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Going beyond the research

25 March 2021 at 8:16 am
Maggie Coggan
Evidence-based research is a critical part of creating social change. But how do you make sure that your report actually has the impact you want it to? We take a look. 

Maggie Coggan | 25 March 2021 at 8:16 am


Going beyond the research
25 March 2021 at 8:16 am

Evidence-based research is a critical part of creating social change. But how do you make sure that your report actually has the impact you want it to? We take a look. 

Each year, organisations in the for-purpose space collectively release hundreds, if not thousands of reports, white papers, and various pieces of research that outline the actions and solutions needed to drive social change. 

But, as the problems charities are working to solve become more and more complex, coming up with answers and putting them into practice are two different things. 

As Tom Hull, the Centre for Social Impact’s national social impact industry director, explains, it’s always going to be harder to implement a strategy than it is to design a strategy. 

“We live in a world now where we’ve solved most of the easy problems, but what we’re left with [are] all the really complex ones,” Hull told Pro Bono News. 

“So it’s always going to be much harder to create change than it is to create the evidence base that gives you the insight into what needs to be changed.”       

It’s also important to note that this issue is not unique to the for-purpose space – corporations and governments also come up against this issue regularly. The major difference in the NFP space however is there are less resources to go around than other sectors. 

“I think we underestimate how much time and how much money it costs to create change,” Hull said. 

So what can for-purpose organisations do to ensure a white paper or report actually creates change and not just dust on a shelf? We take a look. 

It starts with the stakeholders 

Whether it be a white paper on the social housing crisis, or a report on welfare, Hull said it was critical that organisations involve all stakeholders in the research process. 

“Impact starts whilst you’re doing the research,” he said. 

“So the voice of lived experience within the research itself is essential to ensuring that you’ve got the right coalition and right collaboration and engagement when it comes to implementing whatever the recommendations are,” he said. 

He said that acting strategically to engage with stakeholders such as government or policymakers during the research was also key to creating change. 

“What is it that you want to happen beyond the marketing or communications or publication of the research? If it’s about policy change, have you engaged with those players during the research?” Hull said.  

“The publication of the research is not the end of the journey.”

For Mission Australia’s executive for practice, evidence and impact, Marion Bennett, having a clear understanding of why people need to care about the research, and effectively communicating that, is also key to impactful research. 

“Spell out the message and the call to action. Understand who the audience is and then target them in a way that’s meaningful for them,” Bennett told Pro Bono News. 

“That might be by sending a short, sharp one paragraph summary via email, or by using infographics or personal stories.” 

The role of government 

Because the government holds the key to most large-scale change (and funding), getting them on side is a key part of change.  

But as Denis Moriarty, founder and group managing director at Our Community, explains, dropping a report on a government minister’s desk expecting immediate change, probably won’t win you any favours. 

“Government relations should not just be about talking when reports are released – it’s about talking to government continually so that at a crucial time, like a white paper release, you already have visibility and buy-in from them,” he said. 

The combination of good research and a strong relationship with government was something that worked well for Bennett. 

“We did an evaluation of a federally funded program and we knew that the agency in question was thinking about cutting that program or significantly halving it back,” Bennett told Pro Bono News.  

“Because we had that evaluation, and I was able to explain why it was important in a clear way, they not only didn’t cut the program, but they actually changed it in ways that we had recommended in our report.”

She noted however that a key way to forming a good relationship with government was a combination of a few different elements.   

“You need that track record of really strong evidence that is communicated in the right way, and you need to have the relationship so that it falls on willing ears,” she said.   

Watch out for social change burnout 

One thing to note is social campaigns are taxing, and burning yourself and your team out because you’re trying to change a whole system with one report isn’t worth it. 

Moriarty said it’s important to have ways of sharing the workload and chipping away it rather than trying to crush the problem immediately.  

Burnout is the chief enemy of change… If you don’t put plans in place very early on in a campaign to share the burden it’s almost inevitable that you’ll burn out,” he said. 

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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