Encouraging trusteeship - Guest blog sharing learning from the Pathways through Participation project
This is a guest blog post from Véronique Jochum, Research Manager at NCVO. Véronique reports back on the Pathways through Participation project which is a qualitative research project exploring explore how and why people get involved and stay involved in different forms of participation (including volunteering in a hospice, being a member of a local community group, purchasing fair-trade goods and responding to a local authority consultation) over the course of their lives.
Here Véronique shares learning from the Pathways project for organisations thinking about new ways of promoting trusteeship.
The Pathways through Participation project is a qualitative research project that has explored how and why people get involved and stay involved over their lifetime. Led by NCVO in partnership with IVR (Institute of Volunteering Research) and Involve, the project interviewed 101 people who reflected on their life story of participation and released its findings on September 2011.
Since the launch of our final report, we have produced a number of shorter briefing papers targeted at a range of audiences. The paper the most relevant to trusteeship is the one focusing on volunteering as a participation pathway which includes key recommendations for volunteer managers and volunteer-involving organisations.
In this blog I'm going to briefly draw out some of the key findings from the research for organisations thinking about ways of promoting trusteeship. These are only a selection and I would encourage people to look at the full report for more food for thought.
1. Participation is not linear
Our research challenged a number of assumptions about participation. One of the assumptions often heard about participation is that it is something that becomes more intense and more committed with people gradually becoming more active and taking on more responsibilities – from making the tea to becoming a trustee.
The research did find that people were involved to different degrees over the course of their lives both with regards to the time they spent participating and the level of responsibility they had. Some people took on more complex and responsible roles as they grew in confidence and developed skills but this tended to be the exception rather than the rule.
People's stories of participation showed that participation doesn't necessarily deepen or become more formalised over time; it is dynamic and often changes in unpredictable ways depending on people's life experiences and circumstances. There is clearly no set progression path.
2. Participation is personal
One of the key messages from the research, which seems rather obvious but is often overlooked, is that people participate primarily because they want to and feel that they're able to. Participation is personal and embedded in people's lives: people get involved in activities that have meaning and value to them, that connect with people, interests and issues that they personally relate to and care about.
There are numerous factors that influence people's participation, from values and beliefs to family upbringing, social connections and wider societal trends, in terms of the causes they choose to support, the type of activities and specific roles they get involved in. Not everybody will be drawn to the same activities or same roles because of their personality traits and temperament which impact on what people enjoy doing and where they feel they can best contribute.
Some of our interviewees, for instance, preferred to be organisers or planners, while others where more comfortable contributing ‘behind the scenes’ or in more practical ways. As people's personality and temperament are on the whole fairly constant, there was a degree of consistency in the roles interviewees adopted over time.
3. Participation is purposeful
People’s motivations to participate and how they choose to participate are influenced by the extent to which they believe their actions will make a difference and where think they will have the most impact. Once they have started participating, the quality of the participation experience is key in determining whether people continue: the extent to which they feel they are having an impact, whether they feel their contribution is valued and they are enjoying the experience and the quality of the social relationships with other participants.
When interviewees have had a negative experience of a specific form of participation – and some mentioned being on a committee – that experience has sometimes not just led them to stop their involvement in that particular programme, project, or initiative, it has prevented them from getting involved in that form of participation again. Meetings that were poorly run, too formal, technical or time-consuming and that had no clear direction or did not lead to action were cited by interviewees as being a particular problem and off-putting.
Organisations need to make people feel their efforts are worthwhile, valued and meaningful for them to stay involved, and they may need to review their governance structure and processes if they are currently insufficiently open and engaging.
4. Participation requires resources and opportunities
Participation is shaped by personal motivations but personal resources including practical resources such as time and money, people's own abilities and skills, their level of self-confidence and sense of agency are also essential to whether and how participation happens. Not everybody will benefit from the same resources, and lack of access to these resources reduces people’s ambitions and expectations of their own participation.
Some forms of participation, including trusteeship, are more skills-based then others - often people will be recruited or elected on a trustee board because of the specific skills they bring to the table. But beyond skills being a trustee of an organisation requires self-esteem and confidence. One interviewee, for instance, spoke about staying on the fringes of a group rather than taking up an active organising role because of her shyness.
Being a trustee also implies a regular and often longer–term commitment and this is a barrier to involvement for many. It is important for organisations to value and support people who are already active without overburdening them and to develop pathways and opportunities, such as mentoring and shadowing schemes, to encourage others to participate and provide them with the skills and knowledge they need to have a positive experience of participation and trusteeship.
For further on the Pathways through Participation project, go to the website www.pathwaysthroughparticipation.org.uk
The full report 'Pathways through Participation: what creates and sustains participation? ' can be downloaded on the website.
A summary report with the key findings is equally available to download as is a briefing paper focusing more specifically on volunteering.
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