Social protection the first priority for economic policy

"austerity" via badsci on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)As speculation mounts about the possibility of an early budget announcement–and with it, a potential early Federal Election–debates about the Government’s social and economic priorities have intensified. In this post by Dr Veronica Sheen, we take a look at the importance of social protection and the example of how the Greek economy responded to austerity measures.

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What is open data & what it can do for you: personally, professionally, politically

open data courseRosie Williams (@Info_Aus), who runs the OpenAus project in financial and political transparency, has developed a short (free) introductory course for people who are unfamiliar with open data as a concept and with the open data eco-system. She explains below.


If you are a follower of my work you are likely to be aware of my concerns regarding the level of engagement of various sectors in drafting Australia’s first Open Government Partnership National Action Plan.

I am not the first person to complain about the lack of media attention given to the OGP process. After years of inaction by the government, the sudden signing and launch into public consultation at the end of 2015 has left a lot of people scrabbling to figure out how to contribute and what it all means to them.

While the government launched the OGPau website and funded four information sessions in December, for an initiative supported by the Prime Minister and entire Cabinet this has been a particularly low key start to what should be substantial national engagement activity. (OGP submission)

Sydney-based charity, The Open Australia Foundation, hosted engagement coordinator Amelia Loye to present a rundown of the new engagement strategy at their February Meetup and subsequently posted this advice on how to make an OGP Commitment.

After last airing my frustration with the lack of diversity of input into the National Action Plan, I subsequently realised that a couple of blog posts was not enough support to provide to busy people to enable them to contribute. I realised that a proper set of resources was required if people were realistically expected to play any role in the Open Government Partnership – as is their democratic right.

The result of this  musing is Australia’s first ever open data mooc. A mooc is an online course that can have large numbers of participants. I decided on this format as it allows people to join whenever they want and take as long as they want to cover the material.

The content in Introduction to Open Data explains open data explains where to find open data, what it can do for you personally, professionally and politically. This is where the Open Government Partnership comes in. One of the modules in this short course asks participants to contribute to a crowd-sourced list of data-sets that various communities or individuals would like to see opened for re-use.

Creating a list of data-sets that is contributed to by a diversity of interests provides a concrete goal that the National Action Plan can be held accountable for. A key aspect of the National Action Plan is that it requires agencies to come on board and help deliver the Commitments that come out of the consultation (on now) and provides community oversight of the implementation of these Commitments which is reported back to the OGP.

The course is aimed at the general public, people who may never have heard the term open data or who are unsure how the Open Government Partnership can help their interests or organisation. With the exception of the crowd-sourced list of data-sets, the rest of the content provides the background to understand what open data is and its relationship to better policy, better democracy and better lives.

This short course should take a few hours all up which you can do at your leisure. All challenges are voluntary with most submissions shared with other participants so people can learn from one another in a mutually supportive environment. An example of the kind of content the course contains is the following videos which provide a good overview of the important role that can be played by open data and also some of the issues still to be overcome if the potential of open data is to be had.

This article was originally published at OpenAus and is cross-posted here with permission. Read the original article.

Words matter: deconstructing ‘welfare dependency’ in the UK

As we head towards the next Federal Budget and Federal Election, this post below from the London School of Economics and Political Science blog (@LSEpoliticsblog) provides a timely challenge to the term ‘welfare dependency’. Paul Michael Garrett’s post is focused on the United Kingdom but has much to offer the Australian context amid comments like ‘the poor don’t drive cars‘ from the former Treasurer Joe Hockey.


Should the dominant narratives of politicians such as (UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) Ian Duncan Smith influence our perceptions about the ‘poor’? Have ideologically underpinned debates portraying those on welfare as being lazy and having an easy life become part of collective public perceptions? With 2016 marking the 40th anniversary of the publication of Raymond Williams’ Keywords, an interrogation of the taken-for-grantedness of specific words, Paul Michael Garrett demonstrates how there is a pressing scholarly and political need to question and interrogate focal words and phrases within the neoliberal lexicon. Here, he looks at ‘welfare dependency’.

In the 1990s and into the first quarter of 21st century, a number of Williams’ keywords have had their meanings re-worked and used in the ‘war of position’ waged in particular by the political Right to win consent for its often retrogressive, yet invariably ‘modernising’ and ‘reforming’ policies. The coupling of welfare with dependency provides a good illustration of the shifts taking place, given that recourse to income support was not always marinated in stigma and discursively wedded to notions of dependency and deficiency.

‘Welfare dependency’ circulates around the focal assumption that people are stuck in the quagmire of dependency because of personal deficits and shortcomings. For example, the individuals represented in the dominant narrative of figures such as Ian Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions remain hazy, falling short of definition as authentic human beings; their entire lives are structured and (ill) organised according to the things they lack – agency, aspiration and a capacity to meaningfully care for those around them.

My recent article illuminates the role played by neoliberalism’s ‘organic intellectuals’ with academic ‘expertise’ playing a pivotal role in defining and amplifying politically and socially retrogressive ideas on ‘welfare dependency’. Significant here are US academics, including Charles Murray with his ‘underclass’ construct. Perhaps less well-known, the US-based Lawrence Mead also endeavoured to intervene in welfare politics in the UK and elsewhere in Europe to shape debates. Although the US is his prime focus, Mead’s analysis in The Politics of Poverty (1992) encompasses a broad geopolitical framework. He contextualised his perspective on welfare by noting that the ‘age of proletarian politics’ was passing and with it the ‘myth of the left, largely derived from Europe, [which] sees working class solidarity leading to democracy and then an ambitious welfare state’.

