What are the drivers of engagement? What are the motivations of volunteers who engage? Why do they sometimes give up? Bénédicte Bonzi, PhD in anthropology and Benoît Prieur, a volunteer at the Lyon Red Cross, discussed the question of engagement in the first edition of Bénévo’Lab, a programme intended to set up research projects based on issues from the field. With a clear objective: to give the Red Cross tools to understand, analyse and react to the engagement of its sixty thousand volunteers.

In your opinion, what is the value of Bénévo’Lab

Benoît PrieurBénévo’Lab makes it possible to take a step back, to observe and analyse the experiences of Red Cross volunteers throughout the territory, in order to learn from them and to make recommendations. This provides an opportunity to capitalise on the experiences of all volunteers, which can in turn be useful to them.

Benedicte Bonzi – Indeed, the daily life of a volunteer is essentially a succession of actions and often responses to emergencies or unexpected events. Research proposes to take a step back to put words on gestures and intentions; and this gradually reveals that what seemed to be obvious is not in fact so. I would add that when researchers approach volunteers and their questions, they reassure them with regards to their heroic attitude, enabling them to appear less perfect, more human. However, volunteers remain exemplary in their ability to shed light on their doubts and to allow researchers to challenge preconceptions.

What appealed to you the most about the Bénévo’Labproject?

BP – Without a doubt, the implementation of a rigorous scientific approach with a specific objective: the improvement of the volunteering conditions within the Red Cross. It is a very professional tool that is made available to volunteers. It is therefore essential to promote it in the field so that each actor can appropriate it in order to solve problems, for their local units, of course, but ultimately for the French Red Cross as a whole.

BB – As a researcher, what attracted me most was the research-action dimension inherent in the programme. I was lucky enough to end up working with Benoît! I had a person in front of me who had a research question, hypotheses, a methodology, but who lacked time to substantiate his solutions. Benoît quickly identified the issues. Since he was already following a reflexive approach, he enabled this research to lift taboos and to put words onto a fundamental problem about volunteers’ suffering and difficulties.

How do you see this co-construction going forward? 

BP – The study’s findings reveal the existence of recurring mechanisms in the French Red Cross in terms of engagement and disengagement. This is interesting, because the knowledge of these mechanisms will make it possible to adapt certain processes, always with the aim of enabling the most effective and fulfilling volunteer experience for the individual.

BB – Going forward, I would like the programme to be experimental… Very concretely, this work has already given rise to the writing of sketches to be performed during a theatre forum. The aim is to allow the volunteers to change roles and to gain access to a different perspective on their daily lives, which are so intense that they lack the distance to process them. And finally, to mobilise present and future issues. The goal of this tool is to act before volunteers suffer, to prevent the same situations from happening again, and to do what is necessary to ensure that engagement remains a positive and enriching experience for themselves and those around them.

Top photo: @French Red Cross