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Content type
Corporate publication

August 2017

Message from the Director

I am pleased to present the corporate plan for the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), which will guide our work over the next four years.

AIFS is the Australian Government's key independent research body and advisor in the area of family wellbeing. Our guiding purpose is to create and communicate knowledge to accelerate positive outcomes for families - because when families thrive, Australia thrives.

We've been on a transformational journey to ensure that our internal culture and systems align with our aspiration for our research to have maximum impact. We're proud that we are highly respected for our research excellence, but we know that the pursuit of excellence never stops. Taking things to the next level means pushing ourselves to have greater impact. To achieve impact, we have to close the gap between "what is known" about what works for families and "what is done" for families in the world of policy and practice. This is the focus of much of our work in 2017/18.

We are entering Year Two of our five-year Strategic Directions 2016-2020. Our focus for the next 12 months is to embed knowledge translation and exchange capabilities across the whole of the organisation, and harness our capabilities to communicate the results of our work so that we close the gap between evidence and implementation.

Our priorities in 2017/18 include:

  • Implementing a national strategic research agenda
  • Building our knowledge brokerage profile and activity
  • Improving our communication platforms to ensure our research is discoverable and accessible
  • Embedding knowledge translation capability at whole-of-organisation level
  • Strengthening our capabilities, systems and practices to accurately plan, monitor and deliver our work

To enable us to achieve our priorities, we'll continue to experiment, test new ideas and adapt to our changing environment.

I look forward to inspiring collaborations with our partners and stakeholders, and to working with the incredibly talented and committed team at AIFS to deliver on the priorities set out in our plan.

Our purpose

We create and communicate knowledge to accelerate positive outcomes for families and communities.

Our values

Our shared values underpin our work, our interactions with each other and with our partners and stakeholders. They help guide our decision-making, hold us collectively accountable to behavioural standards and connect us to a higher purpose.

Our staff have identified the values and behaviours that will help us to achieve our strategic goals. Through our values and behaviour:

  • We achieve excellence for impact
  • We are fearless and curious explorers
  • We have honest and respectful conversations
  • We are champions of our work and of each other
  • We see the lighter side

As public servants, we're also committed to upholding the Australian Public Service values. At all times, we are:

  • Committed to service
  • Ethical
  • Respectful
  • Accountable
  • Impartial

Our role

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS, or "the Institute") is the Australian Government's key research body in the area of family wellbeing.

We were established in 1980 under the Family Law Act 1975. We conduct research, provide independent advice and communicate findings to policy-makers, service providers and the community about factors affecting family wellbeing. Our work builds an evidence base about "what works for families". Through our research, we contribute to developing policy and practice to promote the wellbeing of families in Australia.

We undertake a range of research activities and ensure the quality of our work and corporate governance by:

  • Adhering to rigorous ethical standards set by the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research and overseen by an ethics committee
  • Benchmarking against international standards
  • Subjecting research design, methodology and results to peer review
  • Consulting with AIFS' various expert advisory groups
  • Ensuring oversight from the Risk Assessment and Audit Committee

Our relationships

The Institute operates within the portfolio of the Department of Social Services (DSS), and is responsible to the Minister for Social Services. We also have collaborative relationships with other Commonwealth and state and territory government agencies, and with community organisations and other research bodies.

Our stakeholders include:

  • The Australian Government, and state, territory and local governments
  • People who provide services to families and children
  • Researchers
  • Policy-makers
  • Families

Our work

Research and evaluation

We undertake primary research involving a range of data collection and analytic methods, including quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods. We manage a number of major, large-scale longitudinal studies. We conduct literature reviews and undertake sophisticated data analysis and interpretation over a range of complex issues affecting Australian families. We also regularly conduct policy and program evaluations.

Some of our major research activities over the next four-year period include:

Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)

A major study following the development of 10,000 children and families from all parts of Australia. The study commenced in 2004 with two cohorts - families with children aged 4 to 5 years (who are now turning 18 years) and families with infants from birth to 1 year (who are now aged 14 years).

The Australian Temperament Project (ATP)

A longitudinal study that has been running for more than 30 years, following a large group of children from infancy right through to adulthood. The ATP is currently collecting data from three generations of the same families.

Building a New Life in Australia (BNLA)

A large longitudinal study that examines how humanitarian migrants settle into a new life in Australia.

Beyond 18: Longitudinal Study of Leaving Care

A long-term project focusing on the experiences of young people leaving the care system in Victoria.

The Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRC)

Established under the Commonwealth Gambling Measures Act 2012, AGRC has been in operation since 1 July 2013. AGRC provides high quality, evidence-based publications and resources to increase the capacity and capability of policy-makers, researchers, and professionals working in the sector to reduce gambling-related harm. Our gambling research program reflects the Act, embodies a national perspective, and provides a strong family focus consistent with our Families Framework (see page 6).

Knowledge translation and exchange

We translate, exchange and disseminate knowledge to increase the impact of research and the use of evidence in policy and practice affecting families. Our goal is to increase the use of evidence in policy and service delivery based on a better understanding of "what works for families".

Data linkage

We undertake data linkage and integration projects that bring together multiple datasets for statistical or research purposes.

Policy advice

We provide independent advice about a range of issues relating to the wellbeing of families. We contribute our policy advice through both informal and formal channels (such as working groups and reference groups) to assist governments to make sound decisions affecting families. At all times our advice is impartial and based on the best available research evidence.

AIFS' Families Framework

Our What Works for Families Research Framework (Families Framework) guides our research agenda. It articulates our understanding of families, their role, and the supports they need from government and civil society to flourish.

families framework infographic

What helps families do it better?

Legislation that:

  • Is drafted with consideration to the needs of children and families, even when the primary focus is not families
  • Safeguards the physical, financial and emotional wellbeing of children and families
  • Creates clarity around the care of children through different family transitions

Policies that:

  • Create equality of opportunity
  • Even out or address inequality in access to resources
  • Create safe and healthy communities
  • Take a prevention and early intervention approach

Service systems that:

  • Are family focused not system focused
  • Are coordinated
  • Involve implementation support, outcomes measurement and data linkage

Programs & practices that:

  • Are evidence informed
  • Are innovative
  • Place families at the centre
  • Have appropriate workforce capability

Our operating environment

Our business environment

We are increasingly dependent on securing competitive tenders to fund our work. Around two-thirds of our revenue comes from commissioned research projects, and one-third from allocated appropriation funding.

Over the last 10 years, there has been a significant change in the value and duration of the projects in our market, with project timelines becoming much shorter, and the average value of contracts dropping by over 50%. This means we have to adapt and use greater discipline in our monitoring and controlling of project scope, timelines and cost.

To be relevant and competitive means that, more than ever, we must predict and respond to the changing social, economic and environmental issues that affect the well-being of families. Our Strategic Directions 2016-2020 is shifting our emphasis to packaging our research in ways that increase the likelihood of the evidence being put into practice. We are adapting our research products to meet the needs of our end-users, who are increasingly time-poor, overwhelmed with high volumes of information, and who want complex issues to be translated with simplicity and clarity.

Like many other Australian Public Service agencies, we are exploring a reduction in our operational expenditure by moving to a shared services model for our corporate functions. We are also undertaking work to transform our business processes, resource planning and utilisation. Improved processes will generate better business intelligence on our costs and effort so that we can maximise our efficiency and quality of service delivery.

Collaboration with stakeholders

We collaborate with organisations that also have a stake in research, policy and practice that affect family well-being. These relationships help to efficiently build research capability and communications reach, for the benefit of families and the Australian community.

Our strategy for this reporting period to 2021 is focused on increasing the impact of translating our knowledge into practice. We are a bridge between government and community-based service providers, researchers and policy-makers.

Visit the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) website at to explore our work, publications and events, and to discover our research agenda in more detail.

Social and policy environment

Australian families continue to adapt and respond to a range of social, economic and environmental influences and challenges. Some of these include changing relationship patterns, fertility, gender roles, relationship breakdown, the balance between work and family, and diversity in family types.

We create and communicate research evidence to help policy-makers and service providers understand the needs of families and provide solutions to support their wellbeing. Key stakeholders seeking this information include the Australian Government; state, territory and local governments; providers of services to families and children; researchers and policy-makers; and the broader Australian community.

Some of the broad trends that are affecting the lives of Australian families in this reporting period include:

An ageing population

The ageing population is presenting social and economic challenges for individuals, families, communities and governments. An ageing population has implications for lower workforce participation and a declining tax base with which to fund public services and amenities. One in five Australians aged 55 years and over claim that age is a major barrier to finding or getting more hours of paid work.

Persistence and change in gender roles

While women are enjoying greater access to education and employment opportunities and are increasingly occupying leadership roles, traditional gender roles for men and women continue to persist. For example, the gender pay gap contributes to decisions families make about balancing paid employment with family responsibilities. Household division of labour is often divided along gender lines, especially in relation to the care of very young children but also in relation to housework.

Family violence and child abuse

Domestic and family violence is the leading preventable cause of death, disability and illness among women aged 15-44 years. The demand for better legal and community responses to addressing and preventing family violence has increased as public awareness of the issue and the impacts has risen. Interpersonal violence and associated trauma can have negative impacts on mental and physical health, family and other relationships, economic participation and social connectedness. The needs of families experiencing these issues can be complex. Increasingly, the imperative is to develop integrated co-ordinated and appropriately tailored support systems to improve the long-term consequences of family and interpersonal violence.

Greater acceptance of diverse family types

There are increasing levels of community support for marriage equality rights for gay and lesbian people, and the right of LGBTI people to adopt or foster children. There is an increasing prevalence of same-sex couple families with children. At the same time, childless couples are on track to be Australia's most common family type by 2023.

Uneven distribution of economic growth benefits

After two decades of sustained economic growth, changing economic conditions, both domestically and internationally, have challenged Australian families and policy-makers, and intergenerational equity issues have emerged as key drivers in current economic policy debates. Low wage growth, job insecurity, under-employment, and increasing costs of housing, affect the wellbeing of the poorest families in particular.

The increasing role of technology

Developments in information and communication technologies affect how we interact with one another, where we work and how we socialise. For example, recent studies indicated digitisation is likely to replace about half of known jobs within 20 years. Technology is also blurring the distinction between work and home, and greater flexibility in work patterns, with a rise in working from home. One of the side effects is that technology is contributing to the expectation that workers will be available outside of traditional business hours.

Our Strategic Directions 2016-2020

Our Strategic Directions cover the period 2016-2020, which commenced in July 2016. It includes three of the next financial years 2017/18 to 2019/20.

The Strategic Directions are a rolling plan that we review annually, and we are currently in Year 2 of a five-year plan. We are in the process of reviewing our plan to refine our 2020-2021 goals and performance measures.

Our purpose:

Create and communicate knowledge to accelerate positive outcomes for families and communities.

How we will achieve our purpose - the four pillars

Create knowledge
  • Research and advice in the design, implementation and evaluation of policy and practices
Communicate for impact
  • Resources and education for policy, practice, researchers and the public
Connect and collaborate
  • Bringing policy-makers, service providers and researchers together
  • Sustainability as an independent institute

What this involves

Create knowledge
  • Undertake high quality impartial research relating to family wellbeing
Communicate for impact
  • Disseminate findings through multiple channels to target audiences
  • Provide access to research and practice evidence
Connect and collaborate
  • Value and develop relationships with relevant organisations
  • Bring policy, practice researchers and disciplines together for cross-sector collaboration and innovation
  • Build and maintain a successful organisational culture that ensures high standards

2020 goals under each pillar

Creating knowledge
  • We are recognised as the premier research organisation investigating the factors affecting the wellbeing of children and families. 
  • Government and non-government sectors engage us to undertake research and provide advice that informs policy, practice and program development.
Communicate for impact
  • We are recognised as thought leaders in accelerating positive outcomes for families and communities. 
  • We influence national conversations about family and wellbeing.
Connect and collaborate
  • We are the leading source of accessible, timely and relevant resources to support the work of policy and practice and to inform the broader community. 
  • Our resources are used to inform national discussions about family and wellbeing.
  • We are operationally efficient and financially sustainable. 
  • We maintain a sustainable program of incoming research that enables AIFS to achieve our mission.
  • We are an organisation of choice for Australia's best social researchers.

Agency Plan 2017/18

Pillar 1: Create knowledge

  • Research and advice in the design, implementation and evaluation of policy and practice
  • Undertake high quality impartial research relating to family wellbeing

Our 2020 goals

  • We are recognised as the premier research organisation investigating the factors affecting the wellbeing of children and families.
  • Government and non-government sectors engage us to undertake research and provide advice that informs policy, practice and program development.

2017/18 objectives and actions

Implement a national strategic research agenda

  • Implement Families Framework
  • Implement Data Linkage Integration business strategy
  • Implement research roadmap

Maintain high quality research and management standards

  • Maintain content governance processes
  • Strengthen project, contract and client management capabilities

Pillar 2: Communicate for impact

  • Resources and education for policy, practice, researchers and the public
  • Disseminate findings through multiple channels to target audiences
  • Provide access to the research and practice evidence

Our 2020 goals

  • We are the leading source of accessible, timely, relevant resources to support the work of policy and practice and to inform the broader community. 
  • Our resources are used to inform national discussions about family wellbeing.

2017/18 objectives and actions

Communication platforms ensure research is discoverable and accessible

  • Undertake audience research
  • Develop content strategy for key audiences
  • Conduct website audit
  • Develop media strategy

Embed knowledge translation (KT) capability at whole-of-organisation level

  • Translate KT strategy into operational framework and processes
  • Build researchers' KT capability

Pillar 3: Collaborate & connect

  • Bringing policy-makers, service providers and researchers together
  • Value and develop relationships with relevant organisations
  • Bring policy, practice-researchers and disciplines together for cross-sector collaboration and innovation

Our 2020 goals

  • We are recognised as thought leaders in accelerating positive outcomes.
  • We influence national conversations about family well-being.

2017/18 objectives and actions

Build AIFS knowledge brokerage profile and activity

  • Develop and implement thought leadership strategy
  • Develop and implement events strategy
  • Plan 2018 AIFS Conference

Pillar 4: Activate

  • Sustainability as an independent Institute
  • Build and maintain a successful organisational culture that ensures high standards

Our 2020 goals

  • We are operationally effective and financially sustainable.
  • We maintain a sustainable pipeline of incoming research that enables us to achieve our mission.
  • We are an organisation of choice for Australia's best social researchers.

2017/18 objectives and actions

Strengthen capability, systems and practices to accurately plan, monitor and deliver our work

  • Reform processes and practices
  • Develop human resources strategy
  • Embed strategic business development function

Our capability

Knowledge translation and dissemination

We have exceptional expertise in writing for a broad range of audiences including policy-makers, researchers, practitioners, study participants and the general community. We have extensive experience in producing a variety of products ranging from complex reports and peer-reviewed articles to fact sheets, newsletters and other materials designed for a lay audience.

Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) is our information exchange and clearing house for practitioners, policy-makers, service providers and researchers working with children, families and communities. The clearing house is a primary source of quality, evidence-based information, resources and interactive support for professionals in the child, family and community welfare sectors. In addition, we host a program of seminars and webinars to give our target audiences access to the latest evidence and practice implications on a range of topics.

Research excellence

We have a proud record of producing high quality, responsive and impartial research. We have high level expertise in designing, developing, collecting and analysing complex quantitative and qualitative data from a diverse range of respondents using a variety of research methods, often adopting mixed-methods research designs.

Our research excellence is underpinned by the following capabilities:

Capacity to work with administering departments and other stakeholders

We have a strong track record in working in close cooperation with a range of administering departments, partner organisations, scientific advisory groups, fieldwork providers and study participants. We are known for our collaborative approach, capacity to maintain open and responsive communication, and delivery of solutions that meet the needs of diverse stakeholders.

Leaders in developing innovative and customised methodologies

We have a breadth of experience with innovative studies that require complex solutions, including data collections with unique populations (such as humanitarian migrants), as well as diverse data collection approaches such as online surveys, computer-assisted interviews, tablet-based surveys, and paper-based surveys.

High level sampling expertise

We have in-depth expertise in the selection of participants for new studies, or the refreshment or augmentation of samples, including the development and successful implementation of sound and complex sampling designs.

State-of-the-art instrument development

We have a highly dedicated team with world-class expertise in the development of instruments and questionnaires for use in national surveys and with diverse populations.

Demonstrated excellence in psychometric and data analytic large-scale work

We have data analysts from various backgrounds such as health science, psychology, statistics, social science and econometrics, including highly experienced experts in the analysis of large-scale and longitudinal datasets, and linked administrative datasets.

High level expertise and experience in data linkage

We are one of only three accredited Data Linkage Integrating Authorities in Australia. This means we are authorised to undertake data integration projects involving Commonwealth data for statistical and research purposes. Data linkage has been a key element of many of our longitudinal studies, and as a result we have exceptional skills in this area.

People and culture

By 2020, we are aiming to make the Institute an employer of choice for researchers and knowledge translation professionals. Our people and culture activities in 2017/18 are designed to help us reach this goal, and are focused on the following priorities to increase the engagement of our people:

  • Workforce planning - We are working to ensure we have staff with the right capabilities to meet our goals; and that they have clear pathways to progress and develop their talents. We are reviewing our recruitment practices to ensure we are sourcing and nurturing relationships with a pool of talented people so that we are better able to match candidates with roles when they become available.
  • Learning and development - Based on feedback we have received from staff, activities this year will focus on developing management capability. We will also closely link development needs identified in performance reviews with our organisation-wide learning and development program.
  • Values and culture - We are undertaking a series of activities to embed the values and behaviours staff have identified as critical to achieving our goals and desired culture. We will continue to implement priority actions identified as a result of the 2016 Employee Census, and identify the priority actions identified in the 2017 Employee Census to help promote the behaviours and culture we value.
  • Staff wellbeing - Staff wellbeing was a strong theme identified in feedback through the 2016 Employee Census. We are building on work that began last year, with initiatives placing a strong emphasis on building a mentally healthy workplace, and developing a recognition and rewards program for staff.
  • Diversity - We are focusing on refreshing our policies and action plans for workplace diversity. These include our Reconciliation Action Plan, and plans to increase Indigenous representation, representation of people with disabilities, gender equality and culturally and linguistically diverse representation in our workforce.

We expect to maintain an average staffing level of around 82 full-time equivalent employees. We offer flexible working conditions to attract high quality professional staff who value the opportunity to balance their work and caring responsibilities or other commitments. This is consistently identified by staff as one our organisational strengths. Over 45% of staff work on a part-time basis and approximately 75% of our staff are women. Around 60% of staff hold post-graduate degrees. Our work is complex and specialised, requiring a high degree of skills and qualifications.


