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Informing your community

BY AMY LAWTON, SOCIAL RESEARCH AND INFORMATION OFFICER, WESTIR LTD

 

WESTIR Limited attended a short course over two evenings called ‘Statistics for Non-Statisticians’ in August and September 2018. The course was held at the University of Sydney’s Centre of Continuing Education. The course, which was facilitated by John Le Mesurier, aimed to refresh the skills of participants in statistical terminology and interpreting data through applying tests of statistical significance, interpreting p-values, determining confidence intervals, and considering Bayesian methodology. More information about this specific course can be found here.

 

Some takeaway points from the two-night course include:

  • Statistics are a way of dealing with samples. The aim of statistics is to determine whether the characteristics of a sample comes from an underlying known population.
  • We test using the Central Limit Theorem based on means and standard deviations. The Central Limit Theorem states that is you select samples greater than 30 from any population, the sample means will be normally distributed.
  • You use a z-test when the population that you are sampling is greater than 120. For populations less than 120, you use a t-test.
  • Non-parametric statistical testing is used when there is no underlying assumption that the distribution is normal. The most sensitive testing is parametric testing (which uses the Central Limit Theorem) but non-parametric testing can be used to study phenomenon like patterns. Some examples of non-parametric testing are ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) and chi-square tests.
  • Many disciplines are now also recommending researchers shift from the reliance on Null Hypothesis Significance to other techniques such as confidence intervals. Confidence intervals are useful because they quantify the size of effects or differences.
  • Bayesian statistics is emerging to challenge classical statistics and explores how the data can reduce uncertainty.
  • Correlation and regression can also be used for determining the impact of independent variables on a dependent variable. Please remember that correlation does not equal causation.

 

The University of Sydney’s Centre for Continuing Education offers a range of courses on a variety of topics for those that are interested. More information can be found at their website: www.cce.sydney.edu.au

BY JAWED GEBRAEL, SOCIAL RESEARCH AND INFORMATION OFFICER, WESTIR LTD

 

The Local Community Services Association (LCSA) held its annual conference on at the Waterview Conference Centre in Bicentennial Park, Sydney. The conference took place over two days on 3-4 September 2018 with a series of workshops on 5 September in locations around the city.

The event brought together speakers from across the community sector, from local community organisations, academia and government addressing themes around sound governance and community leadership, building resilience in hard times, self-determination, and early intervention strategies to build strong communities.

The proceedings were MC’ed by renowned Australian journalist Steve Cannane and Uncle Lexodius Dadd, a Senior Darug man from the Cannemegal clan of the Sydney area, provided the Welcome to Country. LCSA Chairperson Margaret Tipper also provided a warm welcome to the conference and emphasised LCSA’s objective to be a voice for local community organisations who do a wonderful job servicing their local community members. The LCSA conference was held in collaboration with FACS, HESTA and Cumberland City Council.

 

DAY ONE OF THE CONFERENCE

 

KEYNOTE SPEAKER ONE: INEQUALITY IN AUSTRALIA, CASSANDRA GOLDIE, ACOSS CEO

Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), provided an impassioned speech addressing inequality in modern-day Australia. Goldie discussed a range of confronting findings on inequality revealed in ACOSS’ most recent report Inequality in Australia 2018. Among other sobering figures, the report reveals that the top 1% of the population earn as much in a fortnight as the lowest 5% earn in a year and that 3 million Australians are living below the poverty, placing the country at 2nd highest among OECD countries, behind the United States. She does see hope in advocating for greater income inequality based on global economic trends that show that increasing inequality adversely impacts on economic growth. ACOSS continues to advocate for increases to the wages of the bottom 20% of Australians to help arrest income inequality. She encouraged local community groups and organisations to raise awareness of the issues their local communities are facing as they see firsthand the challenges that community members face.

