RIVER Project – Rationale

Promoting active-aging senior volunteering has an invaluable effect on our societies.  Given the demographic trend and the increasing number of elderly people in Europe, it is even more crucial to create opportunities for elderly to stay active.

Senior volunteering brings generations together and creates benefits for both – the volunteers and the organisations involved.  Volunteer settings provide new learning opportunities and contribute to ones well-being and private life balance. Senior volunteering as a way of informal learning provides organisations with volunteers who have acquired extensive knowledge and experience over a lifetime period.

Senior volunteering plays a key role in our society and demands exposure and recognition! Yet reliable and convincing methodologies for the assessment and validation of the impact and outcomes of senior volunteering are missing.
By developing a tailor-made competence assessment system the project RIVER aims at making learning outcomes of senior volunteering visible and thus add to senior volunteers’ motivation and sense of achievement.


Senior Volunteering

In Europe, the majority of senior citizens enjoy far better living conditions than in the past, however there is still a certain degree of risk of permanent social exclusion due to ageing. The Charta of Rights of the European Union recognises these changes, stating that “the European Union acknowledges and respect the right of seniors to have an independent and respectable life and to take part to social and cultural life” (art. 25). Strategies have to be developed that allow seniors to take part in social life after their retirement from the labour market.

Volunteering is one of the most appreciated and experienced activity that the seniors choose to feel part of the community and stay active. Seniors have always been the backbone of traditional civic participation, running churches, voluntary organisations, charitable fund-raising activities etc. Older persons have a capacity and an appetite for being active which tends to be insufficiently recognised. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities is important for the development and preservation of capacities in later life. Such possibilities need to be greatly expanded. Involving a larger number of seniors in voluntary work might turn out to be a major tool in active ageing strategies.

Volunteers should receive appropriate training and management. During volunteering service, the volunteer benefits from a personal, social and intercultural learning process.


Learning in Volunteering

People usually volunteer to be useful for the community or for specific projects they want to support. Performing volunteer work requires skills and competences to be exploited for the common goal of the group or organisation in which volunteers are involved.  But there can be a lack of experience in working with diverse people in diverse environments.  These may be seen as representing obstacles to being a “good volunteer” but this is not correct!  In fact when people act together and engage in new tasks and experiences collectively, they can learn from each other and from these new. This is why volunteering is considered as a means of informal education. Of course volunteers may take courses to improve their skills, but the most original learning aspect of volunteering is based on experiencing new social engagements, developing a very rich set of soft skills and personal attributes (team work, problem solving, social values, and stakeholder relationships).

Voluntary activities can form either structured learning activities (so-called non-formal learning) in which the volunteer intentionally participates in unintentional and unstructured learning (so-called informal learning). In both cases, volunteers’ learning usually is not certified. Recognising volunteering as a form of learning is therefore a priority of EU action in education and training. Based on common principles adopted by the Council in 2004, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, Cedefop, published ‘European guidelines on the validation of non-formal and informal learning’, which provide a tool for the development of certification practices that also take account of the voluntary sector.



RIVER aims at adapting LEVEL5, a comprehensive methodology for assessing and validating competencies acquired in informal learning settings to the specific requirements of the volunteering sector.

The effects (or the impact) of informal learning can be displayed through the development of competence (e.g. empowerment, improvement of “soft” skills, activity level, self esteem, attitudes towards other groups, civic knowledge etc.).

The LEVEL5 approach is a model to assess, evidence and validate the

  • cognitive;
  • activity related, and;
  • affective

competence development of learners in informal and non-formal learning contexts.

Individual or group competences are evaluated in a process-oriented way, visualised in a 3-dimensional cube model and fully documented in specific software system.

The LEVEL5 evaluation procedure is standardised but at the same time enables grass-roots projects to establish an individualised reference system for assessing and evidencing the relevant competence of their beneficiaries in a process-orientated way.

The LEVEL5 system allows users to evidence the impact of their work according to a standardised procedure while, at the same time, keeping up their individuality as informal learning projects in their specific contexts.

With the help of LEVEL5 these impacts can be measured and displayed – so a convincing picture of the effects of one’s work can be given. Starting from the fundamental question: “What is it exactly that you want to bring about for your target group?” LEVEL5 is a progressive assessment system that leads to a profound analysis of the impact of those processes that are elemental for learners and beneficiaries.


