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Rob Macmillan

Dr Rob Macmillan BA(Hons), MA, PhD

Principal Research Fellow


Rob Macmillan is a Principal Research Fellow at CRESR - the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research. He joined Sheffield Hallam University in June 2017 from the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) at the University of Birmingham.

He has over 20 years' experience of researching aspects of the third sector, voluntary and community action and community development in collaboration with other academics and researchers, policy makers and funders, and with key third sector organisations. From an inter-disciplinary background in social policy, politics, political economy and sociology, his main research interests are around the long term qualitative dynamics and contested politics of voluntary action, theoretical understandings of voluntary action, in particular the development and application of field theory in the third sector, the awkward relationships between markets, the state and the third sector, and a longstanding interest in the changing field of capacity building and third sector support infrastructure.

  • About

    Rob has been co-investigator on two recent ESRC-funded research projects: (1) 'Change in the Making' (2016-2020, with colleagues at the University of Birmingham), a qualitative longitudinal investigation of organisational change in voluntary action, which builds upon an earlier programme of qualitative longitudinal research ('Real Times') with a diverse set of case studies of voluntary action; and (2) 'Discourses of Voluntary Action' (2017-2019, with colleagues in the Universities of Northumbria, Birmingham, Southampton, and University College, London), involving a comparison of debates on the role and position of voluntary action in social welfare in the 1940s and the 2010s - two transformative moments in the development of social welfare provision in England.

    He is also involved in 'Our Bigger Story', the longitudinal multi-media evaluation of the Big Local programme (funded by Local Trust, and led by the University of Birmingham), and co-directs a long term evaluation of Power to Change's 'market development' work.

    Rob's research has primarily been funded through the ESRC, but has also been supported by the Big Lottery Fund, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, national and local voluntary organisations, and government departments.

    He is part of Sheffield Hallam University's Voluntary Action Research Group (VARG), and a member of several external research and evaluation advisory groups.

    • Third Sector
    • Voluntary and Community Action
    • Public Service Markets
    • Community Development
    • Qualitative Longitudinal Methods

  • Research

    2015-2022 Our Bigger Story: longitudinal multi-media evaluation of Big Local. Local Trust, Role: Evaluation team member.

    2019-2022 Market Development - Evaluation and Learning Support, Power to Change. Role: Co-director.

    2016-2020 Change in the making: a dynamic and relational landscape of voluntary action, ESRC. Role: Co-Investigator.

    2017-2019 Discourses of Voluntary Action at two 'Transformational Moments' of the Welfare State, the 1940s and 2010s, ESRC. Role: Co-Investigator.

    Selected research projects

    ‘TrackTR: Tracking the VCS in Transforming Rehabilitation’
    (Clinks, 2015 – 2017, with Clinks, NCVO and Open University)
    A partnership project led by Clinks which follows the experiences of voluntary and community organisations through the major ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ reforms to probation services. 

    ‘Understanding the role of diagnosis in the Voluntary and Community Sector’
    (University of Birmingham, 2016 - 2017)
    Using insights from market devices and performativity theory, this research examines the design, role, use and (latent) impact of diagnostic organisational health tools amongst medium sized voluntary and community organisations.

    ‘Our Bigger Story: longitudinal multi-media evaluation of Big Local’
    (Local Trust, 2015 – 2017, with the University of Birmingham)
    The first stage of a ten year multi-media evaluation of the 'Big Local' community-based regeneration programme, using creative visual data collection and interaction techniques - film, audio, photography and elicitation. 

    Building Capabilities Scoping Study
    (Big Lottery Fund, 2013-2014, University of Birmingham and CRESR)
    A study to inform the emerging 'Building Capabilities' agenda within the Big Lottery Fund, based on an extensive literature review, a market mapping survey and stakeholder workshops. 

    Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC), University of Birmingham
    (ESRC, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Cabinet Office, University of Birmingham, 2009-2015)
    Coordinating the qualitative longitudinal 'Real Times' research programme, alongside work on the third sector delivering public services, third sector leadership, capacity building and infrastructure, and as research lead for TSRC Third Sector Futures Dialogue (2012-2013).


    • Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC), University of Birmingham ('Change in the Making', 2016-2020; 'Discourses of Voluntary Action', 2017-2019; and 'Our Bigger Story', 2015-2017)
    • University of Northumbria, University of Southampton and University College, London ('Discourses of Voluntary Action', 2017-2019)
    • Clinks, NCVO and Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership (CVSL), Open University ('TrackTR', 2015-2017) 



    • Economic and Social Research Council


    • Big Lottery Fund
    • Local Trust
    • Ministry of Justice/NOMS
    • Home Office
    • Joseph Rowntree Foundation
    • NAVCA
    • NCVO

  • Publications

    Journal articles

    Bennett, E., Coule, T., Damm, C., Dayson, C., Dean, J., & Macmillan, R. (2019). Civil society strategy: A policy review. Voluntary sector review, 10 (2), 213-223.

    Dayson, C., Macmillan, R., Paine, A.E., & Sanderson, E. (2017). Third sector capacity building : the institutional embeddedness of supply. Voluntary Sector Review, 8 (2), 149-168.

    Cornforth, C., & Macmillan, R. (2016). Evolution in Board Chair-CEO relationships: A negotiated order perspective. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 45 (5), 949-970.

    Macmillan, R., & Walton, C. (2015). What’s the problem? The role of diagnosis in building the capacity of voluntary and community organisations. Voluntary Sector Review, 6 (3), 325-332.

    Macmillan, R., & Livingstone, I. (2015). More than a provider: the voluntary sector and market diversity in criminal justice. Voluntary Sector Review, 6 (2), 221-230.

    Book chapters

    Macmillan, R. (2017). Capacity building for competition: the role of infrastructure in third sector service delivery. In Rees, J., & Mullins, D. (Eds.) The third sector delivering public services: Developments, innovations and challenges. (pp. 107-125). Bristol: Policy Press:

    Macmillan, R. (2017). Talking up the voluntary sector in criminal justice: market making in rehabilitation. In Rees, J., & Mullins, D. (Eds.) The third sector delivering public services: Developments, innovations and challenges. (pp. 237-256). Bristol: Policy Press:

    Macmillan, R. (2016). Talking up the voluntary sector in criminal justice: Market making in rehabilitation. In The Third Sector Delivering Public Services: Developments, Innovations and Challenges. (pp. 233-256).

    Taylor, R., Arvidson, M., Macmillan, R., Soteri-Proctor, A., & Teasdale, S. (2014). What's in it for us? Consent, access and the meaning of research in a qualitative longitudinal study. In Camfield, L. (Ed.) Methodological challenges and new approaches to research in international development. (pp. 38-58). Palgrave Macmillan:

    Macmillan, R., & Townsend, A. (2006). A ‘new institutional fix’? The ‘community turn’ and the changing role of the voluntary sector. In MILLIGAN, C., & CONRADSON, D. (Eds.) Landscapes of voluntarism: new spaces of health, welfare and governance. (pp. 15-32). Bristol: Policy Press:


    Walton, C., & Macmillan, R. (2014). A brave new world for voluntary sector infrastructure? Vouchers, markets and demand-led capacity building. Birmingham: University of Birmingham.

  • Other activities

    Rob is currently a member of

    • the IPPR North Future of Civil Society in the North Advisory Group
    • Home-Start UK's Research Advisory Group
    • the Advice Services Alliance Standing Committee on Advice Research and Evaluation 

    Previously he has been a Commissioner on the NAVCA-supported 'Change for Good' Independent Inquiry on the Future of Voluntary Sector Infrastructure (2013-2014), and a member of the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales 'Value of Small Charities' Research Advisory Group.

  • Postgraduate supervision

    Bruce Moore (2016)
    Vita Terry (2017)

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