In this edition, learn more about how you can do research with the SESU to meet your needs and our tips for preparing your research application before the mid-March deadline! We share news from two of our projects, where you can hear from the project teams about the impacts of COVID-19 for those accessing social services and about our work to help seniors age well. You will also learn about trends in engaged and impactful research.
Partner with us on research to meet your needs: Applications are closing soon
We collaborate with organisations on research that is designed to enrich lives and achieve positive outcomes for communities. The SESU’s 2022 application round is open and we’re inviting organisations to tell us their research needs. Specifically, we partner with organisations that are working to support people facing disadvantage or marginalisation and/or advance the Catholic tradition. This is because ACU’s mission calls us to engage with our communities for the common good, especially in ways that affirm human dignity.
Submit an expression of interest (EOI)by 14 March, 6pm AEDT. Successful organisations will be given access to academic expertise through ACU researchers who will undertake the projects. Our researchers work collaboratively with our partners to produce outcomes and outputs that are practical for them.
Successful projects are chosen by the SESU’s Advisory Group. The Advisory Group Chair Professor Br David Hall fms said any organisation working in areas that align with ACU’s mission should consider becoming a research partner.
“As a Catholic university, we are committed to the pursuit of truth for the good of all humanity, and in doing so, find solutions to the serious problems facing our modern society”, Br Hall said.
“This is the heart of the research partnership offered through SESU, and we invite organisations to partner with us to make real world change.”
Hear from one of our partners, Ms Shana Challenor, CEO of Suicide Prevention Pathways, and Dr Sera Harris, the ACU academic who is working with Shana, about their experience of working with the SESU to evaluate the Talk Suicide Support program:
If you are interested in applying, learn about our two application streams:
Submit a proposal for an organisation-specific research project to inform, shape, evaluate or grow your organisation’s programs or services.
We surveyed our Advisory Group last year for their advice on how to prepare an EOI application. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Be clear about the goals and outcomes you intend
This is the ‘why’ of your project and it needs to be obvious in your EOI.
Why does your organisation want to undertake the research project and what energises you as an organisation to undertake this work?
2. Be very clear in your application about the focus of your proposed research
When telling us about the project’s objectives, tell us what it is that you want to know from the research and ensure the project’s scope is clear.
3. Think about the impact of the project and how it connects with your organisation’s overall plan and mission
We ask about the context of the project in our application form. So, tell us how the project fits in with your organisation’s mission, strategic goals and priorities.
When telling us about the outcomes you’re looking for, include clear and specific examples of how you think your project will benefit or make an impact for specific groups of people, your organisation’s work and/or the sector.
You can find more helpful pointers in this video. Hear from two of our researchers, Associate Professor Jenneke Foottit and Dr Sera Harris, as well as our partner, Ms Shana Challenor, CEO of Suicide Prevention Pathways, about their tips for submitting an EOI.
Final report finds COVID-19 is a pandemic of job loss and job market insecurity
In 2020, just two months after the pandemic had hit Australia’s shores, the SESU activated a sector project to explore the impact of the COVID-19 crisis for those accessing social services prior to the pandemic. Catholic Social Services Victoria and St Mary’s House of Welcome–two of Victoria’s most active social services agencies–partnered with ACU on one arm of the project, which assesses how the ongoing COVID-19 crisis will affect demand for social services in Victoria and makes projections for the current and the next financial year.
Dr Tom Barnes, from the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, who is leading the project along with Dr Scott Doidge from ACU Engagement, provided a summary of the project’s final report, which found that:
COVID-19 is a pandemic of job loss and job market insecurity, in addition to its health impacts. Melbourne’s labour force shrank by 3.4% during the recent Delta Wave. The pandemic has continued to be worse for women and worse for young workers.
Federal Government policy cruelly excluded temporary migrants from social protection, plunging millions into financial hardship or destitution. During the pandemic, official unemployment for Victoria’s migrants from South and Central Asian countries, who comprised almost half of our most recent arrivals, was 4 times higher than Australian-born workers.
The recovery from the pandemic has been much weaker and more uneven than record low unemployment figures suggest. It has been a stunted recovery that has left a scarring effect on those experiencing the most vulnerability. By mid-2021, the number of JobSeeker recipients in Victoria was 50% higher than pre-pandemic levels.
Social service providers in Victoria have risen to the challenge of COVID-19 but more attention from government is needed. Volunteer numbers, which collapsed in 2020 and 2021, are yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels, especially for emergency relief. This is critical given that volunteers are the lifeblood of our social services sector.