 

KEYNOTE SPEAKER TWO, VIOLET ROUMELIOTIS, SETTLEMENT SERVICES INTERNATIONAL CEO

Violet Roumeliotis, CEO of Settlement Services International (SSI) highlighted the changing landscape of the community which is increasing in diversity and the importance of valuing this diversity. This extended beyond the community sector as she trumpeted the benefits of collaborating with the commercial sector. She emphasised the importance of keeping an open mind when collaborating with organisations outside the community sector but that such partnerships work best where there is a mutual benefit and a shared set of values and close connections within leadership and “champions” within collaborating organisations. Without these elements such partnerships are unlikely to succeed.

 

SHARING THE BENEFITS OF GROWTH FOR ALL, DAVID MOUTOU AND MEGAN WHITTAKER, PARRAMATTA CITY COUNCIL

David Moutou and Megan Whittaker from Parramatta City Council presented the council’s vision for a “Socially Sustainable” Parramatta where social sustainability is prioritised alongside environmental and economic sustainability. They touched on the demographic profile, namely its significant population growth (increasing by 32,000 between 2011 and 2016), high level of diversity (50% born overseas) and relatively young population (median age of 34). They discussed the development of Social Sustainable Parramatta Framework, a framework developed with the guidance of local experts, and extensive engagement with the local community. They provided some practical advice for community members and organisations on how to effectively engage with local government such as Parramatta Council – namely to be a “critical friend” (i.e. provide suggestions in a congenial manner), to approach with a sense of a shared purpose, and give voice to those you are representing.

 

CONCURRENT SESSIONS

The remainder of the day involved delving into a range of topics. WESTIR Limited attended a session called ‘Community development’s response to right wing nativist populism’ by Peter Westoby, Associate Professor of Social Science and Community Development in the School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology. An expert panel discussing the use of evidence-based approaches and programs in the Targeted Earlier Intervention (TEI) Program was also attended.

 

DAY TWO OF THE CONFERENCE

 

KEYNOTE SPEAKER ONE:’SO LONG AND THANKS FOR THE FISH’ – A PARTICIPATORY DEVELOPMENT TRADITION – WHAT DOES IT OFFER LOCAL PLACE-BASED PRACTICE, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR PETER WESTOBY

Associate Professor Peter Westoby provided an informative keynote on the participatory tradition of development practice. Drawing on his recently published, co-authored book Participatory Development Practice, he outlined participatory development model as it operates at multiple levels – from the micro, mezzo, macro and meta levels of community development. While these models operate at different scales what remains important across all of them is the value placed on engagement with community members in genuine dialogue and participation in the development process that takes in their knowledge, expertise, and understanding of place. The common problem with community sector is the tendency to ask “how can we help?” While this is a valid question to ask it is limited in scope and not a true reflection of participatory development. He closed with an important message for all attendees to take way. He argued that the primary weakness of community development is research and implored attendees to engage in regular reflection on their practice and purpose if they are to be effective community services.

 

KEYNOTE SPEAKER TWO: LEADERSHIP IN COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT, PAUL SCHMITZ

The conference concluded with a presentation from visiting US speaker Paul Schmitz on leadership in community development, CEO of the not-for-profit Leading Inside Out and former social innovation adviser to the Obama White House. His key message was that everyone has the potential to lead, they just need to build their “leadership muscle”. He also outlined various strategies for instigating system change whether that be altering prevailing narratives, shifting power dynamics between stakeholders, altering rules and practices or simply tapping into effective relationships and connections between unlikely powerbrokers to instigate change. As illustrated over the two days, effective change involved participation of local community members who acted as leaders in their own way.

 

CONCURRENT SESSIONS

WESTIR Limited also attended sessions about the Waterloo community’s response to the NSW Government’s plan for redevelopment of the Waterloo public housing estate, an expert panel on the value of community resilience in times of adversity, a personal speech from a FACS worker of the value of community to him, and a Q&A session with MC Steve Cannane regarding the state of democracy in Europe.

