Methods

The overarching aim of the research is to explore the ways in which different narratives of the role, position and contribution of the voluntary and community sector in social welfare provision in England were articulated in the 1940s and the 2010s.

There are four specific objectives:

  1. To compare and contrast the ways in which voluntary sector representatives, government officials and the general public articulate and receive different narratives about the role, position and contribution of the voluntary sector in social welfare provision during the 1940s and 2010s.
  2. To develop new understandings of the relationship between the state and the voluntary sector, within and between these two time periods.
  3. To contribute to methodological developments through combining historical and contemporary analysis, engagement with a range of different archival sources, and the use of computer assisted qualitative data analysis software to support such work.
  4. To work in partnership with key voluntary sector organisations at all stages in order to ensure that the research is co-produced and its findings have both conceptual and instrumental impact through building capabilities within the voluntary sector, influencing policy, and reshaping public debate.

We will address three questions:

  1. What are the similarities and differences in narratives about the role, position and contribution of the voluntary and community sector in the provision of social welfare in the 1940s compared with the 2010s?
  2. What are the similarities and differences within and between the narratives of voluntary sector representatives, government officials, and the general public about the role, position and contribution of the voluntary and community sector in social welfare provision, firstly during the 1940s and secondly through the 2010s?
  3. What evidence is there of how different narratives have been constructed, articulated, contested, and circulated?

We will do this by analysing three sets of contemporary (2010s) and historic (1940s) documents. Voluntary sector narratives will be explored through the analysis of official organisational documents from five important voluntary sector organisations, each draw from a different policy field. Political or state narratives will be explored through the analysis of key policy documents, speeches and parliamentary debates. Public narratives will be explored through the analysis of Mass Observation material, including a new directive issued in 2018.

We hope that our research will contribute to a reframing of the debate concerning the shifting relationship between the state and the voluntary sector, while also contributing to the development of voluntary sector policy and practice in England today.