AIFS Corporate Plan
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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.
We are 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. This means we are at the leading edge of the struggle to tackle complex problems like domestic and family violence, family breakdown, mental ill-health and child abuse and neglect.
Our priorities in 2019/20 include:
- implementing knowledge translation strategies at research program and project levels
- planning and implementing the AIFS 2020 Conference
- enhancing our data management strategy
- preparing for the migration of our websites' content management system
- reviewing our end-to-end recruitment strategy
- testing and refining our new performance measures.
A significant highlight for us this year was being shortlisted as a finalist in the Institute of Public Administration Australia's Public Sector Innovation Awards in the category of Culture and Capability. This was a recognition of our internal culture transformation, which saw AIFS rank in the top 10 agencies in the Australian Public Service in 2018 in the categories of staff wellbeing, engagement and innovation (APS Employee Census, 2018). These results are evidence of our responsiveness to staff concerns and our hard work in the areas of:
- management capability
- internal communication
- change management
- wellbeing initiatives.
But the highlights of this transformation were staff co-designing AIFS' Values and Behaviours, and the deeply consultative process which underpinned our relocation to smaller and more cost-effective premises. At the heart of these two pieces of work were the principles of design thinking. Through a series of creative exercises, we tapped into right-brain thinking to draw on our imagination, creativity and powers of visualisation. The products were the values and behaviours that would create a culture we needed to achieve our goals, and an office space that actively shapes the way we work and collaborate.
There is no doubt that AIFS is now a better place to work, with 81% of staff reporting they would recommend AIFS as a good place to work (up from 36% in 2016). But this is also a story of unlocking our capability so we can make progress on tackling some of Australia's biggest challenges, such as family violence, child abuse and neglect and mental ill-health. We are much more creative, collaborative and agile. By bringing this mindset into our work, we're better placed to tackle the complex social issues we address in our work every day.
To enable us to achieve our priorities, we'll continue to draw on our capabilities to experiment creatively, test new ideas and adapt to face our changing environment. I look forward to productive collaborations with our partners and stakeholders, and working with the incredibly talented and committed team at AIFS to deliver on the priorities in our plan.
Director, Australian Institute of Family Studies
Read the publication
Our purpose: We create and communicate knowledge to accelerate positive outcomes for families and communities.
Our shared values underpin our work, our interactions with each other and our interactions 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.
These values, developed by our staff, have been instrumental in transforming our culture and guiding organisational change initiatives, including engaging staff in the design and fit-out of our new premises.
As public servants, we're also committed to upholding the Australian Public Service (APS) values. At all times, we strive to be:
- committed to service
The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) is the Australian Government's key family research body and advisor on family wellbeing. Our purpose is to create and communicate knowledge to accelerate positive outcomes for families. Because when families thrive, Australia thrives.
Our research increases understanding of the factors that help or hinder the wellbeing of Australia's families. We build evidence about 'what works for families', which can be translated into action on the ground. We play a critical role in closing the gaps between research, policy and practice. Everything we do is designed for impact on policy and practice.
We are a statutory authority of the Australian Government, established under the Family Law Act 1975. We commenced operation in February 1980 and are based in Melbourne.
What we do
We undertake and publish primary research into a broad range of issues affecting Australian families. Our research involves a range of data collection and analytic methods, including quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods.
We also manage a number of major, large-scale longitudinal studies which track participants' lives through time at different ages and stages. These studies contribute to a robust evidence base to equip policy makers, researchers and stakeholders with data that help them make progress on some of Australia's most pressing issues.
We also impact policy and practice by:
- providing advice on the design and implementation of policies and services
- evaluating policies and programs (to discover what works for families)
- building the capability of policy and service-delivery agencies to design and deliver evidence-informed services for children, families and communities.
Visit our website at aifs.gov.au to explore our work, publications and events, and to discover our research agenda in more detail.
The Institute operates within the portfolio of the Department of Social Services (DSS), and is responsible to the Minister for Social Services. We conduct research across numerous Australian government departments, states and territories.
Our stakeholders include:
- the Australian Government and state, territory and local governments
- people who provide services to families and children
- policy makers
- families and community members
- partners in other countries.
AIFS acts as a bridge between the worlds of research, policy and practice, and this is reflected in the breadth of our relationships. We work in partnership with our stakeholders to provide evidence, translate knowledge and build capability to address complex social problems and contribute to the design of human-centred policy and services.
