Funding Data Needed to Address Social Problems
5 June 2012 at 5:59 pm
The lack of baseline data and evidence to back up the benefits of funding programs to address entrenched social problems is one of four major challenges facing place based initiatives, according to a government official.
Speaking at the Building Partnerships between Government and Not-for-Profits conference in Canberra, Paul Ronalds, the first assistant secretary of the Office and Work and Family within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, said data and the importance of evaluation measurement were crucial to getting funding and other support for most programs.
He said that while Governments have to recognise that the collection of baseline data is a core cost of initiatives and should be built into a project cost, it was up to those seeking the funding to push for it.
“I would encourage not for profits who are thinking about being engaged in a place based program to make sure the cost of collecting strong and robust baseline data is built into the cost and you argue for that very very hard,” he said.
Ronalds also said it was important to make sure that there is a common agreement about the few things that the community will work on collectively in the data collection phase.
Making sure the right data was collected was more important than the volume of data collected, he said.
“What the social change is should be high on the priority list and that should only be three or four issues. You might a couple of different data tools for those issues rather than reams of data,” he said.
Place based initiatives were defined as those initiatives deployed to address complex and multifaceted issues where that universal policy had generally failed.
The three features of a placed based initiatives are: they are tailored to their local community; they use evolved and flexible government mechanisms and they engage the community in decision making so they become the active agents of the social change.
Ronalds said other ongoing challenges for place based initiatives were the high establishment costs compared to most systems and political pressure.
“There are high up front costs and unless you can show the results you won’t get the investment,” he said.
Ronalds said place based initiatives also required patient politicians who understood the more collaborative approach to social change.
“It is a feature of our political system that politicians like to go to communities to make announcements, coupled with turning over sods of dirt and those sorts of things. Yet we know a lot of placed based initiatives, to be successful, there is a lot of very quiet, detailed work with the community to establish a framework and the objectives to get everyone on side,” said Ronalds.
“That is not very conducive to government announcements and so it requires very patient politicians to really understand this approach,” he said.
Ronalds said the fourth challenge for place based initiatives was to overcome the “siloed approach by government and not for profits”.
“We collectively still fail to be sufficiently collaborative,” said Ronalds.
Ronalds said that without investment in these challenges some of the most enthrechched social problems that our communities face would not be solved.