Findings from VAHS’s survey of members and friends: ‘Good to know you exist!’ Meta Zimmeck

For some time VAHS has wanted to be in closer touch with our members and friends in order to assess the strengths and weaknesses of what we are doing and, if possible, to make changes that might make our activities and research outputs more accessible, interesting and effective.

Between September 2017 and May 2018 we invited our 270 members and friends to participate in a web-based survey (our first ever), and we received completed surveys from 63 members and friends, a response rate of 23%.

This is what respondents told us:

  • 90% of respondents were based in England, the majority in Greater London and the South East, and the remainder in other regions, except the East Midlands and the North East; 5% were based in the other nations of the UK, except Northern Ireland; and 5% were based abroad.
  • 54% of respondents were academics; 29% were retired; 14% were consultants, researchers and writers in the government and private sectors; and 8% were practitioners.
  • Two-thirds of respondents initially heard about VAHS and its activities by rather vague and unspecific methods (52% by word of mouth, 8% by attending or speaking at seminars or conferences and 6% by long-term involvement), and the remaining third, by more immediate, mainly electronic, methods (18% by IHR’s/VAHS’s websites, 13% by VAHS’s e-mail announcements and 2% by Twitter/social media).
  • All respondents but one usually heard about VAHS and its activities through VAHS’s e-mail announcements.
  • 90% of respondents attended seminars; 27%, Saturday study days; and 25%, both seminars and Saturday study days.
  • 48% of respondents attended one or more international conferences (six since 2001) of which the best-attended conferences were Liverpool in 2008, Canterbury in 2010 and Liverpool in 2016. More than half of respondents who had attended conferences attended two or more conferences.
  • 33% of respondents read the collection of research papers from the conference in Liverpool in 2008, Understanding the Roots of Voluntary Action: Historical Perspectives on Current Social Policy (edited by Colin Rochester, George Campbell Gosling, Alison Penn and Meta Zimmeck; Sussex Academic Press, 2011); 52% read blogs; and 19% listened to podcasts of seminars (both blogs and podcasts available through VAHS’s website).
  • Respondents reported high levels of enjoyment in VAHS’s activities – in particular, the focus on voluntary action, a specialist subject otherwise marginalised by mainstream social research; opportunities for learning; opportunities for networking; bridging past and current debates on policies and practices; and conviviality (there was much favourable comment about VAHS’s friendly and welcoming approach to a cross-disciplinary community and those at all stages of their research careers).
  • Respondents reported a number of barriers to joining in VAHS’s activities and events – in particular, the location of seminars in London (and therefore the time and cost involved in attending for those who did not live within easy-travelling distance), other commitments such as childcare, teaching or other work; time constraints generally; lack of interest/relevance of particular seminars; and lack of personal organisation.
  • Respondents also made suggestions for improvement, some of which we have already implemented and all of which we will be considering.
  • Overall on a scale from 1 (least likely) to 10 (most likely) respondents gave VAHS a composite score of 8.25 on how likely they were to recommend VAHS to a colleague or friend. This is a remarkably high score as such and in comparison to Surrvey Monkey’s global benchmark for the same question.

While we do not have (and never have had) detailed and complete information about the characteristics and views of our members and friends, we cannot say that these findings are representative, but they are indicative of the views of some of our more committed and enthusiastic members and friends. We are very pleased with these findings and will do our best to keep up the good work and, if possible, do even better work in future.

The full report is available here.

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