The case studies in this section showcase some of our academics’ most impactful work. Each case study illustrates how the school maximises the reach and significance of our research through a focused approach – therefore achieving widespread impact on organisations and society.

Promoting and managing volunteers in sports

Dr Nichols’ main research interests are volunteers in sports clubs and events, the management of sports clubs run by volunteers and the volunteering legacy of sports events. Recent research has included the volunteering legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games, a national survey of sports clubs in the UK for the Sports and Recreation Alliance, research into how sports clubs recruit new members for Sport England, and the experience of volunteers at the London Olympic Games 2012.

Since 2009 Dr Nichols has chaired the Sports Volunteering Research Network. The network aims to facilitate the interchange of information, ideas and practice in the research of sport volunteers; especially between researchers and practitioners.

In 2011, Dr Nichols completed work on a European Year of Volunteering (EYV) funded project to identify, develop and promote guidelines for good practice for sports clubs in the process by which new volunteers from outside sport can be matched to sport volunteering opportunities in the club. This revised the previous view of the balance between a ‘programme management’ and ‘membership management’ approach and applied the concept of the psychological contract to understanding volunteers’ expectations. This research was conducted with a team from the Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University.

He was also a member of the teams conducting national surveys of sports volunteers for Sport England in 1996 and 2002, and a national survey of sports clubs for the Sports and Recreation Alliance in 2009. These surveys provided a clear and significant picture of the scale of sports volunteering in England, and the challenges faced by volunteers. One of Dr Nichols’ research projects looked closely at the volunteering legacy from the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Manchester, through a case-study of an organisation called the Manchester Event Volunteers (MEV) – probably the longest running ‘mega-event volunteer legacy programme’ in the world. The report which emerged from this study was directed towards policy makers in local and national government, volunteer development projects, event managers and academics.

Since 2002, MEV has directed volunteers towards over 1,000 events with their associated contribution to tourism and the region’s economy. Volunteers commit to an average of 5.7 events per year, and the ability to choose which and how many events they volunteer for allows MEV to meet the needs of volunteers in a wide set of circumstances. MEV makes it easy for event managers to recruit a trained and reliable workforce, and has contributed to the attraction of Manchester for such events.

For volunteers seeking work, MEV offers valued experience – extending to assistance with providing information on job opportunities, advice on CV writing and interviews, and providing a sense of purpose, encouragement and confidence through periods of unemployment.

Dr Nichols’ work with MEV led to a comprehensive report, ‘Manchester Event Volunteers: A legacy and a Role Model’ written with Rita Ralston at Manchester Metropolitan University. It has been used by the legacy manager for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014, as well as by staff at Manchester City Council to make a case for a continued volunteer development and coordination service at a time of significant financial cuts.

Kristian Dodsworth, MEV manager (2012), said: “Things have changed that much in the last year or so within the city council that MEV is probably the only thing that has stayed constant. Due to the change in the economic climate volunteering is high on the agenda and with the formation of the new volunteer centre this has now taken priority within my new role.

“MEV has been instrumental in this process as one of the partners who sat on the Volunteering Task Group to create and develop a good quality service for Manchester. Probably one of the fundamental impacts the research has shown is the real need for such a project and the benefit it can have not only on the volunteers, but organisations and the economy.”

Dr Nichols’ work with MEV identified a number of wide-ranging benefits for people associated with the organisation, including: Events managers valuing volunteers’ experience and training; developing employability in volunteers; contributing to society – an overall rewarding feeling and a broader contribution to social inclusion.

More recently Dr Nichols has studied the experience of volunteers at the 2012 Olympic Games; the provision of volunteers by local Ambassador programmes to support visitors away from the main 2012 Olympic venues; the impact of Sport England’s Clubmark accreditation scheme on sports clubs and the impact on mountain rescue teams of increased demand from the police to assist in searches in non-mountainous areas. His present work is examining the practice of transferring the delivery of local government leisure services to volunteers.

