Independence Matters

Independence Matters

11 August 2015

The Trust has commissioned the Ulster University’s Institute for Research in the Social Sciences (IRiSS) to carry out research into the independence of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in Northern Ireland. Here we hear from UU's Markus Ketola on why independence is so important for the VCSE...

The Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector in Northern Ireland is undergoing significant change.  Indeed, the available evidence suggests that many VCSE organisations are struggling to survive and to make sense of the changes affecting them.

For many, a key area of concern has to do with anxieties of the value placed on independent voluntary action where changes to government funding policies and the impact of austerity has led to a widespread perception – particularly in the UK – that VCSE independence is under threat.

A new research project commissioned by the Building Change Trust and carried out by a team of researchers at Ulster University’s Institute for Research in Social Science (IRiSS) is trying to find out more.

Thanks to the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector and the National Coalition for Independent Action we already know how critical the issue of independence is for organisations elsewhere in the UK.

The purpose of this research project is to understand how these issues are playing out in the Northern Irish context. The project investigates three interconnected elements of independence that have emerged from the work of the Panel – the independence of purpose, voice and action – and in so doing challenges assumptions about what the VCSE sector’s relationship to government might be, what voluntary and community organisations might do and how they can sustain their independence of purpose, voice and action.

A key part of the research involves capturing the views and experiences of organisations and individuals in the sector through an online survey. If you would like to take part in the survey please click on the link below:

In addition, the research will include interviews with case study organisations of different sizes, geographical locations and working in different thematic areas. This will help better understand the key issues emerging from the survey findings. If your organisation would be interested in participating in such interviews, please contact the research team via

The findings of the research project will be shared with the VCSE sector in two ways. First of all, an interim report will be published in November 2015, followed by a final report a year later, which will detail the key findings of the study.

Workshops discussing the findings will also follow the publication of each report. Secondly, the research will feed into the design of an ‘independence toolkit’ that will help organisations to assess their own independence of purpose, voice and action as well to consider ways to strengthen their independence.

The success of this research project depends entirely on the good will of all those working in the VCSE sector giving up their time to tell us their views. So please do take the time to look at the survey and share the link with your colleagues. The research team are waiting for you to get in touch!

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