By Hannah Little
Part of my job is being a volunteer coordinator, and I also work for a college, so sometimes I browse the brilliant website that is vinspired.com which aims to provide young people (14-25 year olds) with volunteering opportunities in their local area to build their skill set, build confidence and help others. This is obviously commendable and a brilliant resource for young people wanting to make a difference.
A couple of weeks ago, when browsing for opportunities, I came across this activity: Loch Ness Monster Hunt – You can read the description on the website but the “volunteering activity” is basically encouraging people to stare at a webcam of Loch Ness and to “snapshot” if they see something peculiar. Now, this didn’t seem to me that it was benefiting either the individual taking part in the activity, the community or anyone for that matter, nor is it challenging the individual to use or build their skill set or confidence. I wondered if there is a standardised definition of volunteering, so I asked a colleague and was told that, yes, formal volunteering is an activity which takes place in not-for-profit organisations or projects, and is undertaken to be of benefit to the community and the volunteer among other criteria. This lead me to email “Help from Home” – the organisation who has set up the monster hunt activity. My very diplomatic message read:
I don’t really feel like your Loch Ness Monster Hunt should be advertised as a volunteering opportunity as no one is of benefit, either the community or the volunteer.
Is there guidelines on vInspired as to what defines a volunteering activity?
I quickly got a response which stated that the Loch Ness activity “benefits scientific research” and that while it may not directly affect people straightway, it will have huge implications on society if the scientific research bears fruit. They also cited the United Nations definition of volunteering which states that an ‘…activity should be of benefit to someone other than the volunteer, or to society at large….’
I suppose the issues of whether staring at a webcam constitutes scientific research, or whether finding the Loch Ness monster would have huge implications on society, are up for debate (please let’s have this debate in the comments). I’ll leave you with my response:
While I agree that scientific research is a worthy cause, I’m not sure that watching Loch Ness counts as science or that it will have “huge implications on society”. The task is comparable to me setting up a webcam in my attic and asking people to give up their time for free to stare at it because I have a very strong suspicion that there is a boggart up there. It’s fine as a fun activity, but when the whole point of vinspired is to get young volunteers to develop their skills, I think it is irresponsible to present this as a volunteering activity which will allow them to do that.
Help from Home have yet to respond or remove the activity.