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When Volunteers Break the Rules

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Why do volunteers break the rules? This Research to Practice reviews an ethnographic study of an animal shelter where disruptive behavior by volunteers was a regular occurrence. This disruptive behavior was defined as “any behavior that either explicitly violated a rule or was identified by more than one staff member as disruptive” (Jacobs, 2017, 31). Researcher Molly Jacobs volunteered four days a week for a year at the shelter, keeping extensive notes of her observations and interactions. She also interviewed paid and unpaid workers. In her analysis, Jacobs was able to identify different ‘rule breaking’ categories and analyze why this occurred.

This Research to Practice review of this study provides an opportunity to think about these types of disruptions in your own volunteer context, and perhaps determine different ways to handle them.