BY JAWED GEBRAEL, SOCIAL RESEARCH AND INFORMATION OFFICER, WESTIR LTD


A series of masterclasses were held in conjunction with the LCSA Connecting Communities Conference in September 2018. WESTIR Limited attended the masterclass Communities Leading Change, hosted by Collaboration for Impact and run by US speaker Paul Schmitz, CEO of the not-for-profit Leading Inside Out and former social innovation adviser to the Obama White House. The workshop focused on the importance of community engagement as a vehicle for instigating change. Community engagement is about ensuring that those most impacted by social change are involved in making decisions about their lives, and evidence shows that participation of intended beneficiaries and their networks can be critical to collaborations achieving impact.

It was a highly engaging and stimulating workshop with thoughtful activities encouraging participants to reflects on effective community engagement, (and not-so effective community engagement!). With his years of experience Paul Schmitz provided plenty of practical guidance around community engagement, leadership and pertinent case studies illustrating the effectiveness of community development at the grassroots level.

It is important for workers, and organisations as a whole, to reflect on their level of engagement with the community, which can be identified through a simple continuum: from Informing (lowest level of engagement) to Consultation, Collaboration through to Empowerment (highest level of engagement). Although Empowerment involves the greatest degree of community engagement, community organisations need to remain authentic wherever they sit. To ensure integrity organisations must focus on fulfilling promises, never over-promise and to constantly ask “How does our work tie in with our desired outcomes?”

He outlined four important elements of community engagement:

  • That everyone has the potential to lead
  • It is action that anyone can take
  • It is an act of responsibility to take
  • It involves practising values that engage commitment from others

The workshop explored four types of leaders – the Visionaries, The Mobilisers, The Analysts and The Nurturers. This was an insightful, fresh approach to leadership, providing scope for anyone to adopt a leadership role or style that brings out their unique skills, expertise and attributes. It is a model that broadens the conception of leadership beyond the predominant archetype of the assertive, charismatic and forceful individual. To illustrate this approach to leadership he presented a fascinating tale about the Montgomery Bus Boycotts in the US in the 1950s, a social and political movement against segregation on public transport in Alabama. The story succinctly illustrated that there is never just one leader in a social or political movement and it takes several types of leaders to drive social change.

He presented the Water of Systems Change model, an instructive framework for community sector organisations looking to enact change at various levels, whether that be in policy, power dynamics or shifting prevailing narratives in society.

Community sector workers were encouraged to shift away from a pure deficit model focusing on client needs and limitation, by adopting a more asset-based approach focusing on client strengths and value.

Paul highlighted the importance of diversity in community engagement among entities such as boards, committees, and organisations, where key decisions are made that shape community engagement and have direct impact on the community. The “Ladder of Inference”, a model outlining the steps we typically take when making assumptions about people or groups was used to highlight that people with similar experiences tend to make similar inferences and, as a result, make similar decisions. He provided a simple and practical tool to assess “who is at your table”, allowing groups to gauge the level of diversity, equity and inclusion of community members in their decision-making process. However, while diversity is valued appropriate, capacity building initiatives should be implemented when needed.

The workshop concluded with some important tips to take away with us: to be purposeful, to be asset-based, to put equity at the centre of our work, and strive towards building local capacity. Just as important to keep in mind when community engagement efforts do not succeed is to revisit your core purpose; that people will resist change, so it is important to persevere; and to focus on the positives even when actions do no go to plan. Whatever approach community sector workers take it is vital that they engage with community members. Without this engagement with the community it simply will not work.

 

BY JAWED GEBRAEL, SOCIAL RESEARCH AND INFORMATION OFFICER, WESTIR LTD

 

WESTIR Limited attended the Australasian Evaluation Society’s (AES) seminar called NGOs and Evaluation on a Shoestring in August 2018. Organised by the NSW Regional Network Committee of the AES and hosted by the Australian Human Rights Commission, the seminar invited speakers from Hepatitis NSW, specifically CEO Stuart Loveday and Programs Manager for Education and Community Support Sandra Davidson, to share the organisation’s approach to undertaking evaluation within a tight budget.

