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Evaluating Innovation in the Voluntary Sector: Understanding and strengthening the establishment of a ‘Transformation Academy’ in Medway, Kent

  • School: Nottingham Business School
  • Starting: 2023
  • Funding: UK student / Fully-funded


The Covid-19 pandemic presented a fundamental challenge to many Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) organisations. Facing lockdowns, funding reductions and the inability to operate as normal, the pandemic forced many VCSE organisations to change how they operated. For organisations in Medway, Kent, these challenges  led to a different way of working, one that was more collaborative and supportive, requiring organisations to work together and learn from each other.

Based on these experiences Medway Voluntary Action (MVA) successfully applied to National Lottery Community Fund to set up the Transformation Academy (TA), a new initiative, to create space to learn and work together to bring about change. The TA has 30 leaders from its current leadership alliance,  who are aiming to improve problem resolution, future-proof their services, and enable lasting social change and growth through collaboration and learning. The  VCSE Data and Insights Observatory and MVA are working together to evaluate the TA’s development , in order to strengthen its offering.

This PhD program offers a unique chance to collaborate with MVA and their project partners, deepen knowledge generated by the TA and create impactful academic work. You will  work alongside the National VCSE Data and Insights Observatory, led by Professor Daniel King and supported by NTU, to capture VCSE sector’s insights. The Observatory acts as a hub for VCSE organizations, key stakeholders, and academics to identify trends and solve problems.  It conducted the largest UK study on the impact of the pandemic on the sector and, similarly, it is currently leading work to capture the impact of the cost of living crisis.

This PhD project which ultimately seeks to improve and disseminate the learning of the Transformation Academy is informed by three underlying principles:

  1. Learning is social- it is not something that people possess in their heads but rather something people do together (Hay & Samra-Fredericks, 2019; King & Learmonth, 2015). Crucially, this means that the Observatory team is positioned as collaborative partners- working together with MVA and its TA members to better understand their efforts to improve their ways of working. Central to our approach is an emphasis on members learning with us to enable the training of future trainers at MVA/TA who can themselves undertake evaluations of their future projects.
  2. Learning is situated- it is produced within a temporally, geographically, or relationally situated practice (Harding, 2004; Rees et al., 2022). The project aims to advance understanding of VCSE organisations’ impact on local and place-based voluntary action. This underlines the researcher's embodied location within the research context and emphasizes the researcher's role as an enabling agent.
  3. Learning is emergent- it is always in a state of becoming and as such provisional (Watson, 2001). This informs a purposeful cyclical approach to the project’s evaluation activities.

We are seeking a candidate with an interest and expertise in one or more of the following disciplines: third sector studies, critical management studies, community development, HRM, management/leadership development; organisational learning or organizational development. The successful candidate must have knowledge and experience of the VCSE sector gained through professional or volunteering roles in charities, community organisations or social enterprises. Having a masters would be an advantage. The successful candidate will be part of a multi and interdisciplinary team that has a wide range of skills and experience, covering both quantitative and qualitative approaches to evaluation.


Harding, S (ed.) (2004). The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies. 1st ed. New York; Routledge.

Hay, A., & Samra-Fredericks, D. (2019). Bringing the heart and soul back in: Collaborative inquiry and the DBA. Academy of Management Learning & Education18(1): 59-80.

King, D., & Learmonth, M. (2015). Can critical management studies ever be ‘practical’? A case study in engaged scholarship. Human Relations68(3): 353-375.

Rees, J., Sancino, A., Jacklin-Jarvis; C. & Pagani, M. (2022). "You can't Google everything": the voluntary sector and the leadership of communities of place. Leadership, 18(1): 102-119.

Watson, T.J. (2001). The emergent manager and processes of management pre-learning. Management Learning32(2): 221-235.

Entry qualifications

The successful candidate must have knowledge and experience of the Voluntary, Community and Enterprise Sector gained through professional or volunteering roles in charities, community organisations or social enterprises. Having a masters would be an advantage.

How to apply

Please visit our how to apply page for a step-by-step guide and make an application.

Application deadline: Monday 6 March 2023

Interviews will take place week commencing 13 March 2023.

Fees and funding

This PhD opportunity is funded by NBS NTU together with Medway Voluntary Action (MVA), UK Charity as the external funder.

Find out about fees and funding for PhD projects.

Guidance and support

Find out about guidance and support for PhD students.

Still need help?

Professor Daniel King