2. Introduction

This section provides background to this report. It outlines the scope, key aims and approach to the research.

2.1. Background

In January 2019, we published our main report, Time Well Spent (PDF, 2MB), which focused on the experience of volunteering, as well as motivations and barriers to involvement through groups, clubs and organisations. It was based on a survey of over 10,000 members of the British public.

Building on the original research, we are releasing a series of focused reports to further explore some of the key issues raised, in more depth. The first focused report (PDF, 1.5MB), published in June 2019, looked at employer-supported volunteering (ESV).

This report on volunteering in the public sector is the second in this series. It draws on further analysis of the Time Well Spent data, focus groups carried out specifically for the report with volunteers who give time to public sector organisations, and wider literature and evidence. It aims to shed more light on public sector volunteers, and focuses on their experience, including motivations and relationship with paid staff, with a view to informing practice and policy in this area.

2.2. Scope of the research

We recognise that volunteering in the public sector opens up a number of different avenues. However, as this series of Time Well Spent reports is designed to be focused and smaller in scale than the original report, this report does not look to cover all aspects of this complex area. A summary of what is in and out of scope is outlined below:

  • The focus is primarily on exploring the volunteer perspective. Initial findings from the Time Well Spent data have raised some interesting questions already. This additional research allows us to dig deeper into some of these issues.
  • Within the broad subject of the volunteer experience, particular areas are explored based on findings from the original Time Well Spent research warranting further exploration and covered less extensively in other research evidence. These include: motivations of volunteers in public sector organisations, relationships of volunteers with paid staff, and boundaries between volunteering and paid work.
  • To ensure a manageable scope, this research looks at solely where volunteers are involved directly in public sector organisations that are funded by government to provide services. This research does not include volunteering through charities where it intersects with public services, whether it be charities commissioned by public bodies to deliver services or charities organising volunteers to go into services and supporting them (eg Friends of Hospitals).
  • We do, however, look at the wider context of volunteering in public services and situate our remit within this (section 3.1). We also draw on literature and evidence which may not make the same distinctions and look at volunteering in public services, in the wider sense.
  • This research looks at the range of sub-sectors within the public sector but does not necessarily go into every sector in great depth. We generally draw out key similarities and differences to highlight nuances which findings from Time Well Spent on volunteering in public sector organisations generally did not capture.

2.3. Overall aims

The primary aim of this report is to gain a better understanding of the experience of volunteers in public sector organisations. As described above in section 2.2, we have a focused scope for this research within our exploration of this area.

Specifically, the research aims:

  • to understand the context of volunteering in public services
  • to explore the motivations among volunteers in public sector organisations, including differences by demographics, type of organisation and impact of wider environment
  • to look at the experience of volunteers in public sector organisations, including a comparison with civil society volunteers, in particular: their overall satisfaction and perceptions of their volunteer journey, their role and boundaries between paid work and volunteering, relationship with paid staff, and perceived benefits of public sector volunteers.

As with all the Time Well Spent programme of work, the research aims to inform practice and policy and consider key opportunities for improving the experience and impacts of volunteering.

2.4. Our approach

The research draws on a number of different data sources, summarised below. More detail can be found in the appendix.

  1. Time Well Spent - a national survey of 10,103 people on the volunteer experience: It draws both on the Time Well Spent research report published in 2019, as well as further analysis of the dataset focusing on recent public sector volunteers (who gave unpaid help to a public sector organisation as their main volunteering in the last 12 months). Comparison with recent civil society volunteers has also been undertaken (note, comparison with private sector volunteers has not been included in this report).
  2. Primary qualitative research carried out specifically for this report: Four focus groups, lasting 90 minutes each, with a total of 36 volunteers who had given help to public sector organisations from a range of sub-sectors in the last 12 months. Two of the focus groups took place in the south of England, and two in the north of England. Participants for these groups were recruited independently, by an external agency using a mixture of recruitment methods to ensure the independence of the research findings.
  3. A range of research and literature on public sector volunteering: including research from specific sub-sectors within the public sector – in particular, health, police, libraries, and education, and others as relevant. See the appendix for list of literature cited throughout the report.
  4. Round-table discussion with stakeholders: Primarily used to inform the implications for practice and policy (see sections 7.2 and 7.3). Stakeholders were engaged throughout the project – from early on to define the scope and inform the focus of the research to later in informing implications. In particular, they contributed expertise of certain areas of public services.

2.5. A note on definitions

Throughout this report, as in the main Time Well Spent report, we use the term ‘volunteering’ to refer to formal volunteering through groups, clubs or organisations, which is the focus of the survey. More on the definition of volunteering can be found in the appendix.