Volunteer passports: Pipe dream or potential reality?

Can you imagine a world where passports did not exist?

If you think the queue at passport control is painful now, you cannot even imagine how painful it would be if passports weren’t a thing. At a glance, you can verify who they are, where they are from and where they have been.

In essence, this is the aim of a “volunteer passport”. Certification of a volunteer's identity, experience and training.

In September 2020, Danny Kruger MP wrote a report for the government which recommended that the government develop a national system for a volunteer passport which can be used across different organisations and sectors. This may not be the first time the term was coined but it seems to be when it really took hold.

We have spoken about this topic in depth with countless charities, local authorities, corporates and volunteers. In this blog, we are going to not only assess the viability but also what is needed to ensure success. 

Passports work incredibly well. They are unanimously accepted. They are simple and incredibly effective in their aims. Let’s use them as a guiding start when implementing a volunteer passport.

What is the aim?

Firstly what is the aim of a volunteer passport, well it is simple…

Save time for the volunteer and the organisation by avoiding duplication of effort in areas such as facilitating the same training, checking on background checking status and checking references. 

Provide a better volunteer experience by ensuring volunteers have to provide less information, avoid duplicating training and can be onboarded quicker.

Why is it needed?

The volunteer demographic is changing. Millennials and Gen-Z will make up most of your future volunteer force. Accessibility and ease of access is always a requirement given these cohorts have become used to 5-minute food deliveries and opening a bank account at the press of a button.

Charities need to do more with less. We dread to think how much time and money is being spent that could be avoided by the implementation of a volunteer passport system.

What information is needed?

Passports keep it to just the essentials.

The key with a volunteer passport will be to not overcomplicate things. Here is the information we would recommend that makes up a volunteer passport.

Who - Basic information on that individual. Name, DOB, address.

Training/qualifications - What training modules they completed, when they were completed and to have each module verified by the organisation they completed that module with to avoid fraud.

Background check - Background check status, date and reference numbers.

Character References - References collected by organisations should be allowed to make up the passport at a volunteer's request. This would avoid even more duplication of effort.

What organisations - Which organisations they have volunteered for and in what capacity, again each experience must be verified by the relevant organisation.

Who certifies it?

Only nations can issue/certify a passport. 

So first we need to create the concept of nations in the context of volunteer passports. Nations adhere to certain conditions and are therefore recognised by others. That is what makes a nation a nation. Volunteer Passport Organisations must do the same.

Only those organisations that are signed up to be part of this process can verify volunteer passport attributes. Without this, the certifications lose their value and the passport initiative will fail. 

Data Sharing

If you don’t hand over your passport, you don’t get into that country, it is as simple as that.

Volunteers need to be able to grant info on request but only on request, this cannot be an open database or it is open to abuse.

Actually use it

You can already see the challenges that will arise…“But that organisation delivers Safeguarding 101 and we deliver Intro to safeguarding”

For the passport to work we will need to apply a degree of common sense… Training modules ma

Either one training syllabus should be agreed upon and used or modules from different providers must be interchangeable to some degree. We’d need to apply a healthy dollop of common sense.

If every time a passport is provided, they still end up going through basic training and DBS checking then the passport project has failed.

This is why the organisations that take part must agree on certain principles and accepted training would be one of these.

So here is the million-dollar question, Is it viable?

In short, yes. But in our view, this won’t be a top-down initiative but more than likely bottom-up. What we mean by this is that communities of local organisations should look to implement something of their own accord. It is easier to get agreement from 10 organisations in a room over coffee than it is to get agreement at a national level with over 10 thousand voluntary organisations.

Here is a quick 3-step process to setting up a basic volunteer passport in your area:

Step 1: Agree on a few things to track - Keep it simple!

  • Name of volunteer and some unique ID e.g. passport number
  • Don’t store contact details! (less likely to get volunteer agreement)
  • A few standard training modules
  • Background checked status 
  • Basic experience, what organisation, how long

Step 2: Create a basic data usage policy

  • Volunteers will need to agree to this or they cannot be included in the passport scheme
  • The policy must cover which organisations can access the data, what data they can access, how it will be stored and how it will be used

Step 3: Find a means of storing, maintaining and accessing the data

  • Even an online spreadsheet could work to start, giving relevant permissions to editors and viewers
  • We can help with this at Volunteero! We will be piloting with various local communities and would happily discuss this in more detail

Step 4: Actually use it

  • If the data says they have a live DBS or they recently did a safeguarding module, then trust it… if you end up reprocessing these anyway, the passport system has lost all value

This was merely a thought experiment and a brain dump of my potentially awful opinions. Take it with much more than a grain of salt. If you’d like to chat, please do not hesitate to get in touch! I welcome debate and disagreement ash@volunteero.org

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