In the coming year, we'll be making a significant investment in our future by selecting the location of new premises. After 11 years on the northern edge of Melbourne's CBD, we have commenced the substantial task of identifying a new suitable space in the CBD or city fringe. The new premises are scheduled to be secured and fitted out by late 2017, with a view to relocation by February 2018. We are seeking accommodation that:

  • provides good value for money for the Commonwealth
  • reduces our overall costs
  • locates our workforce on a single floor to promote greater collaboration between teams, and with IT and telephony that supports greater flexibility for our workforce
  • enhances our capacity to be a thought leader and a bridging organisation between the research, policy-maker and practitioner communities.

Information technology

When we shift to new premises in early 2018, we will be enhancing our capability through an IT and telephone system that provides our staff with maximum flexibility to operate anywhere within our office and beyond.

Project management

Since early 2016, we have invested in our project management and management accounting capability by introducing an operating model using activities-based costing, scheduling, monitoring and governance. This is supported by new software tools and improved business processes. A pilot program was undertaken in 2016/17 to ensure the new model was fit for purpose. In 2017/18 we will fully implement the new model, which integrates with our financial management system. As a result, we will have greater visibility of the costs of our operations, allowing us to plan our workforce and resource allocation processes with much greater confidence.

Data linkage and integration

We are one of only three accredited Data Linkage Integrating Authorities in Australia. This means we can demonstrate that we meet stringent criteria relating to project governance, data management and capability. We have experience in linking survey data to the following administrative data sets:

  • Medicare Benefits Scheme
  • Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
  • National Childhood Immunisation Register
  • National Childcare Accreditation Authority
  • National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)
  • Australian Early Development Census (AEDC)
  • MySchool
  • Income support

As a Data Linkage Integration Authority, we are actively reviewing the rapidly changing landscape that is data linkage, data sharing and exploitation of big data across the Commonwealth. Following the Productivity Commission's Inquiry into Data Availability and Use, the government is currently developing a response to its recommendations. The outcomes of these deliberations will impact the information management and technology capability that we take into the future.

Our risk oversight and management

Our governance structures are based on accountability, transparency and fairness. The Director and the Executive Team oversee our risk management, control and compliance requirements. They are supported by the Risk Assessment and Audit Committee (RAAC), which ensures effective and efficient use of public resources by reviewing the performance and operation of our internal controls and performance management systems.

The RAAC reports directly to the Director and is chaired by an external member. It meets four times a year, addressing a range of issues including approval of budgets, Portfolio Budget Statements, mid-year budget reviews, internal and external audit processes, fraud control, PGPA Act compliance reviews, and updates of our Accountable Authority Instructions and Financial Guidelines.

We also receive strategic advice in respect to our research through the Ethics Committee and a range of expert advisory groups supporting our research.

Internally, the Senior Leadership Group reviews our risk register monthly. Risk management is an integral part of our project governance. Staff undertake risk assessments for all projects and are required to report monthly on risk and mitigations.

Risk management is an ongoing and iterative process, and we will be updating our Risk Management Policy and Framework in 2017/18 as part of the project-based business model transformation activities and associated roll-out of new financial management systems and processes.

Our performance measures

Create knowledge about families and communities

No. of bodies commissioning work by AIFS20222222
No. of research projects at AIFS45474747
No. of longitudinal studies at AIFS6555

Communicate knowledge about families and communities

No. of publications disseminated
or downloaded from AIFS website
3.2 million3.2 million3.4 million3.4 million
Total media mentions of AIFS research5,0006,0006,5006,500
No. of publications released by AIFS100100100100
No. of presentations given by AIFS staff100120120120
No. of bibliographic records generated

Connect research, policy and practice

Total attendance at AIFS conferences,
seminars, webinars and forums
No. of partnerships, MOUs and
collaborations in place
No. of conferences, seminars and forums
hosted by AIFS
Government submissions781010

Activate organisational capability

Percentage of research staff with post-graduate qualifications60%65%70%70%
Reduction in operational costs5%5%SteadySteady
Percentage of clients satisfied with
AIFS' services
Percentage of stakeholders satisfied
with AIFS' services