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Understanding impact in social and personal context Sarah Miller, Participation Research Officer, Institute for Volunteering Research 6 September 2009.

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Presentation on theme: "Understanding impact in social and personal context Sarah Miller, Participation Research Officer, Institute for Volunteering Research 6 September 2009."— Presentation transcript:

1 Understanding impact in social and personal context Sarah Miller, Participation Research Officer, Institute for Volunteering Research 6 September 2009 Making a case for life stories in volunteering research

2 What can life stories contribute to volunteering research?…Learning from Pathways through Participation

3 Two common approaches to researching the personal impact of volunteering: Cross-sectional surveys Programme evaluations

4 Whats often missing from these approaches? Depth and richness of descriptions of impact Complexity Accounts of change over time Accounts of negative impact

5 Surveys: pre-determine a limited range of possible impacts for respondents to choose from do a better job of describing than explaining are better at making generalisations than illuminating unique cases or complex circumstances strip respondents of individual identities and histories

6 Programme evaluations are often: objectives-based short-term and narrow in scope tied to maintaining or securing funding and therefore risk downplaying or ignoring negative impact

7 To measure a program against its objectives or against an externally imposed set of indicators is a meaningless exercise in itself, for those objectives and indicators relate to the lives of the people [the program implicates] in very different ways Kushner, Personalising evaluation, 2000

8 What distinguishes life story approaches from other types of qualitative research?

9 A commitment to: privileging personal narratives over institutional or organisational narratives respecting the wholeness of peoples lives and not reducing experience to fragmented parts responsiveness and reflexivity (being guided by the research participant)

10 What distinguishes life story approaches to researching the personal impact of volunteering from survey and common programme evaluation approaches?

11 Surveys and evaluations tend to seek to make causal explanations for impact, while life story approaches seek to make narrative explanations.

12 The strength of a narrative explanation, is that it sacrifices the generality of the paradigmatic [causal] mode in favour of comprehensiveness. Rich accounts can encompass many features, and so narratives are more flexible and can accommodate more inconsistencies than paradigmatic thinking Baumeister and Neuman, as cited in Elliot, Using narrative in social research, 2009

13 Introducing Pathways through Participation 2.5 year qualitative research project Led by NCVO with IVR and Involve Exploring how and why people get involved and stay involved in participation over time Taking place in three areas in England: rural Suffolk, inner city Leeds, and suburban Enfield

14 Our approach to life story research 108 in-depth, loosely structured interviews exploring interviewees participation in its wider context – both now and in their pasts Open-ended, wide-lens approach to these interviews brings a lot of stories relating to participation into the conversation,

15 Also using a visual timeline method

16 A life story approach could be helpful at illuminating several areas of the personal impact of volunteering that are not commonly explored…

17 How volunteering affects relationships with family members and other intimates…

18 Cynthia: We tend to do loads of things separately but this kind of stuff [volunteering] we tend to do it together…At the youth club, what I found was because of the naughty children or teenagers, because Tom was a police officer hes brilliant, when hes dealing with the kids and that because he had so much experience in the job. So that was quite interesting for me to see him in a different light actually and how he coped with them (White female interviewee, age bracket, Suffolk case study area).

19 Jessica: [Volunteering is] something I need to do, and all this time, and then Gene was still working, I went on [working] till I was 61, so I again have built up this life for myself while hes at work… Now, since hes been retired 2½ years, hes 66, he retired a bit early we have begun to have the problems and thats why Im going to step down from the Synod [a Church of England council], because he feels that it takes too much of my time. He says, Its always, church, church this, church... and it annoys him (White female interviewee, over-65 age bracket, Suffolk case study area).

20 Negative impacts of volunteering…

21 Monia: I tried to keep it on and re-launch it with funding but at the time I was very, very sick with headaches and sickness...I found I had bouts where I could do a lot but then for three months I couldnt do anything. I tried hanging on as long as I could and then my final decision came [to stop volunteering with the club] when I thought if Im like this now, what happens when Im dealing with thousands and thousands of pounds [of funding from the local authority]? (Female Asian British interviewee, age bracket, Suffolk case study area).

22 The cumulative (or changing) personal impact of someones volunteering over time…

23 Steven: When I was young, [my wife] will tell you, I couldnt say boo to a goose. And I thought to myself, if I try and get on the council, that will bring me out a little bit. And when you go round canvassing around peoples doors, some of them tell you to clear off and others keep you talking knowing full well that they longer they keep you talking you arent going to go canvassing elsewhere. So that brought me out a little bit…Its funny how your life unwinds, really. Because if I hadnt done those things, Id have been a house-bound, little old boy not saying boo to a goose or anything like that. Now, [my wife] says Im still reserved but now I can still speak to most people on the same level, as it were. (White male interviewee, over-65 age bracket, Suffolk case study area)

24 To conclude: Life stories offer rich accounts of personal experience They are suited to exploring personal change in context and over time They problematise overly-simple, causal explanations and linear accounts of personal impact

25 Continued… They address some of the limitations of quantitative surveys and objective-oriented approaches to programme evaluations They can complement other approaches to researching the personal impact of volunteering (including the ones Ive critiqued here!)

26 What might program evaluation look like and involve were we to invert the conventional relationship between individual and program – that is, rather than document the program and read the lives of individuals in that context; to document the lives and work of people and to use that as context within which to read the significance and meaning of programs? Kushner, Personalizing Evaluation, 2000

27 Questions for you…

28 What implications might a life story approach have for the way volunteering programmes are evaluated?

29 Is there a place for the life stories of volunteers in your work? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?

30

31 For more information on Pathways through Participation:

32 Telephone:


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