Centre for Architecture Theory Criticism History
School of Architecture

Volunteer motivations, management and impact at Ironbridge Gorge

Team: Project Timeframe: 2014 —

Volunteers represent an important component of the cultural industries workforce and have become indispensible, in many cases, to their continued operations and ongoing success. Volunteers allow an expansion of the services that might otherwise be offered by museums and heritage sites, and they do so with a level of passion and energy that enriches the workplace. Along with the growing importance of volunteers to organisations within the cultural sector, links are also being made between volunteering and individual wellbeing, as well as with broader collective benefits in relation to social inclusion and community engagement. Against this backdrop, it’s not surprising that volunteering has received increased attention from cultural heritage academics and practitioners.

While there is a long tradition of volunteering at cultural heritage sites, research to date has been limited and fragmented around two streams of notionally discrete inquiry. The more pragmatic has concentrated on developing a better understanding of the socio-demographic and motivational factors that influence individual volunteer participation. The primary purpose of this stream is to enhance the volunteer experience and maximise the effectiveness of volunteer participation at heritage sites. Interwoven with this perspective is a limited literature on the management practices of organisations that benefit from volunteer participation

The more theoretical of the two streams has developed around three related concepts that currently influence public policy: social inclusion, social capital and sense of community. This stream has its roots in Robert Putnam’s thesis that increased civic engagement and community participation leads to greater social capital, which in turn provides the basis for more effective government, enhanced economic development and community stability. While criticised as overly simplistic and largely unproven, these concepts continue to influence public policy, especially in the developed world. The primary purpose of this stream is to inform wider policy changes and innovative participatory governance arrangements, pioneered by organisations like UNESCO and the World Bank, as a pathway towards greater social inclusiveness and community engagement.

Chris is currently undertaking research with volunteers and managers at Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site in association with the Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage. The research will use archival research, interviews, an online questionnaire and group discussions to investigate the characteristics, motivations and experiences of volunteers, as well as the effectiveness of volunteer management strategies. The research also hopes to gain a better understanding of the impact that volunteering has on individual wellbeing and community engagement. The research aims to ultimately support strategies that will enhance volunteer experiences in the workplace and benefit the broader community.

Related Publications: 
  • Landorf, C (forthcoming), "Governance innovation and the volunteer: The Janus-face of heritage-beyond-the-state." International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments Conference, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 14-17 December 2014.

  • Landorf, C (forthcoming) "Volunteering Together: The collapse and revival of heritage communities." 23nd International Association People-Environment Studies, Timisoara, Romania, 23-27 June 2014.