Academic collaborators: Rita Ralston (formerly Manchester Metropolitan University), Peter Taylor (Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University)
Business/Organisation involvement and collaboration: Coachwise, Glasgow City Council, Manchester City Council, Manchester Event Volunteers (MEV), Sport England, the Sports and Recreation Alliance (SARA), Sport Volunteer Research Network
Funding: European Year of Volunteering (EYV), Knowledge Transfer Grant, Sport England, the Sports and Recreation Alliance (SARA)

Management of sports volunteers:

Nichols, G., Tacon, R. and Muir, A. (2013) Sports Clubs’ Volunteers: Bonding In or Bridging Out? Sociology 47: 350-367.

Nichols, G. (2012) The psychological contract of volunteers – a new research agenda, Voluntas. []

Taylor, P, Nichols, G, and Sport Industry Research Centre, Sheffield Hallam University. (2011) Recruiting volunteers from outside your club.

Schulz, J., Nichols, G. and Auld, C. (2011) Issues in the management of voluntary sports organisations and volunteers. In B. Houlihan and M. Green eds. 432-445. Handbook of Sports Development. Routledge: London.

Nichols, G and Ojala, E. (2009) Understanding the management of sports events volunteers through psychological contract theory. Voluntas International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations 20 (4) 369 – 387.

The volunteering legacy of mega-sports events:

Nichols, G. and Ralston, R. (2012) The rewards of individual engagement in volunteering – a missing dimension of the Big Society. Environment and Planning A. 44 (12). 2974 – 2987

Nichols, G. and Ralston R. (2011) Social inclusion through volunteering – a potential legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games. Sociology. 45 (5) 900-914.

Nichols, G. and Ralston R. (2011) Lessons from the Volunteering Legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Urban Studies. Volume 49 Issue 1 January 2012 pp. 165 - 180. doi: 10.1177/0042098010397400]

Nichols, G. and Ralston, R. (2011) Manchester Event Volunteers: a role model and a legacy. University of Sheffield Management School []

The scope of volunteers in sport and the challenges they face:

Nichols, G., Taylor, P., Barrett, D. and Jeanes, R. (2013) Youth sport volunteers in England: a paradox between reducing the state and promoting a Big Society. Sport Management Review.
Published online at:

Nichols, G., Padmore, J., Taylor, P. and Barrett, D. (2012 ) The relationship between types of sports club and English government policy to grow participation, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics 4 (2) 187 – 200.

Taylor, P, Panagouleas, T. and Nichols, G. (2012) Determinants of sports volunteering and sports volunteer time in England, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics 4 (2) 201 – 220

Taylor, P., Barrett, D. and Nichols, G. (2009) Survey of sports clubs 2009. London: CCPR.

Nichols, G., Taylor, P., James, M., Holmes, K., King, L., and Garrett, R. (2005) Pressures on the UK sports sector. Voluntas, 16 (1) 33 - 50.

Nichols, G., Taylor, P., James, M., King, L., Holmes, K. and Garrett, R. (2003) Pressures on sports volunteers arising from partnerships with central government. Loisir et societe / Society and Leisure 26 (2) 419-430.

Taylor, P., Nichols, G., Holmes, K., James, M., Gratton, C., Garrett, R., Kokolakakis, T., Mulder, C. and King, L. (2003) Sports Volunteering in England London: Sport England.

Shibli, S., Nichols, G., Taylor, P., Gratton, C. and Kokolakakis, T. The characteristics of volunteers in UK sports clubs. European Journal of Sports Management, special issue, 10-27, (1999).

Nichols, G., Gratton, C., Shibli, S., and Taylor, P. Local authority support to volunteers in sports clubs. Managing Leisure: an International Journal, 3 (3), 119-127, (1998).

Gratton, C. Nichols, G. Shibli, S and Taylor, P. Valuing volunteers in UK sport. London: Sports Council. pp. 160, (1997).

