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Dr James Rees, Anthony Nutt Senior Research Fellow at CVSL, introduces the research focus for the Centre.

At CVSL we will be developing a range of research projects that reflect the research interests of centre members and the range of collaborative activities. Future research will also reflect the developing engagement with the sector over the leadership challenges facing smaller organisations; seek to address gaps in the research agenda; as well as the activites of the centre's PhD students.

Some examples of current research projects are:

Core CVSL Research Projects

Leadership for collaboration

The aim of the project is to explore how leadership is enacted in the context of collaboration within and across sectors, through case studies of individual actors from voluntary organisations. The study explores the idea that individuals engage in a series of interwoven arrangements for collaboration (partnerships, working groups, joint projects, and informal arrangements) on behalf of their organisation.  They engage with multiple structures and intersecting processes for collaboration which are continually changing.  The research explores how individuals in leadership roles with voluntary organisations make sense of this ‘collaborative fabric’, and what they do to make inter-organisational collaboration happen in this complex context.

Local Leadership Development Packages

CVSL is experimenting with locally-tailored approaches to providing its leadership courses in partnership with local organisations; and this provides a unique research opportunity to a) understand local contexts and reach small local organisations and b) understand the uptake and engagement of users with online courses. An example:

“The [CVSL] has created a range of free online leadership courses to help people in local voluntary organisations to improve their understanding of leadership and ultimately help their organisations adapt to the challenges they face. In partnership with One Walsall and the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA), CVSL have designed a bespoke package that is suited to the local voluntary sector and we invite people to take part in the courses alongside the launch of the Walsall Voluntary Sectors Forum. The courses are designed to be accessible, but they nevertheless challenge individuals to think about their own practice and require commitment to a number of hours learning per week over a period of three months.”

Please contact James Rees if you want to learn more about this. 

Collaborative Leadership in austere times

The study focused on ‘collaborative leadership’ enacted by individuals in a context of austerity and turbulence, introduced at the CVSL launch is ongoing. While it has explored the practice of cross-sector collaborative leadership in the context of public sector children’s services in the UK, we anticipate that the findings will be on relevance to individuals who engage in collaborative leadership in different context. Certainly, many individuals working in the voluntary sector share the increasing requirement to do more with and who this challenges individuals and their organisations to tackle cross-cutting societal challenges in increasingly efficient ways. We have just completed the analysis phase and are about to begin drafting papers for publication. As an integral part of this, we will share the finding with the community via blogs, webinars and other events as appropriate.

Externally funded Research Projects

The value of small: evidencing the distinctive contribution of small and medium sized charities (funded by Lloyds Bank Foundation)

The overarching aim of the research is to provide evidence about the contribution made by small and medium-sized charities operating at a local level. We will ask whether locally-based small and medium-sized charities play a distinctive role in tackling disadvantage, and whether these distinctive features are recognised by the people who use their services. Most of the fieldwork will be carried out in the summer of 2017 and the project will report in early 2018.

The final report can be found here.

Investigating the contribution of the voluntary sector to mental health crisis care in England (funded by NIHR)

In collaboration with the Health Services Management Centre (HSMC) the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC), and Suresearch, this study will provide a national overview of the range of crisis support offered by the voluntary sector; explore stakeholder views of the relative strengths and weaknesses of different types of voluntary sector crisis services and make recommendations as to what needs to happen for the NHS and Local Authorities to improve how they work with voluntary sector crisis services to ensure that people in a mental health crisis can get the right help at the right time.

Third Europe: Fostering a new European profession – the Entrepreneurial Third Sector Leader (funded by Erasmus+)

CVSL is a ‘Knowledge Partner’ in this multi-partner European network project. The project is focused on helping to facilitate the transformation from management to leadership within the third sector across Europe, in the conviction that this transformation is key to addressing emerging future opportunities for the Third Sector at a strategic level. The project aims to help Third Sector management build capacity to detect, address and exploit emerging opportunities for Third Sector organisations, through strong strategic leadership. As the project is expected to contribute considerably to the European knowledge base in the Third Sector, and impact on policy and research in the field of Third Sector innovation it also focuses on how to integrate capacity building in existing or further elaborated training provisions.

Tracking Transforming Rehabilitation Probation reforms, funded by Clinks - #TrackTR

The project is a collaboration between Clinks, NCVO, Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC), and CVSL to track the reforms being carried out within the field of Probation – commonly known as ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ – by surveying the members of Clinks and NCVO at three points between 2015, 2016 and 2017. CVSL and TSRC are acting as independent academic partners to ensure that the project strives for neutrality and the methods are robust, and contributing academic rigor to the analysis and reporting. CVSL and TSRC work closely with Clinks on designing the survey questions, carrying out the data analysis from those surveys, and advising on final reports; and in 2017 we are carrying out detailed case studies of providers in order to understand their experience of TR.

The final report can be found HERE.

Briefing Papers

The CVSL team has prepared a series of three briefing papers that explore the topic of leadership in the UK voluntary sector. The first of these reviews the academic literature concerning the debate about leadership within the sector, but it goes on to open this up wherever possible to explore the broader influence of debates on leadership which have influenced thinking about leadership in the sector.

Paper 2 focuses on the shape of the leadership development landscape in the UK voluntary sector and examines some of the major constraints facing the further enhancement of leadership development for leaders across the sector.

The third, and final paper in this series, returns to the broader leadership studies literature and examines in particular the relevance of contemporary debates that focus on critical collective leadership perspectives. In brief these include shared leadership, leadership as relational practice, and the concept of leaderful organisations. It then summarises the implications of these approaches for leadership development and for voluntary sector research.

Research Reports

The value of small: evidencing the distinctive contribution of small and medium sized charities (funded by Lloyds Bank Foundation) - HERE.

Tracking Transforming Rehabilitation Probation reforms (funded by Click - #TrackTR) - HERE.


Windows of Collaborative Opportunity: Considerations of Governance by Chris Cornforth, John Paul Hayes and Siv Vangen - HERE