Article | Last updated: 12/12/2014
Declaration on the government’s interaction with the voluntary sector
Foreword by the Prime Minister and Minister of Culture
Voluntary work is a significant, independent aspect of our society that benefits both volunteers and society in general. Engagement in volunteer work gives individuals knowledge, experience, social identity and new skills. Voluntary work also builds a sense of community, improves the daily lives of many people and promotes social development by questioning and setting the agenda.
Diversity is a defining strength of voluntary work. Sport, culture, religious and ethical beliefs, outdoor activities, humanitarian assistance, social work, local community investment and political lobbying are just some of the fields in which volunteers are making vital contributions. Voluntary organisations range from small individual projects and ad hoc volunteer initiatives to large membership-based organisations pursuing a wide range of activities, support organisations, peer support initiatives and religious communities.
Nevertheless, all volunteers have certain values and characteristics in common. Voluntary work is founded on personal engagement and unpaid effort. Creativity and drive are two further characteristics. Today’s welfare state would look very different if voluntary organisations had not had the courage and energy to tackle unresolved challenges.
The government’s objective is to promote a strong civil society sector that counterbalances the power of the State. At the same time, Norway has a long tradition of collaboration between the voluntary and public sectors. The government’s policies are based on freedom and trust. This declaration on voluntary work is an expression of the government’s appreciation of the voluntary sector, and a framework for productive, positive interaction in the years ahead.
The declaration on voluntary work sets out fundamental principles and overarching objectives for the government’s interaction with the voluntary sector. The purpose of the declaration is to build a foundation for predictable, constructive interaction.
The declaration establishes a framework for dialogue and interaction with the voluntary sector irrespective of which ministry, directorate or agency is involved, and is intended to form part of an integrated voluntary-sector policy.
This declaration has three sections:
- The basis of interaction.
- The framework of interaction.
- Follow-up of the declaration.
In the process of drafting the declaration, the government consulted the voluntary sector through feedback seminars and a public hearing to identify important factors in interaction with public authorities. The declaration reflects both this feedback and the government’s voluntary-sector policy as set out in its policy platform.
The declaration is not a set of rules, but describes the government’s ambitions for its interaction with the voluntary sector. Its purpose is to help give the sector productive framework conditions. The declaration recognises the value of voluntary work and seeks to provide predictability in the context of collaboration, but is not an agreement with the voluntary sector.
The declaration on voluntary work provides a foundation for interaction between the government and the voluntary sector in various spheres of society, but does not replace the sectoral policy responsibilities of the individual ministries. Nevertheless, the declaration constitutes recognition of the fact that voluntary engagement and the State’s interaction with the voluntary sector comprise a separate policy area, and is designed to promote coordination of the government’s voluntary-sector policy.
Voluntary activity largely occurs in local communities. Although this document contains the national authorities’ declaration on interaction with the voluntary sector, it may still inspire and guide local collaboration and promote cooperation between municipalities and the voluntary sector. The government would also point out the platform on interaction and cooperation between the voluntary and municipal sectors developed by the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS) and the Association of NGOs in Norway (Frivillighet Norge).
Declaration on voluntary work
1. The basis of interaction
The government recognises the value of voluntary work to volunteers, beneficiaries and society as a whole.
The government recognises the independent role of the voluntary sector. The government does not wish to regulate voluntary work, but rather to support the special character and power of voluntary work by granting freedom of action and facilitating growth based on grass-roots support.
The government recognises that voluntary organisations are arenas for social participation and democracy-building. Voluntary organisations are important mouthpieces for their members and participants.
The government recognises the important role of the voluntary sector in performing social tasks.
The government recognises that voluntary engagement and voluntary organisations strengthen local and national democracy, and recognises the need to facilitate participation in political processes by the voluntary sector.
The government recognises that the voluntary sector is diverse, and that it must allow for different types of voluntary engagement in its interaction with the sector.
The government recognises that, despite the diversity of the voluntary sector, all voluntary work has some shared features and characteristics, and that this demands an integrated, coordinated voluntary-sector policy. This declaration is designed to assist in this regard.
The government’s interaction with the voluntary sector shall be characterised by:
- trust, and
2. The framework of interaction
The government wishes to facilitate the voluntary sector’s participation in political processes. This will improve the quality of decisions, ensure that social diversity is better reflected, build broader support for decisions and promote mutual learning and democratic development. The development of fruitful, well-functioning processes demands measures in support of participation. The right of local participation is laid down in, for example, the Planning and Building Act and the Public Health Act. This declaration is designed to secure more uniform practice regarding the voluntary sector’s involvement in political processes at the national level.
The government aims to:
- Strengthen the participation of the voluntary sector in political processes by:
- Actively facilitating the participation of voluntary organisations to secure a broad decision-making base.
- Inviting the voluntary sector to give feedback at an early stage of political processes in which voluntary activity is an important component.
- Making it easy for volunteers to participate, for example by scheduling consultation meetings after normal working hours.
- Setting sufficiently long hearing periods. The aim shall be to apply a three-month hearing period in cases that concern the voluntary sector directly.
- Making information about political processes and decisions readily accessible.
- Strengthen knowledge about the voluntary sector by:
- Supporting research and studies on civil society and the voluntary sector.
- Making such research available to the voluntary sector.
- Improving the public administration’s knowledge of the voluntary sector and its social importance and qualities.
Simplification and coordination
The government’s interaction with the voluntary sector shall be characterised by simplification and predictability. The government’s objective is for voluntary organisations to spend less time on applications and reporting, and more time on activities. To protect its ability to address the voluntary sector in all its diversity, the government intends to uphold the system of sectoral responsibility in the context of voluntary-sector policy, but also to improve knowledge and coordination across ministries. The Ministry of Culture coordinates national voluntary-sector policy.
The government aims to:
- Employ as uniform a practice and terminology as possible in its dealings with voluntary organisations. This means:
- Ensuring ready access to information on grant schemes, applicable laws, guidelines, regulations, etc. relevant to the voluntary sector.
- Reviewing terminology and definitions in grant schemes and applicable laws and regulations.
- Adapt grant schemes to the special character of the voluntary sector, irrespective of which ministry, directorate or agency administers the grant. This means:
- Simplifying language.
- Making greater use, in all grant schemes open to voluntary organisations, of the guidelines on the simplification of state grant schemes for organisations working with children and young people.
- Adapting application and reporting deadlines and disbursements to the activities of voluntary organisations.
- Adapting reporting requirements and control measures in view of grant size.
- Make active use of the Register of Non-Profit Organizations (Frivillighetsregisteret) as a tool for coordination between voluntary organisations and the State. This means:
- Making it easy to register and change information in the register.
- Including additional schemes in the register.
- Ensuring that information is re-used.
- Ensure that municipalities and counties are involved in matters that may impact local voluntary activity.
3. Follow-up of the declaration
The declaration on voluntary work is designed to promote predictability and a long-term perspective in interaction between the government and the voluntary sector.
The content of this declaration will be followed up through these measures:
- Ensuring that the declaration has broad support in the government.
- Arranging an annual status meeting between the voluntary sector and the government to discuss the declaration.
- Organising national meeting points for the voluntary sector, municipalities and the State.