RCE Saskatchewan-2016

1. Project Title: 
Voluntary Sector Studies Network
2. Thematic area/s addressed by the project
3. Project partner contact information : 
Luther College at the University of Regina
Host Institution (Office, website, in-kind support, academic oversight)
Main Contact: 
Dr. Franzvolker Greifenhagen (franzvolker.greifenhagen@uregina.ca, 306-585-4859)
Dr. Mary Vetter, VSSN Acting Director
Luther College at the University of Regina
Alternative project contact: 
Jennifer Billan
VSSN Coordinator
4. Project type
5. Project description
Provide a short description of the project including strategies, regional challenges, aims and specific project activities.: 
  1. The Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) is an innovative, interdisciplinary, community-university collaborative comprising students, voluntary organizations and faculty/staff administered out of the VSSN office at Luther College at the University of Regina. The voluntary sector is also known as the nonprofit sector, third sector and community-based sector. It includes both registered charities and registered nonprofits. The VSSN program embraces three inter-related themes – learn, research, innovate. The VSSN enables students, voluntary sector staff and volunteers as well as university faculty/staff to become involved in dynamic and mutually beneficial relationships while learning, researching and innovating. We believe that by enhancing connections among these diverse groups, the potential for reciprocal learning for everyone involved is great – indeed, the creation and sharing of knowledge is multi-directional. The reciprocal learning and networking benefits and builds sustainable communities as people move forward and act on these new ideas.

    The VSSN facilitates many public events throughout the year for students, voluntary organization staff and volunteers as well as faculty/staff. These events are educational in nature and work towards solving real-world problems that the voluntary sector is currently facing in Saskatchewan (e.g., a public forum on funding models for the sector that struggles with inadequate funding). These opportunities create dialogue among attendees to allow learning from each other and forming relationships.

    Three pillars constitute the VSSN: learn, research, and innovate (please see our website for more information www.luthercollege.edu/vssn ).

    • Research: VSSN creates a forum in which the voluntary sector and university faculty and students identify and carry out research projects that benefit both partners. VSSN Steering Group members also contribute their guidance and expertise in mentoring these research projects. Two research projects have been completed in the first year of VSSN and are on the website.
    • Learn: Learning at VSSN will be both formal and informal and encompasses different models of course delivery: semester-long courses, online courses, webinars, block classes, evening seminars and ‘weekend university’. As already noted, there are three main groups of learners at VSSN: undergraduate students, voluntary sector staff/volunteers, and university faculty and staff. Based on a review of curricular guidelines, new undergraduate courses are being designed for students interested in studying the voluntary sector. Connections are being fostered with U. of R., First Nations University and Campion College in order to bundle together new courses as well as a collection of courses already being offered, to provide students with a new area of specialization, a Certificate in Nonprofit Sector Leadership & Innovation (please see our website for more information on the Certificate www.luthercollege.edu/vssn/NSLI-certificate). Furthermore, professional development for voluntary sector staff and volunteers is key through exploring opportunities that are currently available in Saskatchewan, identifying what gaps exist, and discerning how to fill them. Lastly, VSSN will provide professional development on experiential learning activities and community-engaged scholarship for faculty through peer mentorship.
    • Innovation: VSSN gathers and distributes information and provides a space where new ideas that can benefit the voluntary sector will find discussion and implementation assistance.
6. Project status
On Going
VSSN began in September 2014 with seed money from Luther College. In the first year, a Steering Group was set up with representatives from the voluntary sector, faculty and staff, and students (in approximately equal numbers); terms of reference were developed and a collaborative decision-making model was adopted. A number of public gatherings and focus groups were held in which members of the voluntary sector and university community at large came together to formulate goals and objectives of VSSN’s work, and to inform the critical components of the proposed certificate program (identify core competencies and courses). Two major research projects were completed (VSSN Cross-Canada Scan on Voluntary Sector Programs and Student Survey on Voluntary/Nonprofit Sector Courses and Careers—see documents under point 7). A strategic plan is completed in draft form, and will be finished in Fall 2015. Funding applications were submitted, and a grant of $210,000 was received to support VSSN 2015-2017. An electronic network of more than 400 voluntary/nonprofit sector organizations and individuals is set up and receives regular correspondence from VSSN and also serves as an electronic discussion forum.

The research currently underway at VSSN is advancing the state of knowledge about the voluntary sector in Saskatchewan. The mixed methods approach embedded in VSSN that links the community with the university involves students and others in ongoing processes of data collection, analyses, report writing and knowledge-sharing. At this point in time, the VSSN is conducting research that focuses on building our understanding of the size and scope of the sector in Saskatchewan; labour force and human capital issues; how and where voluntary sector staff and volunteers go for professional development opportunities; what are needs and capacities of the voluntary sector regarding learning opportunities; and how to engage students in learning about, and choosing careers, in the voluntary sector.

The Steering Group is overseeing and participating in the research agenda that includes the following: a province-wide e-survey on the needs and capacities of Saskatchewan based voluntary organizations; Koffee Klatch data analysis; focus groups to gather insights and recommendations to shape the VSSN; an environmental scan on an inventory of professional development opportunities offered by various associations working in Saskatchewan; building our scholarly and applied base of literature regarding programs, courses, best practice models, and core competencies; and an environmental scan of certificate programs and best practice models offered at post-secondary institutions across Canada.

The 2015-2017 action plan is provided under point 7, references and reference materials.
8. Tagging