What makes us different
With almost 40 years' experience conducting high-quality, responsive and impartial research, AIFS has impeccable credentials to understand the diverse issues affecting Australian families.
We have an established reputation as a trusted and credible source of evidence and advice. We add value to commissioned research by communicating findings via synthesis pieces, fact sheets, infographics and animations describing core headline data.
We understand the challenges that policy makers and practitioners face, and we bring a real-world lens to our research. Our work is built on strong foundations of academic excellence; however we are not confined to traditional academic outputs. Our work is designed to meet the needs of end users, and ultimately to benefit families.
Research and evaluation
We undertake and publish primary research on a broad range of issues affecting Australian families. Our research involves a range of data collection and analytic methods, including quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods. Some of our major research activities include the following.
Growing up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)
This major study commenced in 2004 and follows the development of 10,000 children from all parts of Australia with two cohorts of about 5,000 families each. The B ('Baby') cohort was aged 0-1 years at Wave 1 and the K ('Kindergarten') cohort was aged 4-5 years. In 2020, these cohorts will be, respectively, 16-17 years and 20-21 years.
LSAC is Australia's first nationally representative longitudinal study of child and adolescent development. It provides valuable data about young people, their families and their wider environments, and enables researchers and policy makers to develop a comprehensive understanding of how young people develop in Australia's current social, economic and cultural environment.
The study aims to answer a number of key research questions covering a range of areas, including: health and physical development; social and emotional functioning; family circumstances and relationships; learning and cognitive development; and emerging adulthood.
As the cohorts make the transition from childhood, through adolescence and into early adulthood, this treasure trove of data will become even more valuable. The study's robust evidence will give answers to many policy questions about how we can influence early life experiences to achieve positive outcomes in adulthood.
Elder Abuse Prevalence Study
The National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study is the first large-scale effort to assess the nature of elder abuse and the extent to which it occurs among those in the Australian population aged 65 and over.
The study involves two elements. The main element will be a survey of 7,000 people aged 65 and over who live in the community (i.e. those who are not in residential aged care settings). The survey will examine experiences of elder abuse among this population, focusing on the occurrence and nature of the abuse, the characteristics of people who experience elder abuse and who commit the abuse and the impact of and response to the abuse (whether it was or was not reported, for example).
The other element of the study is a survey of 3,500 people aged 18-64 years. The purpose of this survey will be to assess knowledge of elder abuse, attitudes to older people and the extent to which participants in the survey provide assistance to older people, especially in relation to financial and decision-making matters. The survey will also examine whether participants have any elder abuse related concerns about their own friends and family aged 65 and older, whether they live in the community or residential aged care settings.
Ten to Men: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Male Health
Ten to Men is the first national longitudinal study in Australia to focus exclusively on male health and wellbeing. The study aims to fill the gaps in knowledge about male health and wellbeing across the life course. The third wave of data will be collected in 2019/20. Its findings will contribute to the development of health programs and policies that are targeted to the special health needs of men and boys. Data from Ten to Men provide a rich source of information on the social, economic, environmental and behavioural factors that contribute to health outcomes in Australian males. They can be used to identify opportunities for supporting men at key life stages to improve their health and wellbeing.
Child Care Package Evaluation
We are leading a group of organisations to independently evaluate the Australian Government's Child Care Package, which started in July 2018. The evaluation will investigate the outcomes and impacts of the package for families, services and providers. We are collecting and analysing a range of information over three years. This will include information collected from surveys of and interviews with parents, people working in the child care sector and other key stakeholders. It will also involve analyses of administrative data.
The Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRC)
AIFS operate the Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRC), which was established under the Commonwealth Gambling Measures Act 2012. The AGRC seeks to perform policy-relevant research that enhances understanding of the nature and extent of gambling participation and related harms, and advances knowledge of ways to prevent and reduce harm among at-risk populations, their families and communities.
The AGRC conducts several significant research projects each year, with the current research program exploring topics such as the relationship between sports betting and alcohol consumption among young Australians, the relationship between gambling and domestic violence against women, and how the emergence of new gambling technologies and products is changing the gambling environment in Australia.
Knowledge translation and exchange
Knowledge translation (KT) helps us to achieve our purpose: to create and communicate knowledge to bring about positive outcomes for families and communities. It is an overarching framework by which relationships, collaborations and communication channels are used to ensure that researchers are:
- asking and answering the right questions
- presenting the evidence in a way that is easy to understand and relevant to the end user.
Our approach to knowledge translation ensures that we produce work that is relevant to those working in policy and practice. Our goal is to increase the use of evidence in policy and service delivery based on a better understanding of what works for families. Major activities in this area include the following.
The National Workforce Centre on Child Mental Health
AIFS is one of four agencies delivering Emerging Minds, which aims to equip professionals with resources to identify and better support the mental health needs of children aged 0-12 years.
Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) information exchange
CFCA is a leading source of evidence-based web resources, publications and professional development for the child, family and community welfare sector. In addition to its publications, CFCA hosts a program of webinars to give our target audiences access to the latest evidence and practice implications on a range of topics. It plays a significant role in providing professional development for the sector.
We undertake data linkage and integration projects that bring together multiple datasets for statistical or research purposes. Connecting and integrating data that already exists helps research:
- make progress on some of Australia's most challenging issues
- discover new insights that lead to service and policy improvements
- lead to better decisions about funding of services
- contribute to a robust evidence base.
Everything we do is designed for policy impact. 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 (including 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.
In 2019/20, our research activities will support our research priorities. Our multidisciplinary research spans a number of cross-cutting themes underpinned by our What Works for Families Framework (see below). Key themes include:
- Life stages and transitions
- Family relationships
- Social and economic participation (including social cohesion and work and family life)
- Challenges for families (including family violence, child abuse and neglect, and the impacts of addiction on families).
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 (cont.)
Research program areas
Our researchers work across four program areas:
- Longitudinal and Lifecourse Studies (LLS)
- Family Law and Family Violence
- Family Policy and Practice
- The Knowledge Translation and Impact (KTI) Lab.
Alongside these program areas, the Institute houses the Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRC). All programs use a variety of methods and lenses to explore cross-cutting themes.
Longitudinal and Lifecourse Studies (LLS)
Following a large group of people over a long period of time is a powerful way to learn about people at different ages and stages. It provides a level of research and statistical insight not available from one-off or repeated cross-sectional studies.
The Longitudinal and Lifecourse Studies Program supports policy makers, researchers and the general public by:
- identifying patterns and pathways of development
- exploring how problems arise for some people but are avoided or resolved by others
- investigating some of Australia's most challenging issues
- discovering new insights, leading to service and policy improvements.
The Longitudinal and Lifecourse Studies program specialises in the design, implementation and management of large-scale longitudinal research projects. The team has expertise in the analysis of longitudinal data across a range of disciplines including psychology, demography, economics, epidemiology and biostatistics.
Family Policy and Practice
The Family Policy and Practice program area researches and evaluates policies and services for families and children, as well as providing capability-building supports to the child and family service sector to develop their own evidence base. The research, evaluation and capability-building activities undertaken by our multi-disciplinary team aim to:
- increase understanding of the effects of government policies and services on families
- increase the use of evidence-informed practice by governments and service providers
- help governments and service providers use appropriate evidence that will improve family wellbeing.
Family Policy and Practice uses a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods to undertake research and evaluation in the areas of family support, family violence, child care, early childhood education, work and family, child protection, service supports for current and ex-serving defence force members, and family trends and transitions.
Through the Families and Children Expert Panel Project, we also build the capability of child and family services to undertake their own evaluations and embed the use of evidence-based program development and practice in their work.
Family Law and Family Violence
Our Family Law and Family Violence program undertakes research in the areas of family law, family violence and elder abuse. The aim of this research program is to produce a rigorous evidence base that will inform the development of policy, programs and practice in these areas.
Family law has been a core focus for AIFS since its inception as part of the Family Law Act 1975. With family law reform in contemplation in the next two years, AIFS will leverage its extensive evidence base to contribute to thinking and understanding about the circumstances and needs of separated families, including a focus on children.
In the past decade, the family law research program has produced a series of reports that have had a significant influence on family law policy, including highlighting the nature, prevalence and impact of family violence among separated families. The flagship projects in this area have been extensive, mixed-method evaluations of two successive waves of family law reform: the first in 2006 and the second in 2012. These reports, as well as other AIFS research, were cited extensively in the Australian Law Reform Commission's recent report, Family Law for the Future. Additional recent projects include those focusing on the family law needs of children and young people in separated families, and the direct cross-examination of family violence victims by self-represented litigants in the family law system.
Elder abuse has been a more recent focus for this research program, starting with a report for the Attorney-General's Department on understanding the issues, legislative and policy frameworks and responses in the Australian context. Since then, AIFS has continued to receive funding from the Attorney-General's Department for a series of projects that have paved the way for an Australian Prevalence Study on elder abuse, which is being conducted between 2019 and 2021.
