Nick Ockenden is Director of the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR)

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

A wildlife photographer – partly from the influence of my grandfather.  This led to thoughts of reading Zoology at university but in the end I went for Geography.  But I’m still keen on photography and have just treated myself to a new camera.

When did you first turn towards a social research career? 

In my Master’s course I did a dissertation on community gardens in New York, working out of the Mayor’s office.  That fired a combined interest in research, environmentalism and volunteer action.

What was your first professional job?  And first project there?

Following that up, my first job back in the UK in 2001 was with an NGO called GreenSpace. And the project was a combination of research, support and advice for community organisations set up to act as ‘friends’ of local parks.  Then in 2005 I moved from there to the IVR, initially as a Research Officer, then as Head of Research, and finally as Director

What has been your best professional moment?

Last year I co-authored a contribution to a book called ‘Hybrid Organizations and the Third Sector. Challenges for Practice, Theory and Policy’. Our chapter explored the position and influence of volunteers within organisations that blur the boundaries between the public, private and voluntary sectors. There is something seductively attractive about seeing your thoughts in print.

...and worst?

At a conference in Italy, my presentation had been well received. But it was not a good idea to be flattered by the conference organiser’s invitation to go mountaineering afterwards – without  suitable clothing.

In your work what gives you the most satisfaction?

Two things. First, the opportunity to do fieldwork talking to volunteers about their experiences, which are often moving and humbling.  Second, knowing that a client for research has accepted and acted upon your recommendations.

Do you have a social research hero/heroine?

I am a  great fan of the US academic David Horton Smith who has researched grassroots organisations - largely a neglected field. I have met him, read his work and he has advised us at the Institute.

What would your advice be to new social researchers?

Follow your own interests in choosing a field to work in. And don’t be afraid to become a specialist in it.


Interview by William Solesbury October 2011

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