Community sector organisations are asked regularly by funding bodies to provide evidence about the efficacy of their work. In the NGO world of competitive tendering, we have had at least ten years of writing applications that include at the very least a ‘hat-tip’ to ‘evidence based practice’- and often a whole lot more than just a hat-tip. But what does this actually mean? And why do those of us who are forced to say it all the time in order to get programs up and running, secretly roll our eyes?
Evidence can be a complicated, slippery, unwieldy beast. And yet we all – in the community sector- have learned to say that we have it. That we hold it. And that we’re getting more of it. What do we mean by this? (Aside from PLEASE KEEP FUNDING US?) What do our government funders mean by ‘evidence’? What happens when different bodies of evidence suggest different directions for policy and program change? How do we choose which evidence is the most evidence-y?
And what does evidence based practice look like to the people who are subject to the programs which are supposed to be based on evidence? What about populations who have been researched so hard they are utterly exhausted? What about the staff on the ground running the programs who every other week are working with researchers from academic institutions who require connection with their clients to conduct research?
How can we design research that is genuinely meaningful for the populations it is intended to support? How can we as service providers find a way of openly talking about the failures of programs when we are working in a highly competitive funding landscape? How can we figure out what works when programs are often funded for such short periods of time we can barely get recruitment sorted, let alone figure out if our support made a difference?
This will be a panel discussion involving expert representatives with lived experience, and community sector, academic and government expertise.
Mindy Sotiri BSW (UNSW) PhD (UNSW) has worked as an advocate, researcher, and community worker in reintegration and post-release support for twenty years. She has been in her current role for the last seven years, and in this capacity has been responsible for researching, developing and implementing evidence based best-practice with complex needs populations across a range of different program areas. Mindy serves on the Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Board, is currently the community sector representative on the multi-agency High Risk Offender Assessment Committee, and is regularly called on to provide expert advice on community based post-release to both government and the NGO sector. In 2016 she was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to continue her research into best practice in post release in the international context.
Dr Ruth McCausland is Senior Research Fellow and Director of Evaluation for the Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership between UNSW and the Dharriwaa Elders Group. Her research focuses on young people, women, people with disabilities and Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system and the social determinants of justice. Ruth's PhD was on evaluation and the diversion of Aboriginal women from prison in NSW, and she also has a Masters in International Social Development and BA (Hons 1). Ruth has worked as an evaluation consultant for government and non-government agencies. She was previously a senior researcher at Jumbunna, UTS, and research and policy officer at the Australian Human Rights Commission and NSW Anti-Discrimination Board. Ruth is Chair of the Board of the Community Restorative Centre.