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In Norway the first, and perhaps the largest, voluntary policy initiatives came in the 1830s and 1840s when formal barriers to organizational formation were removed. From the mid-1800s, there was a significant growth in social movements in both rural and urban areas.
The expansion of the welfare state following WW2 into fields that had previously been run by voluntary organizations included areas such as health and social work, culture, sports, and recreation. However, this did not result in the diminishment of the voluntary sector, and the number of voluntary organisations continued to increase. During the 1960s there was a growth in children's and youth organizations, particularly within culture, recreation and sports.
Public policy has and continues to emphasise the role of the state, counties and municipalities in facilitating the independent and self-contained work of voluntary organizations.
White Paper No. 10 (2018 – 2019) [Frivilligheita - sterk, sjølvstendig, mangfaldig - Den statlege frivilligheitspolitikken] which defines Government policy for the voluntary sector describes the sector as fulfilling an important role distinct from the public or for-profit sectors by:
Consisting of organizations and activities that are created and developed by the participants themselves.
Representing an innovating force in the provision of vital social services, often based on values and public profiles distinct from the public or for-profit sectors.
Providing the infrastructure for the development of a vibrant civil society.
There is no formal definition of the voluntary sector or voluntary activities. Nevertheless, the state has been instrumental in defining the sector through:
The Act governing the Public Registry for Voluntary Activity [Lov 29. juni 2007 nr. 88 om register for frivillig virksomhet (frivillighetsregisterloven)], which defines non-profit activity as voluntary activity.
The satellite account for non-profit institutions, produced by Statistics Norway, which provides an overview of the sector and shows the organizations' contribution to the gross domestic product, how their activities are funded and the value of volunteer work.
National grant schemes that delineate target groups and objectives.