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Empirical Assessment of Third Sector Impact

Thu, June 30, 9:00 to 10:30am, Campus Ersta, Aulan

Session Submission Type: Panel


The papers in this panel are part of a project called Third Sector Impact, funded by EU’s 7th Framework program. The objective is to create knowledge that will advance the contributions of the Third Sector in Europe. Research on impacts of the third sector on other parts of society is scattered and inconclusive. Research on individual level data is most developed, but it is difficult to identify the effects of volunteering or employment in third sector organizations, because of self-selection. People that choose to be involved may already have characteristics assumed to be possible impacts of the third sector, such as improved health, well-being, and civic engagement.
The two first papers in this panel address these problems of self-selection with propensity scores matching estimators. This results in other findings than what has been common in previous research. The first focuses on effects of volunteering in 23 European countries, and finds positive effects on political engagement, but not on health and well-being in contrast to many previous studies. This suggests that health and wellbeing may be a precondition for volunteering, but that there may be a positive effect on political engagement. The second paper focuses on voluntary work during unemployment, an investigates if volunteering can compensate for the loss in manifest and latent benefits associated with paid work and thus improve unemployed individuals’ wellbeing and mental health in 29 European countries. It is found that this depends on generous welfare benefits.
The third paper focuses on the community level. It is often assumed that the density of third sector organizations provide opportunities that are beneficial for engagement in volunteering, social cohesion, and social capital. By a sophisticated multi-level modelling and after controlling for relevant individual and area characteristics in data from the UK, the paper concludes that the “foot-print” of the third sector organizations do not add to the explanation of community level variations. This indicates that organizational density on community level is a less important infrastructure than assumed in previous research and in several current policy initiatives.
Analysis of impact on the organizational level is often done by single organizations, as a response to requirements by funders to prove the impact of specific projects. The organizations also want to attract donors and support by presenting this kind of documentation. There is therefore a lot of impact analysis going on using established concepts such as Social Return on Investment (SROI). However, there are dimensions particular to the third sector that tend to be ignored because of lacking indicators. This weakness of organizational impact analysis will be addressed in the final paper.
This panel addresses common problems in previous research on third sector impacts on individual, community and organizational level. Innovative methodological solutions are used to minimize these problems, and implications for further analysis and research on Third Sector Impacts are presented.

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