Follow these links  to learn more about  the procedure and software of LEVEL5:



The main target groups of the RIVER project are:

  • Adult education organisations which already work with senior learners or may work with them in the future
  • Voluntary organisations which organise senior volunteering activities
  • Umbrella organisations of the two mentioned types of institutions which can act as multipliers
  • Decision-makers in local, national and European authorities which (might) provide funding for senior volunteering

The final beneficiaries of the RIVER project activities are senior volunteers.


RIVER aims at

  • making the learning benefits of senior volunteering activities visible
  • providing and improving learning opportunities for the increasing number of senior citizens in Europe
  • developing and testing a planning and validation system for senior volunteering
  • motivating older people to engage in senior volunteering as a learning experience
  • promoting intergenerational learning by working with intergenerational senior volunteering projects


The overall aim of RIVER will be to adapt LEVEL5 – a methodology for assessing and validating competences acquired in informal learning settings – to the specific requirements of the volunteering sector. In RIVER the LEVEL5 system will not only be further improved but also transformed into a comprehensive methodology for

  • defining personal aims of senior volunteering activities
  • planning them accordingly
  • evaluating their impact on senior volunteers and on the beneficiaries of volunteering activities



The main activities of the RIVER project between January 2012 and December 2013 are:

  • Desk-based research, in which the results of previous projects developing the Level 5 methodology as well as key results of previous national and EU projects and networks on senior volunteering and assessment of volunteers’ competences will be investigated.
  • An internal training workshop on LEVEL5 for the partner institutions of the RIVER project will be held from May 30-31 2012 in Göttingen, DE.
  • The proven LEVEL5 system will be taken as a base for the development of the RIVER methodology for senior volunteering. It will be created as a comprehensive tool for the planning and the assessment of competence development in senior volunteering.
  • To enable volunteering facilitators to apply the RIVER methodology a two-day training workshop for this target group will be developed and organised.
  • The trained facilitators will pilot the RIVER methodology locally in intergenerational volunteering projects.
  • The results of evaluation and feedback from the piloting will contribute to the final design and development of the products.
  • A promotional brochure on informal learning in intergenerational volunteering activities will be produced.
  • The project will be presented at European events and conferences. At the end of the project a final dissemination conference will be organised.



Internal training workshop LEVEL5

A one-day workshop will be held in conjunction with the second project meeting (May 29-31 2012, Göttingen, DE). In this workshop members of staff of the partner institutions of the RIVER project will be introduced to the LEVEL5 assessment and validation approach to ensure that all partners will be able to apply and further develop the methodology. The workshop will be very practice-oriented and will contain hands-on elements.


Concept and software of the RIVER methodology

A comprehensive tool for the planning as well as the assessment of competence development in senior volunteering will be developed. It includes the following elements:
•    Planning tools
•    A compilation of learning outcomes and competences
•    A reference system
•    Procedural descriptions
•    An improved software for visualizing the development of informal competencies
•    A certification element making the competence development of volunteers and beneficiaries visible


Concept for a training workshop and coaching guidelines for learning and volunteering facilitators to enable them to apply the RIVER methodology.
Promotional Brochure on informal learning in intergenerational volunteering activities. The aim of this publication is to promote the RIVER senior volunteering methodology as a means to ensure the generation of optimum benefits to be gained from senior volunteering activities.



River Flyer

Report about RIVER piloting

River Brochure

River Manual

River Training

1.1 RIVER Project Presentation

1.2. Volunteering and informal learning

1.3. The 5 steps of RIVER

1.4. Template: project description

1.5. Competence Inventory

1.6. Three dimensions

1.7. Example of a reference system

1.8. Five levels

1.9. Assessment methods

1.10. Template: reasoning and rating

1.11. Softwareguide

Documentation of the RIVER piloting Workshop, Rome, November 2012

RIVER groundworkpaper

The project products are also available in the languages of the partner countries. Please ask for them by contacting us.



die Berater®






Forschungsinstitut des Roten Kreuzes






Alliance of European Voluntary Service


Budapest Cultural Centre



Holger Bienzle

Head bridges to europe

„die Berater“
Unternehmensberatungs GmbH
Wipplingerstraße 32/Top 23-25
A-1010 Vienna
Tel.: +43 1 532 45 45-0
Fax: +43 1 532 45 45-1145
E-Mail: office@dieberater.com


This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.