The Institute for Social Research has conducted research on civil society and volunteering for many years. The research encompasses features of institutional change and economic regulatory frameworks, as well as the nature of changes in people’s affiliation to voluntary organisations.
Voluntary work is an important component of Norwegian civil society. At the same time, societal changes are resulting in alterations in the form that voluntary engagement takes. Traditionally the legitimacy of civil communities has been associated with their democratic structure, with the fact that they provide practice in political and democratic participation, reinforce social ties, communicate local involvement and function independently of the state and the market. The institute’s studies indicate that classic volunteering is now under pressure from many sides, also in light of digitalisation and new social media.
Since 2008 a significant portion of the institute’s civil society research has been conducted within the framework of the Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector. The centre is operated in collaboration with the Stein Rokkan Centre for Social Studies. The Ministry of Culture is the commissioning authority for the centre, which is co-financed by several ministries. In the period 2008‒2013 thirty-five research projects have been conducted, and 38 reports, 41 academic articles and six books have been published.
In 2013 it was clear that the centre would be continued with funds from a new research programme, which will focus on three main topics: perspectives for participation, the changing civil society and voluntary sector, and funding schemes and other framework conditions. Within each of these thematic areas specific projects are implemented with associated research questions.
The civil society research at the institute was also strengthened in 2013 through the allocation of a large EU project that will generate knowledge on how the voluntary sector can contribute to socio-economic development in Europe.
There is great interest in civil society research, both from key international research communities and among actors who apply research in the design and implementation of policy objectives, as well as from user groups within the broad civil society area – locally and nationally. Aside from the academic quality of the research, the significant demand for it may be linked to its approach, which includes building upon a broad range of both quantitative and qualitative data sources.