Stuart provided a rundown of the operational costs involved in the organisation’s work. There are particular costs, such as Quality Improvement Council accreditation for example, that cannot be avoided. Hepatitis NSW has a strong culture of evaluation and quality improvement, some of which involves external auditing of its operations and activities.

Sandy Davidson elaborated on the services provided by Hepatitis NSW and the evaluation practices it engages in and how they are conducted in a cost-effective manner. For Hepatitis NSW this involved conducting surveys and facilitating client-led feedback on the organisation’s services. Surveys were led by staff, with the assistance of volunteers, who assisted with survey administration and responsible for data entry. Involving volunteers and clients is a highly effective strategy for minimising the costs involved in evaluating an organisation’s activities.

An engaging group discussion closed off proceedings, with attendees from a variety of organisations exchanging questions and providing their own advice on ‘shoestring’ evaluation. What emerged from the discussion was that the key to effective evaluation, especially when cost is a primary factor, is identifying what you want to measure and tailoring the review process accordingly. Time and resources can easily be wasted if the evaluation process and tools, such as surveys, do not focus on the questions the organisation really want to ask.

BY AMY LAWTON, SOCIAL RESEARCH AND INFORMATION OFFICER, WESTIR LTD

 

WESTIR Limited attended the Heading Home Evaluation Report Launch at the Springwood Theatre and Community Hub during Homelessness Week in August 2018. The Heading Home Project, led by Wentworth Community Housing (WCH), is a collaboration of community organisations, businesses and individuals who are working towards ending homelessness in the Hawkesbury, Blue Mountains and Nepean Communities.

The Heading Home Evaluation Report, which was conducted by independent consultant Carolyn Quinn, evaluates the project which began in 2016. This is the second report produced on the Heading Home Project, with an introductory report conducted by Judy Spencer in December 2017.

The launch began with an introduction and welcome from Master of Ceremonies, Melissa Grah-McIntosh from WCH. Melissa outlined some of the myths about homelessness, including the belief that people who are homeless choose to be homeless. A Welcome to Country was also presented by Rhiannon Wright, followed by an address by Stephen McIntyre, who is the Chief Executive Officer of WCH. Stephen spoke about the unique position that WCH plays in providing both social and affordable housing and specialist homelessness services for parts of Western Sydney. He highlighted the rising rates of homelessness and housing unaffordability, and the need for projects like Heading Home in harnessing community input to address these wicked problems.

An overview of the Heading Home Evaluation Report was provided by Carolyn Quinn. The aim of the report was to engage and mobilise cross-sector players to collectively lead, develop and implement the project; identify and profile people experiencing homelessness in local communities; increase local knowledge about homelessness; use a Housing First approach to respond to housing and other needs identified; and build community will and support for developing housing solutions to end local homelessness. The report found that the Heading Home project successfully identified people experiencing homelessness, particularly many who had not been previously identified. It also increased awareness in local communities beyond the homelessness service system and engaged new players across government, business and media in contributing to place-based solutions. It also resulted in the housing of 26 individuals and 9 families, with most remaining housed six months later, and many reporting significant improvements to personal wellbeing after being housed.  

The overview of the evaluation report was followed by an address from Susan Templeman MP, Federal Member for Macquarie. Susan congratulated WCH on the evaluation process which is crucial to instilling best practice across all stakeholders. She also spoke about the challenges of the region, including the rise of homelessness among older women, and the need to invest in collaborative solutions, affordable housing supply and supportive social infrastructure. The report was then officially launched by Trish Doyle MP, State Member for the Blue Mountains. Trish spoke about her personal experiences of growing up in domestic violence and experiencing homelessness and the need to shift the cultural attitudes towards homelessness in the public sphere. A couple of videos were also shown at the launch, covering the story of Lisa, a former client of WCH, and WCH’s upcoming Garden Flat Expo which will be happening in November 2018.

If you are interested in learning more about the Heading Home Project and its reports, please contact Wentworth Community Housing on (02) 4777 8000.

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