There's a mantra from volunteer management's missing manual that's often repeated. It goes something like this:
"the role of volunteering in public service delivery is to add value"
It comes with a caveat though: if no public service exists for volunteers to add value to, all bets are off. Up to now, that's meant that volunteers that identify a social need (that no current public service meets), always have the last resort of mustering all the resources they can get their hands on and providing the service themselves.
This model of volunteering in public services built around adding value has developed over many years. In particular, the emphasis of adding value to established services seeks to avoid the spectre of volunteering roles substituting paid roles. Now with the Big Society we're entering new territory. It's a policy with the express aim of substituting public services that are publicly funded, with citizen-powered services that may be publicly and or privately funded.
As David Cameron restates in his recent defence
of the Big Society:
"devolving power to the lowest level so neighbourhoods take control of their destiny; opening up our public services, putting trust in professionals and power in the hands of the people they serve; and encouraging volunteering and social action so people contribute more to their community"
Despite these kinds of references to how volunteering is at the heart of the Big Society project, it's still not clear what it's impact on volunteering will be. One defining feature of Big Society policy is how public service reform will impact on how we think about volunteering.
Too often this debate has been framed as two competing assumptions about whether volunteering and voluntary action are: