Reflecting on 20 years of conducting research with non-government service providers, I identify the type of research needed to future proof DES and how academics can best support the sector in this endeavor. In 2012, Gary Sturgess noted that while senior public servants see the world through the medium of statistics, frontline staff generally experience the world as a narrative. Consequently, policymakers often have difficulty recognising the stories that emerge from the front-line, let alone know how to respond to them (AFR 23 March 2012). I argue that narratives, or stories, which describe change over time, can impose order on complexity, identify relevant factors and generate policy recommendations. Academics can assist in this process by identifying patterns and causal linkages from collections of narratives; assessing the importance of emerging patterns, and linking these patterns to the international literature. Collaborations between academics from different disciplinary backgrounds provide opportunities to generate new questions or ways of analysing data. The sector must take the lead in generating this type of research. Future proofing DES is too important a task to be left to public servants or academics.

Dr Ann Nevile

Honorary Associate Professor
Australian National University

Ann Nevile is a social policy researcher at the Centre for Social Research and Methods, the Australian National University. Ann has spent the last twenty years talking to non-government service providers in Australia and the UK about what they do and the impact of funding and performance management frameworks on their work and on outcomes for clients. Employment, particularly disability employment, has been a focus of Ann’s research through two Australian Research Council Linkage projects in partnership with DEA, NDA, Jobs Australia and the Brotherhood of St Laurence. Ann is currently involved in research projects looking at the implementation of the NDIS and the introduction of risk responsive regulation of community housing, disability support and care and protection services in the ACT.

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