The withdrawal of the Coronavirus Supplement has seen a return to pre-pandemic levels of poverty and gradual return to pre-pandemic demand for key social services.
Despite signs of economic recovery, the proportion of people, especially migrants, with zero income seeking emergency relief by the end of 2021 was still more than double pre-pandemic levels.
Dr Barnes said that the project findings brought to the fore the continued need for government support for the social services sector, which is crucial to enable them to support those most in need.
“Our findings draw further attention to the need for a significant rise in the rate of JobSeeker and for renewed investment in public and social housing. The experience of COVID shows that the decision to significantly alleviate poverty is one that our politicians have the power to make. In addition, our research shows that government must increase their support for our social services such as emergency relief or accommodation due to the significantly greater burden on volunteers and staff,” Dr Barnes said.
“Government must recognise that millions have been permanently affected, that labour markets have not fully recovered despite low headline unemployment figures, and that thousands of our most vulnerable community members are being left behind as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Catholic Social Services Victoria Executive Director Mr Joshua Lourensz said the partnership with ACU had placed their organisation in a more confident position to advocate for those struggling the most in Victoria.
“The ability to access experienced, ethical, and engaged researchers from ACU, means we as the peak body for Catholic social service agencies in Victoria have a better chance of advocating for real change in our communities,” Mr Lourensz said.
“More importantly, we are in a strong position to present research-backed arguments in favour of better social outcomes for women, young people, and the homeless, in the lead up to the upcoming federal election.”
On Victoria’s growing issue of homelessness, CEO of St Mary’s House of Welcome Ms Robina Bradley said being able to sort out fact from fiction would enable grassroots charities to serve their patrons with greater focus.
“Hundreds of men and women walk through the doors of St Mary’s House of Welcome, but we wanted to find out how many of them were forced into homelessness because of the pandemic,” Ms Bradley said.
“Our organisation alone would not have the capacity to undertake such in-depth research.
“We are extremely appreciative of the resources that ACU provided us through this partnership, and strongly recommend this collaborative approach for other not-for-profits.”
The final report, due out in March, will be launched at a public event in the coming months.
In the meantime, the full interim report is available to read here.
Does knowing about the process of ageing help improve the experience for older adults?
The SESU has partnered with CatholicCare Sydney to answer this question. We want to better understand older adults’ views on what ageing well means and how prepared they think they are for ageing and dying. We especially want to know whether being well-informed about ageing improves wellbeing.
The SESU’s Manager, Ms Vivien Cinque, spoke to three members of our project team to bring you this story—from CatholicCare Sydney, Mr David Stefanoff, Director of Finance, and Ms Kerryn Tutt, General Manager of Clinical Therapies and Disability Services, and from ACU Associate Professor Jenneke Foottit, from the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine. Here is what they had to say:
David, we’ve been planning this project together since 2020 when your application to the SESU was successful and it is finally coming to life, as we begin to speak to seniors about this all-important topic of ageing. We both know that the lockdowns we’ve had have haltered our plans to bring seniors together in a room to discuss ageing, but we’ve never wavered in our commitment to making this project happen. So please tell us, from CatholicCare Sydney’s perspective, why there is a need for a project like this?
Discomfort about death and dying can lead to avoiding the topic, including the associated topic of ageing. There may be a need to provide older adults with the opportunity to talk about what ageing well looks like and to provide them with the necessary tools to make decisions about care and support. While there is much generic information available on ageing, there is a gap around understanding what ageing well on an individual level may mean.
To respond to this gap, CatholicCare Sydney, a provider of aged care services, has developed the Ageing Well program, which has developed and will deliver a series of masterclasses beginning in March this year. These masterclasses will provide education on what it means to age well as well as seeking feedback from participants so that their views can be incorporated into future delivery of the masterclasses.
There is anecdotal evidence that there is a gap in knowledge on what it means to age well, and we hypothesise that filling that gap will improve wellbeing. In our project, the SESU will test this assumption through an evaluation of the impact of the masterclasses on participants’ views on ageing well and preparedness for ageing and eventual dying.
Kerryn, I know there was a lot of time and thought that went into the design of the masterclasses and preparing the topics. Can you tell us what issues were important for the team to consider when preparing the content for the masterclasses?
From the beginning, we wanted to approach the masterclasses holistically. When deciding where to start, we thought it best to look at social connection because we know that social isolation and loneliness is more common among seniors than we would like it to be. The masterclasses also explore psychological wellbeing, where we look at resilience and mental illness in later life, among other topics.
We have a dedicated session on physical wellbeing, followed by a session on how to navigate aged care and consider the best options for oneself. Sessions on financial planning for retirement and beyond and the Catholic spirituality of ageing are other options seniors can sign-up for if they wish.
When choosing these topic areas, it was great to have the ACU Team as a sounding board. For example, Jenneke suggested that we devote some time on carer fatigue in the session on physical wellbeing. It’s not something that is often talked about, so we really valued this suggestion.
Jenneke, from the time you joined our project team, you have very much been a guiding force in helping us identify the right questions we need to be asking seniors and, in particular, you’ve stressed that the timing of those questions is important. So, can you tell us why we’ve decided to hear from the masterclass participants before and after they attend the masterclass sessions?
In any activity of this kind, it is important to understand if and how the work you do is effective. Asking masterclass participants about their ideas and views beforehand and again afterwards gives us information about what participants already knew, helps us identify if they gained new knowledge and whether that knowledge is useful. This information supports us to review the presented material to identify whether there were gaps that participants saw, gaps that need to be covered. It also helps the masterclass presenters avoid repeating knowledge that participants already have, and gives them an opportunity to correct misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the material.
It is important that we view the participants as constructive partners in the project, because they do contribute knowledge and wisdom. In the context of this project, it is best captured by gathering information before masterclasses and again afterwards.
Not asking participants about their knowledge and experience risks assumptions on the part of researchers that may be incorrect and neglects a valuable and important source of knowledge and wisdom.
Research Impact: What is it, and how is it achieved?
Ms Jeanine Parsons, Research Engagement Manager at ACU, demystifies ‘research impact’ and shares her tips on how it can best be achieved in research projects through communication, engagement, and good planning.
What is research impact?
Put simply, research impact is real change in the real world. The real-world part is key to any conversation about research impact. Traditionally, assessment of impact has focused on academic impact–whereas now, impact is also measured by indicators of change outside universities. Examples of different kinds of research impact include:
awareness and understanding–the research helped people understand an issue better than they had before
social–the research led to access to education or an improvement in human rights
cultural–the research led to changes in prevailing values, attitudes and beliefs
economic–the research contributed to cost savings or costs avoided; or increases in revenue, profits or funding
environmental–the benefits of the research aid genetic diversity, habitat conservation or ecosystems.
Few would disagree that it takes hard work and persistence to create impact from research and that it is best achieved via stakeholder engagement throughout the lifecycle of a project.
How is research impact achieved?
There is no single, simple answer to this question. However, the steps that help to achieve impact have been widely considered and include:
Communication of knowledge is critical. Researchers need to reach the audiences that can best build on or benefit from their work.
Researchers need to engage with those audiences–whether they are policy makers, industry, educators, healthcare practitioners or the public–to understand their needs and existing level of expertise and to be able to address their feedback as their work evolves.
Researchers need to be thinking from early in the research process about the change (or impact) they want to create–whether that is changing awareness, knowledge, practice or policy.
Researchers need to think about how any change they can bring about will scale such that its effect is as significant, widespread and lasting as possible. For example, how can a benefit to the local community be translated to national or even global impact? This is about amplifying the research effort.
One final point. Evidencing and measuring impact is also important because it keeps researchers focused on the purpose, rather than the process, of research (not that the process isn’t important!).
I am an ACU academic, how do I become involved with the SESU?
Once applications are shortlisted by the Advisory Group, we will open a call for EOIs to ACU staff. You will be able to see if your expertise, skills and experiences would make you a good fit for the upcoming projects.
This will happen in April, so keep an eye out!
In the meantime, hear from two of our researchers from the Faculty of Health Sciences about their experience of working with the SESU, Dr Sera Harris and Associate Professor Jenneke Foottit:
How else can ACU support you?
Do you need support in areas other than research?
ACU’s community engagement placement program or staff community engagement time release might just be for you.
Our students help build capacity within community organisations through their community engagement placements
An ACU undergraduate education is made unique through the community engagement placement program, providing students with the opportunity to make a direct impact in the wider community. At ACU, it is important to us that we develop reciprocal relationships with communities and community service organisations, so together we can work to provide better outcomes for people facing disadvantage or marginalisation. You have the opportunity to invite our students to join your organisation on their community engagement placement. Our students come from a range of courses including allied health, social work, arts and humanities and business to name a few.
Hear from some of our community engagement students and partners in this video:
Our staff give time and expertise to community organisations through our community engagement time release policy
ACU is committed to providing our staff the opportunity to make a contribution to their local communities, especially in ways that benefit people facing disadvantage or marginalisation. We provide staff the option to dedicate five of their workdays in support of non-profit and community service organisations.