Toward Improvements in the Comparative Measurement of Volunteer Effort

To overcome the problems that have so far undercut efforts to gain a clear, crossnational understanding of the scope and impact of volunteering, we worked closely with the International Labour Organization to produce in 2011 a Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work (ILO Manual). The distinguishing features of this Manual are that it (1) offers an internationally accepted operational definition of volunteer work that allows unambiguous identification of activities in scope in a broad international context; and (2) connects the measurement of volunteer work to the statistical apparatus for measuring paid work, thus increasing the likelihood that volunteer work will be measured regularly.

The ILO approach to measuring volunteer work was developed by a group of international volunteer experts and national labor force statisticians to facilitate the assembly of reliable and cross-nationally comparable measures of volunteer work. To this end, the ILO Manual’s approach was designed to meet four criteria:

  • Breadth, i.e., to encompass the broadest array of volunteer activity, including such activity done through organizations as well as such work done directly for individuals;
  • Conceptual clarity, i.e., to allow unambiguous identification of activities that are in and out of scope;
  • Objectivity, i.e., grounded in empirically observable and measurable features of human activity as opposed to unobservable ones (e.g., intentions or motivations); and
  • Institutionalizability, i.e., utilizing techniques that can be feasibly integrated into existing statistical data systems so that reliable data can be assembled on a regular basis.
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