A key issue for researchers examining aspects of civil society, voluntary action and charity is access to so-called ‘grey literature’, including reports and papers produced by charities, now often produced only in digital format. In many cases such reports are not deposited with copyright libraries, and can be lost to researchers.
In 2029 the project team worked to secure a new home for one such collection – the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR)’s Evidence Bank – with the British Library Social Welfare Portal. The Social Welfare Portal provides a single point of access to our vast print and digital collections of research and information on policy development, implementation and evaluation. It is an invaluable resource for researchers, policymakers and policy liaison officers working in the civil society, and provides access to the most recent reports in a wide range of social welfare topics.
2019 represented the twenty first anniversary of the establishment of IVR and saw its move from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) to the University of East Anglia. In this year 225 items of IVR’s Evidence Bank were uploaded to the British Library’s Social Welfare Portal, enabling their continued availability through open access.
The upload included volumes 1-9 of IVR’s journal, Voluntary Action, published from 1998 to 2008 and a range of other reports on different aspects of volunteering. These materials, and the route they took into the Evidence Bank, offer an insight into the landscape of volunteering research over the last two decades. IVR was established in 1998, as part of the then National Centre for Volunteering (later Volunteering England) to meet the need for a dedicated body to undertake high quality research on volunteering. It was created in collaboration with the University of East London and with substantial initial funding from the Lloyds TSB Foundation for England and Wales.
At that time, Volunteering England had an expanding role under New Labour, becoming the lead body for volunteering and IVR’s role as a thought leader in volunteering research grew with this. In 2012 IVR moved with Volunteering England to NCVO and subsequently, in 2019, to the University of East Anglia.
In August 2010, IVR launched its evidence bank, initiated and prepared for more than 12 months before that year’s General Election, by curating and uploading 200 documents with a view to developing it further. However, the second stage of the development of the Evidence Bank was never enacted and the work never received any dedicated funding. Only 24 documents were added after its launch and none after 2016.
In hindsight, IVR’s endeavour to set up an open access evidence bank to meet the needs of volunteer-involving organisations and policy makers was doomed, as others were. For instance, similar projects at the Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sector (ARVAC) also failed. Such undertakings are essentially dependent on the continuous provision of adequate resources, which did not prove to be available for more than a limited period.
In its new university-based location at UEA IVR will continue to make knowledge available freely, especially to practitioners. Having learned from the experience of the evidence bank it is seeking more effective ways to make such evidence available. The collaboration with the British Library might indeed point the way.