Transforming policy approaches towards undeclared work in the European Union

Research conducted since 2006 by Professor Colin Williams has shaped European-level policy towards undeclared work. His research has challenged the consensus view of the nature of undeclared work and his recommendations for a new joined-up policy approach has stimulated EU-level policy debate on how to tackle undeclared work, led to a motion being passed in the European Parliament, and informed a subsequent legislative initiative in the European Parliament to implement the platform that he designed. His research has also led directly to the creation of a new high-level UK body, which he chairs, to improve cooperation and discussion across government departments, and coordinate strategy on the hidden economy.

For many decades, undeclared work was considered to be an exploitative form of waged employment conducted under ‘sweatshop-like’ conditions and governments adopted an eradication approach. Professor Williams has undertaken research which has led to a more balanced view of undeclared work.

Prior to joining Sheffield University Management School, and focusing on the UK, Professor Williams revealed firstly, that much undeclared work is conducted on a self-employed basis, such as by entrepreneurs starting a business who often test-trade its viability in the undeclared economy, and is thus a ‘hidden enterprise culture’, and secondly, that undeclared work is undertaken as ‘paid favours’ for family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances and is thus a sphere of active citizenship. Together, this work was deemed to constitute a large proportion of the UK undeclared economy. Williams’ argument was that a UK policy shift was consequently required from an eradication approach to one which helps such endeavour to be conducted legitimately.

Since joining the Management School in 2006, Professor Williams has validated this re-theorisation of the nature of undeclared work and need for a joined-up policy approach at a European level. As the only academic on a team (including three private sector consultancies - TNS, Regioplan and Rockwool) that won a European Commission tender in 2006 to design a survey for evaluating the nature of undeclared work in the European Union, he ensured that the survey design revealed the proportion of undeclared work conducted as waged work, self-employment and paid favours. This survey, subsequently implemented by the European Commission as a special Eurobarometer survey in early 2007 (and repeated in 2013) was the largest of its kind ever undertaken, comprising 26,659 face-to-face interviews in 27 countries. As Professor Williams reports, its finding was that 23 per cent of undeclared work in the EU-27 in 2007 was informal waged employment, 22 per cent self-employed entrepreneurial endeavour and 55 per cent paid favours.

Based on the 2007 research which revealed that the European undeclared economy is a ‘hidden enterprise culture’ and a realm where active citizenship occurs, he has called for a policy shift across Europe from an eradication approach to one which helps such endeavour be conducted legitimately.

To inform policy-makers how this joined-up policy approach could be best achieved, Professor Williams (with colleagues at Regioplan, a Dutch consultancy company) produced a 2008 report, Tackling undeclared work in the European Union, and developed a ‘knowledge bank’ of good practice policy measures in five countries, later expanded to 33 countries. This research was commissioned by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofund).

Professor Williams presented the findings of the 2007 Eurobarometer survey to the European Commission’s Directorate-General Employment, Social Affairs & Equal Opportunities, and discussed the need for undeclared work to be harnessed and legitimised rather than eradicated across the EU-27. Following this, he was invited by the EU Presidency to present advice and policy recommendations on tackling undeclared work to the Employment Committee of the European Commission (ECOM), invited to join the European Commission delegation visiting Mexico, led by Commissioner Spidlia, to establish dialogue with the Mexican government on employment relations and social protection and invited by the French EU Presidency of the European Council to the governmental conference on ‘illegal employment practices’. The impact of this engagement was to enable Williams’ rethinking of the nature of undeclared work and his call for a more coordinated approach to take hold in EU policy circles, resulting in a resolution being passed in the European Parliament as well as a European Parliament legislative initiative being tabled.

In 2008, his work began to shape a European Parliament resolution. Italian MEP, Pier Antonio Panzeri, put a motion to the European Parliament for a resolution to tackle undeclared work – citing only Professor Williams’ 2008 paper. The Motion called for a shift towards enabling the formalisation of undeclared work, the development of a ‘knowledge bank’ of good practice policy measures to facilitate this shift, and for more coordinated action across governments, all recommendations in Williams’ 2008 report. It was passed by a large majority.

