Case Study

Centre for Participation

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Centre for Participation

Project Overview

Centre for Participation

Key Services
Sector / issue analysis | Impact reporting

Research context

Over the past decade, the experience and extent of social cohesion has declined in Australia. The Scanlon Foundation Social Cohesion survey, which has measured social cohesion annually since 2007, has found most recently:

  • increased feelings of discrimination
  • increased pessimism
  • increased fear of terror and crime in the community
  • decreased trust in private and public institutions.

This is at a time when communities across Australia continue to face many challenges to social cohesion, including unprecedented bushfires, and as we write, the COVID-19 pandemic which continues. At the same time, although Australia has some of the highest volunteering participation rates in the world, the rates of formal volunteering are declining (36 per cent to 31 per cent between 2010 to 2014 (ABS, 2014a) with an estimated further 40 per cent drop during the COVID-19 pandemic due to restrictions on movement and assembly.

In seeking to understand the contribution that volunteering makes to social cohesion, the Department of Social Services (DSS) commissioned the Centre for Participation and Think Impact to conduct a national research project conducted from June 2018 to August 2020. This work was guided by the National Network of Volunteer Resource Centres (NNVRC) which formed in 2017 to share knowledge and experience from their diverse regions and plan for the future.

This research seeks to explore and inform four key questions:

  • To what extent does our current national volunteering infrastructure contribute to a more cohesive society?
  • Is our current understanding of ‘volunteering’ appropriate to the contemporary context?
  • What models of engaging the populace in voluntary activity will best lead to improved social cohesion?
  • How can we transition the current national volunteering infrastructure to best deliver social cohesion?

Models of social cohesion and voluntary participation for today

Following a review of social cohesion models used globally, followed by extensive local consultation, the following model of social cohesion was adopted to guide the exploration of the research questions. It owes much to the well-regarded Bertelsmann Stiftung domains of social cohesion.

The final report 'Reimagining volunteering for contemporary Australia' outlines how the current national volunteer support infrastructure can transition to better contribute to all dimensions of social cohesion.

Read the full report here

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