The Knowledge Translation and Impact (KTI) Lab
AIFS' work is underpinned by a knowledge translation (KT) approach. This bridges the gap between what we know and what we do about it, and helps us to achieve impact when we share our learnings.
Our knowledge translation is delivered through the KTI Lab. Its role is to help AIFS' research teams to create and communicate knowledge to accelerate positive outcomes for families. The Lab also delivers funded projects that build the capability of service providers and policy makers to better meet the needs of families and children.
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 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%. While AIFS secured two large contracts with longer durations (the Child Care Package Evaluation and Ten to Men: The Australian Longitudinal Study on Male Health), the market for commissioned research projects is increasingly challenging. This means we have to continue 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 wellbeing of families. Our Strategic Directions 2016-23 are shifting our emphasis to translating our research in ways that increase the likelihood of the evidence being put into practice. We are adapting our research products and resources to meet the needs of our end users, who are increasingly time-poor, overwhelmed with high volumes of information, and who need complex issues to be translated with simplicity, clarity and rigour.
Like many other Australian Public Service agencies, we are hopeful of achieving a reduction in our operational expenditure over the longer term, following our move to a shared services model for our finance, travel and payroll functions during 2018/19. 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
AIFS is uniquely located at the nexus of government and community-based service providers, researchers and policy makers. We collaborate with other organisations that have a stake in research, policy and practice that affect family wellbeing. These relationships help to build research capability and communications reach, for the benefit of families and the Australian community.
Our strategy for this reporting period to 2022/23 is focused on increasing the impact of translating our knowledge into practice. We will focus on achieving information exchange and cross-sector dialogue through forums such as roundtables, workshops and seminars. We will also enhance our collaborative relationships through a research partnership strategy.
Social and policy environment
Families are a powerful driver of social and economic health and wellbeing. 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 of family types.
To do their job well, families need the right supports at the right time. At every stage of life, or at major transitions, families face a range of issues, challenges, or external influences that shape their relationships and their social and economic participation.
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. Addressing the issues faced by families is challenging because of the fragmentation of service delivery and the multiple layers in service systems.
Following are a number of broad trends that are affecting the lives of Australian families in this reporting period; however, this list is not intended to be exhaustive. For more context, see our Families Framework.
Persistence and change in gender roles
Views about the division of labour in the care of children are becoming more progressive. Women are enjoying greater access to education and employment opportunities and are increasingly occupying leadership roles in the workplace. However, in the home, traditional gender roles for men and women persist, with little shift in the caring responsibilities taken on by men.
Household labour is often divided along gender lines, especially in relation to the care of very young children but also in relation to housework. The gender divide is most apparent at the transition to parenthood, at which time women tend to take a period of leave from work, change to part-time work, or withdraw altogether from the workforce. Men's workforce participation generally does not change at this time. Gender divisions persist even after children move through school and beyond.
The gendered nature of work and care reflects continuing social norms, which affects take-up of flexible working arrangements, as well as labour market factors such as the continuing gender pay gap and lack of access to family-friendly work arrangements in some jobs.
From a policy perspective, the gendered nature of caring means women with children may be more vulnerable when relationships end, which also has flow on effects to their retirement living standard as their superannuation contributions are often lower. Single mothers who have never married or remarried face similar challenges. As a result, we see higher rates of poverty among single women, particularly single-parent women and elderly single women, than we see for men.
An ageing population
An ageing population is a testament to the advances in health, education, employment and living standards over the last century.
On the one hand this success does present 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.
On the other hand, an ageing population is a good news story, with positives such as increased educational standards, enhanced knowledge economies, increased volunteering and caring capacity, and strengthened intergenerational bonds.
However, the benefits and challenges of our ageing population are not distributed equally. The social determinants of health and wellbeing play a large role in contributing to outcomes for older Australians. There are opportunities to respond to these challenges with policy and system reform to reduce ill-health, isolation and disability among some segments of our older population.
Interpersonal violence over the lifespan
The last decade has seen increased awareness and commitment of governments to address the complex and overlapping nature of child abuse and neglect, family and domestic violence and sexual violence. 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 outcomes for survivors, as well as facilitate the prevention of family and interpersonal violence and child abuse.
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, the trend is for greater proportions of single-person households and those without children, with childless couples on track to be Australia's most common family type by 2023. The proportion of young people remaining in (or returning to) the family home when they are aged in their 20s and 30s is also increasing.
