Real Times: an in-depth study of third sector organisations over time
‘Real Times’ is a long-term research programme which aims to follow the journeys third sector organisations take over time.
The aim is to see how they work in practice, how they change, how they respond to the challenges they face, and whether and how they might flourish. The study seeks to go beyond single ‘snapshots’ to understand the dynamics of third sector organisations and activities. ‘Real Times’ focuses on the fortunes, challenges, strategies and performance of third sector organisations over time.
The overall aim of the study is to gain a more in-depth and realistic understanding of how third sector organisations, groups and activities work in practice over time. This means addressing:
- What happens within third sector organisations over time and why?
- What matters to third sector organisations over time and why?
- How might we understand continuity and change in third sector activity?
There are four main focal points to the study:
- What influences the fortunes of third sector organisations?
- How do third sector organisations regard and negotiate the environments in which they operate?
- What challenges do third sector organisations face and how do they respond?
- How is the ‘performance’ of third sector organisations understood by different stakeholders?
Research design and structure
‘Real Times’ involves research with a diverse group of 15 core case studies of third sector activities, alongside a wider group of associated ‘complementary’ case studies. Data is generated through observing activities, analysing key documents and interviewing people in and around each case study. We visit each core case study roughly every six months over a three year period, and the project is due to end in Autumn 2013.
Work so far
The rationale and design for ‘Real Times’ was developed during 2009, and a group of core case studies identified at the end of the year. These case studies were recruited in the first half of 2010, and the first wave of fieldwork was completed by September 2010. Working paper 67 offers an introduction to the Real Times case studies. In addition, the research team has completed a series of return visits to core case studies for the second wave of fieldwork, and is currently undertaking the first wave of research with ‘complementary’ case studies.
Early stage analysis of all the research data generated during the first wave of fieldwork continues, and plans for more detailed analysis are currently being developed. The third wave of fieldwork with core case studies is scheduled for May 2011.
Further papers, introducing the case studies and exploring the challenges of recruitment to a long term study, are in preparation and will be published in the coming months.