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MAY 2015: TSRC seminar: John Mohan 'Bigging up society?...'
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When: 5/13/2015

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TSRC seminar: John Mohan 'Bigging up society? Evidence, assertion and policy in debates about the UK’s third sector'

Join us for Professor John Mohan's inaugural lecture at the University of Birmingham, on Wednesday 13th May. All are welcome, although registration is neccessary via this web link:



Details are as follows:

Bigging up society? Evidence, assertion and policy in debates about the UK’s third sector


John Mohan, Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham


Wednesday 13th May, 4:30pm. Muirhead Tower, University of Birmingham



All political parties in the UK extol the virtues of the third sector and voluntary action. They are not alone: the United Nations, in its 2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism report, regarded voluntary action as a "powerful and universal renewable resource". Beyond the direct impacts of voluntary action and voluntary organisations themselves on their beneficiaries, claims are also made about the wider public benefits of a strong voluntary sector - for example, its role in the promotion of social capital. But how renewable is it, for whom and where is it renewable or universal, how is it renewed, and what can we realistically expect from voluntary action?

Debates about the third sector’s contribution and impact are often marked by selective interpretation of evidence. Looking to the past, firstly, while historical precedent is invoked in justification of greater voluntary action, analysis is often pitched at the level of individual organisations and their success stories. Drawing on work on the pre-NHS hospitals, I offer a system-wide perspective which leads to rather different verdicts.

Secondly, consider the use of evidence by politicians, think tanks and the third sector's own advocates. Operating in a charged and febrile environment, evidence can be ignored, selectively interpreted, or reduced to a soundbite. Examples are given here from the statements of ministers, think tanks and third sector organisations themselves.

Being economical with the evidence is not exactly news, but policies predicated on an expansion of the third sector need to be based on an understanding of what such action can or cannot be expected to achieve. The focus here switches to recent debates around the "big society". Drawing on experience gained from research conducted under the auspices of the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) and the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy (CGAP), I consider the extent to which voluntary action and the third sector can rise to contemporary societal challenges.

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