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 wages growth, job insecurity, under-employment and increasing costs of housing affect the wellbeing of families - particularly poorer families, given continuing inequalities across the income and wealth distribution within society.
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 and the greater use of artificial intelligence 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.
It is well recognised that mental illness is a significant issue across the life course in Australia, with approximately one in five people aged between 16 and 85 experiencing a mental illness in any year. The effects on families can be significant, and high quality support and services to families and affected family members is crucial. Mental illness impacts not just the individuals affected but also the family relationships around them, including parents and children.
Poor mental health has a range of personal, social, economic, health and productivity impacts. The complex interplay of the impacts of mental illness on individuals and families means coordination of policy and services across sectors, systems, levels of government and portfolios is crucial to delivering timely and appropriate support to individuals and families. Reducing discrimination and the stigma of mental illness are also important as these are often barriers to individuals seeking support for mental health.
Since the commencement of our Strategic Directions in 2016, we have continuously strengthened our approach to strategic planning, execution, monitoring and performance reporting.
In the second quarter of 2018/19 we undertook a review of the Strategic Directions. This review built on the previous year's initiatives, specifically the development of our Families Framework, AIFS Values and Behaviours and our Governance and Management Framework.
We now begin 2019/20 with a comprehensive Strategic Planning Framework that integrates and aligns our understanding of families, our purpose, strategic goals, and operational planning and management.
Our whole-of-organisation strategic planning is driven by our:
- Families Framework, which outlines our understanding of the role of families in Australian life, and what supports them in this role
- Pathway to Impact, which articulates how our activities lead to positive outcomes for children, families and communities
- Strategic Directions, which set out our long-term goals and yearly initiatives to achieve our purpose.
Strategic planning is operationalised through the following mechanisms:
- Capability assessment and planning to ensure we have the right people, systems, processes and practices to deliver on both business-as-usual priorities and strategic initiatives
- Strategic initiatives planning to test initiatives' fit against the whole-of-organisation strategic direction and estimate their resourcing requirements
- Strategic initiatives governance to manage delivery, risks and sponsorship
- Internal monitoring and reporting on milestones and outcomes.
Three organisational frameworks underpin both strategic planning and operationalisation:
- Performance measurement and reporting, which provides the overall framework for how we determine and measure impact
- Governance and management
- AIFS' Values and Behaviours
Figure 1 demonstrates how these elements integrate into our overall strategic planning framework.
Figure 1: AIFS Strategic Planning Framework
Strategic Directions Review 2018/19
As previously outlined, in 2018/19 we reviewed our Strategic Directions. The review commenced at the mid-point of the Strategic Directions' life cycle. It involved:
- developing an explicit articulation or 'theory' of AIFS' impact pathway; that is, mapping how what we do (activity) leads to positive outcomes for children and families (impact)
- reviewing the Strategic Directions and yearly initiatives against this theory
- reviewing our performance and impact measures, specifically whether current performance measures were fit for purpose.
The key piece of work during the review was to answer the question: how does AIFS believe it makes a difference? Specifically:
- What are the pathways between our activities and positive outcomes for children, families and community?
- Who are we primarily creating and communicating research for and what benefits do they receive from it?
- How do our beneficiaries use our work and how will this lead to positive outcomes for children and families?
- What conditions and assumptions underpin the pathway to impact?
- What outcomes and impacts do we expect to see along this pathway and how can we measure them?
This process of working backwards from the overall purpose to plot out how activities link to outcomes and by what mechanisms is known as a 'theory of change'. A theory of change helps to identify not just how an activity links to an outcome but why.
AIFS' pathway to impact: Our theory of change
In the following section we described our impact pathway; that is, the connections between our activities and goals, the benefits we provide our primary beneficiaries, how these benefits transfer to our ultimate beneficiaries - children and families - and where along this pathway AIFS can be most impactful.
As outlined above, AIFS:
- conducts research to understand the issues facing families
- synthesises findings in formats that are relevant and practical
- communicates insights through one-on-one and one-to-many interactions
- connects policy makers and service providers around specific issues.
Our primary beneficiaries are:
- government and policy professionals who directly commission services or who seek our expertise, support and resources in the course of policy design, implementation and evaluation. For example, state and federal strategic policy and line agencies.
- service providers across the human and community services sectors that work directly with children and families. For example, child and family welfare services; out-of-home care; sexual assault and domestic violence services; education providers; mental health services; alcohol and drug services.