To implement the recommendation for the ‘knowledge bank’, Eurofound commissioned Williams (with Regioplan) to expand its coverage from five to 28 countries, and in 2012 to update and expand the coverage of the knowledge bank to also include the five EU candidate countries. This is the only source of ‘good practice’ policy ideas available to governments throughout the world and since its creation this knowledge bank of policy measures has had over 60,000 views.

Professor Williams’ work has stimulated EU legislation. In 2010, to implement the recommendation in the Panzeri resolution for more coordinated action at the EU-level, the European Commission issued a €460,000 tender to evaluate the feasibility of establishing a coordinated EU-level approach towards, and platform for, tackling undeclared work. Williams (again with Regioplan) won this contract, and following extensive consultation with senior government officials, as well as employer and employee representative organisations, throughout every member state of the EU-27, put forward a proposal for a European-level platform between labour inspectorates and other enforcement bodies, which would take the form of an Expert Network with the European Commission providing the secretariat, in order to coordinate and join-up action to tackle undeclared work across the EU-27.

In April 2012, this platform designed by Williams and his colleagues was then taken forward when the European Commission announced in its communication, Towards a job-rich recovery, that it would launch a “consultation on setting up an EU-level platform between labour inspectorates and other enforcement bodies to combat undeclared work, aimed at improving cooperation, sharing best practice and identifying common principles for inspections”. Following this, the European Commission’s 2013-14 Legislative Work Programme announced that legislation would be put before the European Parliament in 2013/14 to establish a “European platform” to tackle undeclared work which “aims for a more coherent approach by covering all the key areas influenced by undeclared work and supporting a more effective fight against undeclared work by way of improving cooperation, sharing best practice and identifying common principles”. This legislative initiative was passed by the European Parliament in January 2014.

Joining up policy at the national level has also been a benefit of Professor Williams’ research. Arising out of these European-level actions, and since Williams’ original call for joining-up policy arose out of research in a UK context, in October 2012, he decided to encourage implementation of the platform model he designed for the EU-27 at the UK national level. He founded and now Chairs the Hidden Economy Expert Group, whose mission is to facilitate greater coordination and cooperation of all stakeholders involved in tackling the hidden economy and, to date, a number of issues have been identified for joined-up strategy and action.

In establishing this Expert Group, moreover, Williams’ intention has been to ensure that the UK will have a national coordinating body on undeclared work, through which proposals can be channelled both upwards to, and downwards from, the proposed European platform.

Research collaborators: Regioplan

Business/Organisation involvement: The European Commission (ECOM), European Parliament, Regioplan, Rockwool, TNS, the Hidden Economy Expert Group (membership includes representatives from [government] Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs; the Home Office; the Department for Work & Pensions; the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, Gangmasters Licensing Authority and [social partners] the Trade Union Congress; Federation of Small Businesses; the Chartered Institute of Taxation; Oxfam)

Funding: The European Commission (ECOM), the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), ESRC (RES-622-26-515)

Williams, C.C. (2008) “Evaluating public sector management approaches towards undeclared work in the European Union”, International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 285-294. doi: 10.1108/09513550810863187

Williams, C.C. (2008) “A critical evaluation of public policy towards undeclared work in the European Union”, Journal of European Integration, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 273-290. doi: 10.1080/07036330802005490

Williams, C.C. (2009) “Tackling undeclared work in Europe: lessons from a 27-nation survey”, Policy Studies, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 143-62 doi: 10.1080/01442870902723667

Williams, C.C. (2011) “Reconceptualising men’s and women’s undeclared work: evidence from Europe”, Gender, Work & Organisation, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 415 – 437. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0432.2009.00466.

