Book Chapter

Researching risk in the voluntary sector: The challenges and opportunities of regulatory data



McDonnell D & Rutherford A (2022) Researching risk in the voluntary sector: The challenges and opportunities of regulatory data. In: Dean J & Hogg E (eds.) Researching Voluntary Action: Innovations and Challenges. Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 122-134.

The behaviour of voluntary organisations, and their willingness to be accountable, is a pressing policy issue around the world. In the UK for example, legitimacy and public trust are under threat due to a recent spate of high-profile voluntary sector crises and scandals, including concerns about large-scale and pervasive instances of financial mismanagement, intrusive and potentially harmful fundraising practices, and the abuse of vulnerable beneficiaries. Concurrently, charity regulators are in a state of flux, dealing with declining or stagnating budgets and grappling with new strategic priorities to become data-led organisations. Understanding the nature, extent and impact of risk is therefore of considerable importance for the field, sector, public, and policy practitioners. This chapter reflects on the methodological implications and challenges associated with using regulatory data to study risk in the voluntary sector. In particular we describe collecting, operationalising and analysing the large-scale, often complex administrative data held by regulators that are necessary to study this topic. Drawing on numerous examples from a multi-year programme of research on the UK charity sector, we outline both the promise and the perils for researchers embarking on their own research.

charity; regulatory data; administrative data; research methods

Publication date31/12/2022
Publication date online21/03/2022
PublisherPolicy Press
Publisher URL…voluntary-action
Place of publicationBristol

People (1)


Professor Alasdair Rutherford

Professor Alasdair Rutherford

Professor, Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology