Practitioners on evidence: Zoe Upson

Practitioners on evidence: Zoe Upson

25 July 2017

Zoe Upson discusses how Amity Health supports its staff to deliver and evaluate community programs, despite not having a dedicated research team.

When asked whether Amity Health has a dedicated research team, Program Manager Zoe Upson is brief.

"We are a small organisation and don't have that dedicated in-house evaluation support - so research has to be part of everyone's job. Staff are a jack of all trades," she says proudly.

And despite Amity Health not having specialist researchers, the organisation still successfully delivers and evaluates its programs by supporting staff to do the job.

"Our staff come from a variety of backgrounds and we bring different areas of expertise. In the area of evaluation, we like to upskill staff where we can."

Based in Albany, Amity Health is a not-for-profit organisation delivering various allied health and community services for children and adults. It has delivered services in the Great Southern region of Western Australia (located within two hours of Albany) for more than 20 years. Amity Health is also the Communities for Children Facilitating Partner for the region.

"Amity Health may not have the same resources as other larger community service organisations, but its commitment to delivering programs based on evidence is strong," Upson says. "Evidence is very important and we definitely use evidence-based practice. We have a lot of government-funded programs and we like to know what we are implementing is achieving the outcomes of the program and for the community."

This commitment is reflected in the way the organisation understands their local communities and how they select programs to address their needs.

"We look at the needs of the community first by checking demographic datasets and then at the outcomes of evidence-based programs to see if they match up to people's needs," she says. "We also talk to local providers to source what is needed in that community. Often local champions know what is needed, but you also need the evidence to back it up."

Amity Health also has reporting systems to monitor programs every 3-6 months to see if changes are needed. Upson is proud of staff adapting to the rigorous task of data collection and reporting.

However, as a small organisation, there are times where outside support is needed. Upson recalls Amity Health's support from Drummond Street Services to assist with the final evaluations of its programs.

"The majority of the time we have enough in-house expertise to satisfy our funder, but where we are lacking we will source help from the sector," she says. "It's great to have another organisation's critical eye - sometimes when you are so embedded in your practice it's hard to take that step back."

The push for more evidence-based programs within community service organisations is something Amity Health is committed to as well.

"We must be accountable for a large amount of money," Upson says. "But you also need the flexibility to start new programs and innovate practices."

Upson believes this ability to remain flexible in service delivery is important because of the nature of the diverse regional communities they serve.

"It is tricky in a rural and regional area, maybe only a few evidence-based programs are suitable for our areas. You need to look at client needs and whether they match the outcomes of the programs," she says. "We try to pick programs with a universal approach that will support the needs of more people, particularly in small communities."

So what does the future hold for Amity Health given the Communities for Children program's requirement for all community service organisations to use half of their funding on high quality programs?

For Upson, the immediate aim is to get more of their smaller programs "assessed" as meeting the minimum standard for good quality programs.

"We like to support local programs, and the next step is to get these programs approved as high quality," she says. "We know what we have been doing has been working, and we want to get our programs supported in the future."

Regardless of the outcome, Amity Health will continue to work on improving its services with its own skilled staff and with the help of others.

"In our sector there are lot of people to draw upon - community organisations, the Australian Institute of Family Studies and Drummond Street," Upson says. "My key learning is you can't do it alone, you always need someone to review what you're doing, and help keep you on the right track."

This article is part of series of practitioner profiles originally published in Family Matters No.99: Research to Results.

Other articles in the series:

The feature image is by Nik MacMillanCC0 1.0.

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Authors

Sam Morley is a Senior Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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