Williams, C.C., Horlings, E. and Renooy, P. (2008) Tackling Undeclared Work in the European Union, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Dublin (

Dekker, H., Oranje, E., Renooy, P., Rosing, F. and Williams, C.C. (2010) Joining up the fight against undeclared work in the European Union, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Brussels []

Using the ‘Scenarios’ tool to anticipate, plan and design work roles in organisations

The Scenarios tool was first developed at the Institute of Work Psychology (IWP) in the 1990s, and has since been used by their researchers in many contexts. In various forms it has been used to help researchers and people in organisations work together to guide change processes, especially where technology or the organisation of work is changing.

One of the most significant impacts of the Scenarios tool in recent times has been in call centres, where it has produced improvements in staff absence, motivation, quick resolution of problems at source, improved communications between management and other employees, and better change management processes in the long-term.

The Scenarios tool was developed as a way for organisations to consider, in a collaborative fashion, how to make changes to how work is organised and processed. The aim is to improve a range of outcomes, including staff motivation, commitment and attendance, the institutionalisation of effective change processes, enriched jobs that allow for staff development, and effective processing of work.

It has been used in research with a number of organisations to help them redesign work roles, especially in times of change or when new technology is being introduced. The stream of research has, as a whole, involved a number of organisations.

A key study using this tool was conducted at the Royal Mail, which funded the research. It involved the designing of work around new mail sorting technology that was implemented nationally. The technology and work processes are still being used today.

Whilst, initially, the Scenarios tool was used mostly within manufacturing industries, in more recent times it has been used in call centre environments. The types of changes desired in call centres are often related to inter-team processes or broader procedures, and so this required more follow-up visits and guidance to help teams implement their ideas.

The various projects have had a positive effect. Certainly in the short-term, the Scenarios workshops have been well received and have had a positive impact in terms of motivating and empowering employees and helping them to feel ownership of the change process. Our initial evaluations with more recent projects also show positive impact in terms of improved job design, wellbeing and some aspects of performance.

To demonstrate the impact which Scenarios had at the Royal Mail on various projects, the team were sent the following message from former Talent and Succession Planning Manager: “Although we had to spend a number of months slowly introducing the concept of self-organising teams to our people, the introduction of the IWP [Scenarios] to the process provided a much-needed stimulus to the initiative.

“The workshops and subsequent meetings enabled the teams to focus on the practical implications of the changes and how they would embrace the necessary behavioural changes. The rigour of the participative approach enabled our people to identify change opportunities for themselves and own the process through which they would both execute and monitor these changes going forward.

“Coming from an environment where, historically, they had little influence over their working practices, the workshops/meetings gave employees the confidence to address issues, take ownership and have confidence in their own voices.”

Academic collaborators: The Scenarios project is based on a long-running stream of research in the Institute of Work Psychology – involving other members such as including Professor Chris Clegg (Institute of Work Psychology until 2006) and Dr David Holman (IWP 1999-2010) as well as Dr Carolyn Axtell.

Business/Organisation involvement: Allied Lyons, BUPA, Driving Services Agency, Rolls-Royce, the Royal Mail

Axtell, C., Pepper, K., Clegg, C., Wall, T., & Gardner, P. (2001). Designing and evaluating new ways of working: The application of some sociotechnical tools. Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing, 11, 1–18.

Axtell, C., Wall, T. Stride, C., Pepper, K., Clegg, C., Gardner, P, & Bolden, R. (2002). Familiarity Breeds Content: The Impact of Exposure to Change on Employee Openness and Well-being. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 75, 217-232

Clegg, C., Coleman, P., Hornby, P., Maclaren, R., Robson, J, Carey, N., Symon, G., (1996), Tools to incorporate some psychological and organisational issues during the development of computer-based systems. Ergonomics, 39, 3, 482-511.

Holman, D., Axtell, C. M., Sprigg, C. A., Totterdell, P., & Wall, T. D. (2010) The mediating role of job characteristics in job redesign interventions: A serendipitous quasi-experiment. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31, 84-105.

Waterson, P. E., Gray, M. T. O., & Clegg, C. W. (2002). A sociotechnical method for designing work systems. Human Factors, 44 (3), 376-391.