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Do we need to reinvent the Wheel of Quality Volunteering in 2021?
In the last few years, we’ve seen the world change at an incredible pace. The needs of citizens who require the support of volunteers have evolved, as has the context in which volunteers can engage, no less by facing challenges such as the need for safer volunteering conditions, training for digital volunteering and inclusive volunteering policies.
10 years ago, when the European Year of Volunteering 2011 concluded, the Policy Agenda for Volunteering in Europe (PAVE) was released as a set of recommendations for more effective volunteering support across Europe. The working group on Quality Volunteering developed Chapter 2 on quality volunteering that included ‘the wheel of quality’ for volunteering. The model highlights the interactions required to achieve quality volunteering, from the opportunities offered to volunteers, the management of these opportunities and the collaboration between their enablers, to not least the impact these volunteering actions bring to communities across Europe. Could it be that that wheel now needs to be reinvented?
First, let’s clarify what was referred to as quality volunteering back in 2011. The definition included in PAVE included two main aspects:
- Volunteers are enabled and supported by policies and procedures to provide a positive impact
- That impact should make a measurable difference, for the better of the society as a whole.
At a first glance, this definition is still valid today. To enable impactful volunteering activities across communities in Europe, we still need long standing and strong partnerships between various stakeholders, Including, but not limited to, volunteering supporting organisations, local and central administration, representative policymakers, private for-profit sector and, not least volunteers. Moreover, for the benefit of the wider society, we need to be able to measure the impact of volunteers and use these measurements to indicate the areas where further resources need to be allocated or mobilised, as well as to identify what types of volunteering need to be replicated given their high efficiency and impact.
If we are to look back to these 10 years and evaluate how these two elements, the support by policies and the measurable aspect, have evolved in Europe, we would say we still have a long way to go to achieve a high-quality level of volunteering. Where are we still lacking?
First of all, the main challenge in creating a framework for quality volunteering in Europe identified back in 2011 was the diversity of perspectives of what constitutes quality volunteering across different European countries and communities. To achieve the goal of increasing the quality of volunteering, it was agreed that the starting point was a common dialogue on what are the components of quality volunteering and what are the key challenges for which trans-national solutions could be found.
This is a challenge that continues today. Thanks to the consensus reached in 2011 however, and the continued collaboration between different European level structures of volunteering support we have managed to develop and maintain strong partnerships across sectors, which further improve the volunteering environment for volunteers and communities. There is still a great gap to fill in terms of policy support from EU and national level institutions. It is worth mentioning that while some advancements have been made in this sense, such as having a Volunteering Interest Group in the European Parliament, we would still need a coordinated and cross cutting policy approach from all the European Institutions for stronger and more suitable policy and procedures to be adopted at European level.
Looking now at the ‘measurable’ aspect, in the 10 years since PAVE was launched we have seen some indicators being measured so as to evaluate the value of volunteering for society, however this measurement is not done in a consistent way, not in country, nor at European level. When we look at the wheel of quality, we see that ‘impact’ is a key element in the system, however that is yet to be reflected in public administration support at European level through funding and technical resources dedicated to the measurement of the volunteering activities. We have to remember that we have over 100 million volunteers in Europe and that their support is required and needed across communities – this can only mean that their impact is real. In order to better grasp that impact, though, we need:
a. a complex measurement framework, to capture both the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of the volunteering impact;
b. a set of technical settings and tools to be able to capture, synthesise and analyse the data coming from the measurement;
c. flexible volunteering infrastructures, ready to adopt the recommendations coming from this measurement, which is expected to happen consistently across time and geographies
All this requires dedicated human resources and funding. We do not see this to be a vicious cycle. We actually envision a solution for all these challenges. And the solution starts (and ends) with volunteering supporting organisations, who can first define a volunteering impact evaluation framework, based on first-hand information from the volunteering activities they support or enable; they can then, with support from across sectors (especially from EU level and the private sector), deliver against this framework, gathering and processing the data, using funding and in-kind contributions from these stakeholders (including through employee volunteering); the final stage would be to make the much needed recommendations for volunteering quality improvement, which can be fed back into the volunteering ecosystem through these very same actors across sectors.
Considering the European level collaboration structures, such as CEV, we believe this vision to be very much achievable. As this year we are starting to work on the Blueprint for Volunteering in Europe 2030, measuring volunteering impact sits at the core of this process, to inform and guide the recommendations in the Blueprint, translating them into actionable plans for all key stakeholders.
Having seen the evolution of quality volunteering over the last 10 years, we do not believe the wheel needs to be reinvented. But it does need to be perfected to carry the weight of the real and increasing need for volunteering support across Europe. The times are changing, and volunteering infrastructures need to be flexible to adapt to these changes. This is only achievable if:
- We know what the needs for volunteering support are and what are the most likely models of volunteering to bring the impact necessary to meet these needs – this is what a measurement framework would be able to assess.
- We adapt and adopt these models of volunteering across Europe, through a strong collaboration between volunteering enablers and volunteering management structures – this is what stronger support from the key stakeholders would enable.
This is what would make the wheel of quality spin at full speed, for the benefit and wellbeing of all citizens of Europe. Our work is far from finished on our way to strengthening our communities through solidarity, but we are headed in the right direction.