e-CIVICUS 418 - Issued 05 December 2008 
Tools to enhance accountability and transparency of international volunteering programmes
By Benjamin J. Lough, Research Associate, Center for Social Development George Warren Brown School of Social Work

- Washington University in St Louis

No individual or organization wants to donate time or resources to activities which have no documented benefit or impact. Regular evaluation of outcomes should be a planned part of program goals at all levels. In the case of international volunteering and service (IVS), this includes the impact of volunteers on the community, the host-organization, and the individual volunteer. Documentation of service outcomes enhances organizational transparency and accountability, and justifies the expense of volunteer programs. Recurrent assessments across programs and contexts can also provide comparative knowledge about the overall impact of international volunteering on intended beneficiaries. This knowledge is essential for the field as a whole to promote effective practices.  

Despite a sharp growth in international volunteering in recent years, the overall impact of IVS is not well understood by the field. This lack of knowledge is amplified by the expansion of diverse types of programs sending volunteers overseas.  To the extent that IVS models differ in design, they also differ in the outcomes they produce. These outcomes ultimately depend on individual and institutional characteristics, as well as specific service activities1. In order to maximize positive outcomes, effective practices should be built on a foundation of strong empirical work.  

A few measurement toolkits have been developed that inform the evaluation of IVS programs. Perhaps the most relevant include the Volunteering Impact Assessment Toolkit2 and Measuring Volunteering: A Practical Toolkit3.  United Nations Volunteers ( UNV ) and the Centre for International Development Training (CIDT) have also partnered to develop a useful participatory methodology handbook to assess the outcomes of volunteers for development4.

While these tools can help practitioners evaluate the effectiveness of their volunteers, standardized tools that measure impacts across IVS programs over time are still being refined.  In order to permit claims about impacts, measures must be administered longitudinally with experimental or quasi-experimental design. When these measures are administered before and after volunteers complete their service assignment, survey data can concretely demonstrate how the service experience has affected volunteers and how these effects are sustained over time.

In order to fill the need for rigorous measurement tools that can be administered to various groups over time, researchers at the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis have piloted the International Volunteering Impacts Survey ( IVIS ), and complementary qualitative research tools. These instruments can be administered to volunteer-hosting organizations and comparison organizations that do not host volunteers, and allow for longitudinal measurement.

In order to build a comparative knowledge base, it is important that programs utilize standardized, valid, and reliable measurement tools. Comparative knowledge of impacts is necessary to enhance accountability among sending programs and establish effective IVS practices. As these tools are refined, shared with stakeholders, and administered with rigorous research designs, data about the impacts of international volunteers can be spread with confidence.

For queries about this article, please write to blough at wustl.edu  

[1] Sherraden, M. S., Lough, B. J., & McBride, A. M. (2008). Impacts of international volunteering and service: Individual and institutional predictors. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, Online First 1573-7888.

2 IVR (2004). Volunteering impact assessment toolkit: A practical guide for measuring the impact of volunteering. London , UK : Institute for Volunteering Research.

3 Dingle, A., Sokolowski, W., Saxon-Harrold, S. K. E., Smith, J. D., & Leigh, R. (Eds.). (2001). Measuring volunteering: A practical toolkit. Washington DC and Bonn , Germany : Independent Sector and United Nations Volunteers.

4 Daniel, P., French, S., & King, E. (2006). A participatory methodology for assessing the impact of volunteering for development: Handbook for volunteers and programme officers. United Nations Volunteers & Centre for International Development Training, Bonn , Germany .


Subscription to e-CIVICUS: 
Do you have a friend who works for a more just world? Would you like to share this newsletter with them? Why don’t you suggest they register for a free subscription?

They can send us an e-mail to
subscriptions@civicus.org or fill out the subscription form click here. Alternatively, please forward their e-mail address to subscriptions@civicus.org and we’ll contact them on your behalf. 

Comments, Suggestions and Contributions:
Please send us your contributions no later than Monday every week to editor@civicus.org. All contributions must be focused on civil society issues or have a civil society angle.