For the government and policy sector, the benefits we provide are:
- deeper insight into the nature of trends, issues, and challenges facing families; ideas, solutions and options for addressing these; and the impact of policy and service changes on families
- education and capacity building by:
- challenging current thinking and approaches; reality checking; supporting knowledge use and providing knowledge in response to questions
- enhanced quality of organisations and programs funded by government through AIFS' service capacity building
- assurance: a trusted and independent organisation to undertake complex and sensitive research.
For service providers in the human and community services sectors, the benefits we provide are:
- access to relevant knowledge: increased quality of knowledge; increased access to knowledge; connection with other organisations
- capability building: professional development; practice development; confidence in their approach; ideas for new programs
- strengthened evaluation of practice: improved standing with funders; enhanced capacity to self-evaluate.
As a result of AIFS' actions:
- Policy makers use our insights to enact systemic change via policy and resource allocation.
- Service providers use our insights to develop their people, deliver direct action, and enhance their programs and practices for better family outcomes.
- The outcome is more effective legislation, programs and practices.
- The impact is better outcomes for Australian families.
AIFS' Pathway to Impact is represented in Figure 2.
Figure 2: AIFS' Pathway to Impact
In our Portfolio Budget Statement, Outcome 1 for the Institute is: an increased understanding of factors affecting how families function by conducting research and communicating findings to policy makers, service providers and the broader community.
Our Strategic Directions were developed throughout 2015/16 and implemented in 2016/17. They provide a five-year outlook of our long-term strategic goals across the four core pillars with yearly initiatives identified to achieve these goals. Following the Strategic Directions mid-point review in 2018/19, we considered the pillars and the strategic goals to remain relevant to 2023. AIFS' four pillars and our long-term strategic goals to achieve our purpose are set out in Figure 3.
Our plan: 2019/20
There are three key areas of strategic focus for 2019/20:
1. Strengthen AIFS' ability to do impactful research and to report on our work in ways that better demonstrate our impact. To do this, we will:
a. develop and implement an AIFS Knowledge Translation and Impact (KTI) Blueprint for adaptation across the organisation
b. develop and implement KTI strategies at research program and project levels
c. deliver capacity building training to staff
d. plan and deliver the AIFS 2020 Conference.
2.Transition significant change initiatives from the previous year to business as usual - specifically:
a. transition TechOne shared finance services as the AIFS' system for project budgeting and management accounting.
3. Plan for AIFS' future capability requirements to ensure AIFS continues to create knowledge and communicate with impact. To do this we will:
a. review and refine AIFS' Recruitment strategy
b. design and implement Learning and Development program
c. develop an Implementation Strategy for the upgrade of our website's content management system
d. upgrade AIFS Data Management Strategy for future capability requirements.
Figure 4 shows how these initiatives correspond to the four pillars and AIFS' long-term goals.
Our performance measurement needs to tell a meaningful story about how well we are achieving our planned outcomes and impact. We have reviewed the way we measure and report on the Institute's performance.
We considered not only how we measured activities and outputs, but also:
- what outcomes these activities and outputs have resulted in
- how these have benefited our key stakeholders
- the impact these benefits generate for children and families.
Drawing a clear link between research and impact is challenging, particularly in the area of social policy. Improving life outcomes for children and families is a complex social and policy issue involving multiple actors; additionally, translating 'knowing' into 'doing' is a long-term endeavour involving multiple pathways.
As Figure 2 demonstrates, our ability to influence outcomes becomes more tenuous the further along the impact pathway we focus. Whether governments and services actually use our research and whether this actually results in better outcomes is largely out of our control. However, AIFS Pathway to Impact provides a hypothesis about how we can influence this, by ensuring our research and products:
- support the needs of policy and service communities
- provide answers to their research questions.
Our revised performance measurement framework aims to better identify and report on outcome and impact measures and to move beyond simple output-based metrics.
Performance measurement framework
As shown in Figure 5, our performance measurement framework uses a program logic model to link inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes and impacts against our Strategic Goals and Impact Pathway:
- Inputs are our resources, staff and assets.
- Activities are what we do on a day-to-day basis.
- Outputs are the products, resources and organisational practices produced as a consequence of these activities.
- Outcomes are the results we wish to see as a consequence of our activities and outputs, namely: our research is sought out by our stakeholders; our research is seen as relevant by our stakeholders; and our organisational capabilities support our research activities.
- Impact refers to the consequences of stakeholders seeking out and valuing our work, namely: better understanding among stakeholders of issues affecting families; improved capacity to use research; and deeper insights about what works in policy and practice to support families.
We will use quantitative and qualitative data to monitor and measure performance. Qualitative data will be drawn from stakeholder feedback and from case studies developed throughout 2019/20 as part of the strategic initiatives to strengthen our ability to undertake and report on impactful research.
Performance measures for 2019/20 to 2022/23
Performance measures for 2019/20 to 2022/23 are detailed in Figure 6. We have elected to no longer set year-on-year targets for outputs. Small increases or decreases in these output numbers are not particularly meaningful; for example, the number of projects may decrease but do not tell a story about the national significance of projects and the impact they have. However, outputs will be monitored. We will report on the previous year and the current year, and where necessary provide a narrative to explain any significant differences. For 2019/20 we anticipate similar number of outputs as 2018/19.
We have identified targets for outcome and impact measures that are meaningful to our theory of change. Increases in subscribers, webinar attendees, or downloads tell us something about AIFS' reach; increases in stakeholder access to, and use of, our research helps the development of policies and practices that support families. However, year-on-year targets should be informed by previous trend data and represent feasible stretch targets. In 2019/20 and 2020/21 we will undertake a process of baselining and establishing appropriate target increments for 2021/22 and 2022/23.
Finally, while quantitative measures are helpful to performance monitoring and evaluation, on their own, they are not sufficient to demonstrate research impact. We will commence undertaking case studies to report on outcomes and impact in 2019/20, beginning with the development of a case study methodology.
We have research capability in a broad and diverse range of issues affecting Australian families. Our multi-disciplinary teams span social science disciplines such as sociology, psychology, economics, demography, law and public health, as well as data sciences. We have experts in:
- primary research involving a range of data collection and analytic methods (quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods)
- large-scale surveys and longitudinal studies
- data linkage and integration
- data analysis and interpretation
- systematic reviews, rapid evidence assessments and literature reviews
- policy and program evaluations, including co-design and developmental evaluation
- translating knowledge and evidence for practitioners, policy makers and the general public
- building evaluation skills and capacity to improve effectiveness in the family services sector.
A key strength is our wide range of expertise across disciplines, and our ability to conduct both quantitative and qualitative research to create useful evidence to inform policy on complex social problems. Research staff biographies can be found at aifs.gov.au/people.
Our research excellence is underpinned by the following capabilities.
Capacity to work with administering departments and other stakeholders
We have a very strong track record of working in close cooperation with a range of administering departments, partner organisations, scientific advisory groups, fieldwork providers and study participants. We are renowned for our collaborative approach, capacity to maintain open and responsive communication, and delivery of solutions that meet the needs of diverse stakeholders.
Willingness to support customised methodologies
We have a breadth of experience with innovative studies which 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 work
We have data analysts from many backgrounds, including health science, psychology, statistics, social science and econometrics; we also have experts in the analysis of large-scale and longitudinal datasets, and linked or complex administrative datasets.
High-level expertise and experience in data linkage
We are one of six accredited Data Linkage Integrating Authorities in Australia. This means we are authorised to undertake data integration projects involving sensitive 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.
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, infographics, videos and other materials designed for a lay audience.
People and culture
In a few short years, we have dramatically improved our Australian Public Service (APS) Employee Census results in the areas of innovation, engagement and wellbeing. We also were honoured to be shortlisted by the IPAA Innovation Awards in the category of Culture and Capability for the transformation of our culture.
In 2019/20 we are continuing to focus on the following priorities to increase the engagement of our people. By 2022, we want to be an employer of choice for researchers and knowledge translation professionals.
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 building our capability to ensure we recruit for our culture and values, and to ensure we identify workforce needs and meet them effectively.
Learning and development
In 2019/20, the ongoing development of managerial capability will be strengthened by a coaching program. Our staff will be offered workshops focused on written communication and the development of interpersonal skills.
Values and culture
We will continue to undertake activities that embed the values and behaviours that staff have identified as critical to achieving our goals and desired culture. We will continue to implement priority actions identified from staff feedback in the 2019 APS Employee Census and ongoing feedback.
Staff wellbeing initiatives continue to be a strong focus of our work. In 2019/20 we will increase capability in the management of mental health and rehabilitation, and the promotion of preventative health strategies.
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. In this coming year we have a particular focus on improving the capability of our managers to recruit and lead people with disabilities 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 wish to balance their work and caring responsibilities or other commitments. This is consistently identified by staff as one of our organisational strengths. Over 38% of staff work on a part-time basis and over 78% of our staff are women. Just over 64% of staff hold post-graduate degrees, which reflects the fact that our work is complex and specialised, requiring highly developed skills and qualifications.
In 2018/19, we completed the fit-out of our new premises at Southbank by making a significant investment in our AV equipment, allowing greater interactivity of presentations in meeting rooms, including video conferencing capability.
Early in 2019/20 we are installing an additional six desks (increasing total capacity to 104 work stations) to accommodate the significant increase in our staff numbers over the past year, which saw the original fit-out nearing capacity. These changes will help us to continue to realise greater value for money, cost reductions and improved internal culture.
The new office space has resulted in these operational improvements:
- annual leasing cost reduction of 21.5%
- no Comcare claims in the last 12 months
- staff satisfaction, including in 2018/19, 81% of staff recommending AIFS as a good place to work, up from 36% in 2016.
Project management and business processes
Competing priorities in 2018/19 have meant that determining the best approach for improving project management within the Institute has not had the focus it needed. However we are looking into a simplified and more pragmatic approach to this issue and in 2019/20 we are planning to implement a fit-for-purpose project management solution for the Institute.
Information management and technology
In 2018/19 we significantly invested in our information management and technology (IMT) capability through the recruitment of a new IMT Manager and an expansion of the team to accommodate both strategic and operational priorities. In 2019/20 we will capitalise on this investment with the implementation of a new three-year IMT Strategic Plan that will operate until June 2022.
The Plan has identified 27 initiatives: eight organisation-wide strategic initiatives; 11 operational initiatives that will improve the delivery of IMT core functions; and eight improvement initiatives that are required to either upgrade, maintain or replace present IMT infrastructure, systems and services. Three of the strategic initiatives have been prioritised for progress in 2019/20 and are identified under Pillar 4 activities. The operational and improvement initiatives are to be rolled out over the three-year life of the Strategic Plan.
Data linkage and integration
As one of six Data Integrating Authorities across the Commonwealth, AIFS is engaging intensively with the proposed data sharing and release framework that is being guided by the new Office of the National Data Commissioner. In 2019/20, our goal is to become both an Accredited User of data and an Accredited Data Service Provider (through which our integrating and other data management services will be offered) once the framework is in place, anticipated to be sometime in the first half of 2020.
The Institute has prioritised an enhancement of our data management strategy in 2019/20. The strategy will address three broad areas: data management policies in the new environment; metadata management of our data holdings; and the management of the research data life cycle, which includes best-practice administrative processes. We are also focusing on augmenting our infrastructure for the long-term storage and protection of all our data holdings.
Our governance structures are based on accountability, transparency and fairness. The Director and the Executive Team oversee our risk management, information and privacy management, and 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 internal budgets, Portfolio Budget Statements, mid-year budget reviews, internal and external audit processes, fraud control, risk register and risk profile, PGPA Act compliance reviews, and updates of our Accountable Authority Instructions. From 2018/19, the RAAC has also had oversight of the Agency's privacy management plan.
We also receive strategic advice on our research through the Ethics Committee and a range of expert advisory groups.
Internally, the Senior Leadership Group reviews our risk register and privacy management plan every four to six weeks. Risk management is an integral part of our project governance. Project managers undertake risk assessments for all projects and are required to report regularly on risk and mitigations. They also develop privacy impact assessments on all projects with high privacy risks. Our Information Governance Committee meets quarterly and has responsibility for the management of our information and data holdings, as well as privacy compliance obligations and the privacy management plan. Our first privacy management plan was introduced in July 2018.
Risk management is an ongoing and iterative process. An updated Risk Management Framework and associated policy will be finalised in the 2019/20 financial year as part of the implementation of new financial management systems and processes
See Table 1 for an outline of AIFS' Governance and Management Framework.
EXTERNAL STANDARDS, REGULATIONS AND GUIDELINES
AIFS GOVERNANCE AND MANAGEMENT FUNCTIONS
INTERNAL GUIDING FRAMEWORKS
INTERNAL POLICIES AND GUIDELINES
This AIFS book explore some of the complexities of the child and family issues facing those working in social policy and legal systems
This publication tells the story of the Australian Temperament Project, a longitudinal study of Australian children born in Victoria 1982-83
This book draws together key facts and figures about family formation and change, drawing on information and analysis from a wide variety of source
Using data from the HILDA survey, this article provides estimates on the impact of divorce on wellbeing for older Australians aged 55-74 years