In July 2014, I took part in a data-sharing workshop at the University of Leeds with the Timescapes team and Rob Macmillan from Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC ). The objective of the workshop was to share a number of interview transcripts from the Pathways through participation project and the Real Times project to explore common themes. The Pathways through participation project was led by my organisation NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) in partnership with IVR (Institute for Volunteering Research) and Involve. As the project manager I really welcomed the opportunity to revisit the dataset and explore how some of our findings might resonate with the findings of Real Times.
These Pathways through participation and Real Times datasets are very different so I was intrigued to see what could come out of the workshop – whereas Pathways through participation is a collection of individual life stories of participation from the perspective of the individual, Real Times looks at the journeys of voluntary organisations over time. Prior to the meeting Rob Macmillan and myself had identified several areas we were interested in exploring further, selected 3 to 5 transcripts each with this in mind and then contacting the interviewees to gain consent.
At the workshop, we rapidly saw that despite the two datasets having very different units of analysis (the individual in the case of Pathways through participation and the organisation in the case of Real Times) our understanding of the data benefited from the rich discussion we had. The key learning point for me was the realisation that the approach to volunteering of organisations seemed largely disconnected from people’s motivations to volunteer – why people might want to engage with them in the first place, but also why they would decide to stay engaged or leave. Of course, it very much depended on the organisation, their activity and size, and what sources of funding they accessed. But, in the examples we looked at in more detail, volunteers were very much there to complete a task, which raised some interesting questions about the boundaries between paid and unpaid work.
This was my first experience of data sharing and I’m pleased to say it was a positive one. It definitely highlighted some very real gaps in knowledge and pointed to further areas for exploration.