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International development volunteer work – the benefits, challenges and future opportunities

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Prof Ben Lough has done extensive research in the volunteering space looking at the role that international development volunteering plays, the benefits, challenges, and the opportunities that emerge from volunteering.

Prof Lough together with Jim Delaney and Jessica Cadesky published an article titled “Scholar/practitioner research in international development volunteering: benefits, challenges and future opportunities” in 2021. His research looked at the practice of International Development Volunteering (IDV) in the scholar/practitioner community, this is the practice where skilled international volunteers visit a partner country and exchange knowledge and skills with community-based organisations and individuals. This is a very common volunteering practice and his research sought to understand the impact of this work.

Researchers collected survey data from 22 scholars and practitioners involved in IDV research and conducted a workshop with 40 stakeholders from the IDV community. The research identified several benefits to this kind of volunteering but also major challenges that limit the impact of this work.

The benefits include mutually beneficial research collaborations that improve access to resources and knowledge including local practice knowledge as well as more diverse perspectives. Another benefit is that this kind of collaboration means that areas of research become more relevant to policy and implementation. Other benefits include more substantial and comparable data and research that reflects key current policy debates. The greatest benefit for this kind of IDV is that it allows scholars and practitioners to implement evidence-based interventions that can inform policy making.

Challenges that Prof Lough uncovered were time constraints, communication barriers and managing the expectations of all partners. Limited time was the most common concern raised with respondents reporting insufficient time to invest in collaboration and developing funding structures which often impacted on data collection. The busy schedules of practitioners was another challenge that often compromised effective collaboration. All those interviewed expressed the importance of building meaningful relationships, collaborations and partnerships with both researchers and practitioners as equals and that a shortage of time compromised their ability to do this.

Communication challenges also have a major impact on the outcomes of these kinds of collaborations with language barriers, miscommunication, differing understanding of terms and concepts some of the most common challenges experienced in IDV work. These communication challenges affected the impact of these projects ability to function at their most effective.

Managing partner expectations and relations was another common challenge and included managing different interests, priorities, needs and approaches as well as issues around sharing workloads etc. The final challenge was inaccessibility of information. This challenge emerges from the lack of incentives for academics to publish research in more accessible formats. This challenge was found to make international collaboration difficult and that it tends to reinforce existing power dynamics.

Prof Lough and his co-researchers identified a range of opportunities that emerge from this form of volunteer work including opportunities for innovative co-production of knowledge generation, looking at expanding the research to North-South collaborations, researching women and gender within IDV contexts and how IDV is promoting the Sustainable Development Goals. Read the full article here.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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