TSI’s new Policy Brief “Assessing the impact of the third sector in Europe: From concept to metrics. Progress on indicators and methods” addresses TSI’s contribution to a coordinated European approach that can reliably identify causal links between third sector activities, their impacts and infrastructure elements by which they are significantly determined.

The Policy Brief departs from the assessement that data on the social and economic impact of third sector activity are not produced systematically and that robust analytical frameworks are missing. Impacts are often assumed but rarely demonstrated. One reason for this is that the third sector can have effects at individual (micro), organizational and community (meso) and societal (macro) levels. Moreover, the effects of voluntary participation are vary by age, gender, social and employment status, income, type of association and type of involvement. Findings generated by TSI indicate that the impacts of the third sector and volunteering depend not only on the activities that take place, but also on the kind of support and conditions governments provide.

The Policy Brief outlines what is needed to establish documentation of the impact of the third sector and volunteering:

1) concepts and metrics suited for the distinctive features of the third sector;

2) standardised and comparable indicators at micro-, meso- and macro-level;

3) methods that can deal with problems related to identifying causal relations between third sector activities and impacts, including what part of the outcome would have happened anyway (deadweight);

4) reliable and comparable data on individual, organizational, and country level.

The TSI-project has contributed to the field of impact assessment by systematic reviews of research on individuals, community and on social innovation, and a meta-analysis of organization-level impact studies. Furthermore, there is new research focusing on 1) the impact of volunteering on health, well-being and political engagement, 2) the impact of voluntary work during unemployment on well-being and mental health, and 3) the importance of density of voluntary organizations for participation at the community level. Finally, TSI engaged in conceptual development of impact indicators that is important for bringing impact assessment forward, through linking different functions of the third sector with impact domains.

TSI’s next steps include pilot-testing of new impact-indicators and analyses of developmental trends of the third sector in Europe. To this end, we call on all stakeholders to work in synergy in order to build a common European resource base of indicators, methods and data on third sector, its distinctive features and its impact, that can serve as reference instrument at the global level.