.  

Our focus was not specifically on change during COVID-19, although the scale of change that the pandemic has led to over recent months is impossible to ignore and there was a great deal of reflection on recent experiences during these workshops, although couched within the context of wider discussions of longer term change.

Download the presentations by clicking on the links below:

Powerpoint presentation from the first session

Powerpoint presentation from the second session

Nechells POD is a charity in Birmingham which provides a range of services and activities to support, help, inspire, nurture and empower Nechells’ residents. Its project manager, Paul Coates, attended both of the leadership development sessions. He shared his reflections with us afterwards:  

I feel that the 2 sessions over 2 days helped me to reflect on the part I play in the jigsaw and it also enables me to focus on how we best meet the needs of the community rather than purely satisfying organisational or individual needs. Being new to a comparatively small community based charity (I started here in October 2020) I feel that a collaborative approach will be beneficial to identifying those members of our ‘immediate community’ who we can help and support. The bigger picture will then involve spreading the net and engaging with the wider community, some if not most will not even know that we exist. I feel that this collaborative approach will help us to focus on meeting needs rather than just satisfying organisational requirements and objectives. 

Change has been dramatic for us- not being able to deliver vital support and services- staff changes and loss of contact engagement with the most vulnerable members of our community, not to mention the people who often make it happen, the volunteers. The remaining staff and key trustees have pulled together to ensure the POD continues to have a presence in the community. We have worked on keeping in touch virtually and with befriending calls; by providing a click and collect toy and book library. I have however been surprised at how difficult it has been to recruit new staff – limited applications to 3 vacancies – has the COVID apathy/lethargy set in? Change and leadership has to be inward & outward, which the course reaffirmed for me. This is certainly relevant now as we look to develop and nurture links and networks which will help us to overcome these hurdles, particularly staffing, recruiting volunteers and developing our channels of engagement. 

The response we received to these leadership development sessions confirmed our thinking that there is a need for a space for voluntary sector leaders to come together and reflect on ongoing issues of change. In an incredibly challenging context, those with leadership responsibilities in voluntary organisations often find themselves having to work out how to navigate a rapidly changing external environment, with day to day fire-fighting leaving little space for reflection. Time to pause and reflect on changes that are taking place within our own organisations and beyond is hard to find. We will be hosting quarterly thinking time’ sessions, which aim to provide such an opportunity. Each session will focus on a different topic, with research findings used to stimulate discussion, reflection, sharing of experience and learning. 

Book your place for the online sessions

The Rise of Community: How to realise community power  - 16 June 2021