Despite this global and post-‘cold-war’ dimension being afforded little attention in most Left critiques of the evolution of ‘welfare politics’, it remains significant. Although the neoliberal agenda was discernible before the 1990s, it is post-1989, with the fall of the USSR, that it became more emboldened and strident. Against this backdrop, Mead’s triumphalist discourse reflects the hegemonic politics of the ‘new world order’ confidently spanning the presidential term of George H W Bush.

Nevertheless, Mead’s coolly scornful and patronising pronouncements betray a whiff of unease about what Foucault termed ‘revolts of conduct’. The spectre haunting his book is the Los Angeles riots. In the year Mead’s book was published the riots were sparked by the beating of Rodney King and the subsequent acquittal of the police officers who had been filmed committing the act. The largest uprising to occur in the USA since the 1960s, the riots were initiated by those residents of South Central LA whom Mead had deemed to be too ‘passive’ and indolent to rebel or constitute any serious threat to social stability.

Mead’s ideas on benefit conditionality echoed and amplified the ideas of behavioural economists Nichols and Zeckhauser who argued that cash assistance should only be available to the poor in a context of arduous ‘restrictions on the choices made by intended beneficiaries’. According to these influential Harvard-based Reaganite scholars, ‘ordeals’ had to become more structurally embedded in welfare benefit systems and should not simply function as unfortunate and regrettable side-effects. This understanding might also inform the perceptions of those in the UK who have protested about the harsh impact of the ‘work capability’ assessments. The fact that many claimants are confused, distressed and humiliated is not an accidental by-product of such assessments or indicative of a fixable malfunction. Rather, the inconveniences caused to claimants, some immensely serious, even catastrophically fatal, are evidence that the system, purposefully laden with ‘ordeals’, is actually working.

Clearly, dependency discourses in the UK aiming to discipline, punish and shame the welfare dependent also have domestic lineages not simply imported from the US. Tony Blair was the prime definer of New Labour’s politics of welfare and in this capacity he functioned as the transmission belt for ideas, partly originating with American New Right think-tanks and foundations, to be carried across the Atlantic. As part of the Brown administration, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, James Purnell, similarly played a brief, but not insignificant role. Attentive to the semantics of politics, he observed that not ‘long ago’ his ‘predecessors were called the Secretary of State for Social Security’. For Purnell and his government, ‘security’ was ‘something handed down’, whereas the ‘new title…tells a wholly different story’.

In 2013, a report from the Baptist Union of Great Britain and a coalition of churches succinctly rebutted some of the main assertions promoted by the mainstream parties and shared by a seemingly ill-informed public. For the churches, public perceptions crystallised into six embedded and related myths rooted about the ‘poor’. Thus, ‘they’ are:

  • lazy and don’t want to work;
  • addicted to drink and drugs;
  • not really poor, but simply are incompetent in managing their money;
  • on ‘the fiddle’;
  • have an easy life;
  • prompted the ‘deficit’ which was causing the ‘austerity’ measures impacting on everyone.

Clearly, there is a pressing scholarly – and political – imperative to question and interrogate focal words and phrases within the neoliberal lexicon. By not questioning the ‘welfare dependency’ construct we risk solidifying dominant conceptualisations and retrogressive politics. In short, as the 40th anniversary of Keywords reminds us, we need to continue to expose and unravel the deeply ideological underpinnings of ‘welfare dependency’ talk.


Paul-Michael-GarrettPaul Michael Garrett is located at NUI Galway, in the Republic of Ireland. For several years he has been a member of the editorial collective of Critical Social Policy.  His Social Work and Social Theory (Policy Press, 2013) was published in Chinese translation in February 2016. Paul also wrote three books mapping facets of social work and social policy during the period of New Labour: Remaking Social Work with Children and Families (Routledge, 2003); Social Work with Irish Children and Families in Britain (Policy Press, 2004); ‘Transforming’ Children’s Services? Social Work, Neoliberalism and the ‘Modern’ World (Open University/McGraw Hill, 2009).

(Feature imaged credit: Steve Punter CC BY 2.0)

See the original article here.

The price of medical miracles in hospitals: time for culture change

Amid continuing talk of burgeoning health costs, particularly in the lead-up to the 2016 Federal Budget, Dr Lesley Russell says it is time to look at the impact of extended hospitalisation, on patients, carers and the health system. She warns we should not be so consumed with technological and surgical wonders that we miss their adverse impacts on the very patients whose lives they save.

The answer, she says, lies not in  ‘quicker and sicker’ discharge of patients but on patient-centred care, improved links with community-based health and social services, and changes in culture from governments, bureaucrats, clinicians and patients.


Dr Lesley Russell writes:

The medical miracles that today’s hospitals can deliver for patients with life-threatening illnesses and injuries often exact a huge price. There are the known and expected financial costs, but there are also long-term, often life-altering, physical, cognitive and mental impairments for the patients who survive their acute episode.

These are more likely the longer a patient is in hospital and most commonly associated with intensive care episodes, especially for patients who undergo mechanical ventilation. They are under-recognised and under-diagnosed, leaving patients, their families and often their doctors struggling to understand and address the issues that subsequently arise.

These are more likely the longer a patient is in hospital and most commonly associated with intensive care episodes.

Extended hospitalisation can lead to significant deterioration of physical and mental functions, especially in the elderly, but even in children. In Australia some 150,000 patients (adults and children) are admitted to Intensive Care Units every year and most of these patients (some 75 per cent) are discharged home. Many more patients have significant hospital stays. For such patients, their successful recovery needs to focus on more than the illness or injury that precipitated their hospitalisation.

Lying in bed and immobilisation can have considerable effects on nearly every organ system in the body and it is estimated that there is a 10 per cent loss in muscle strength for every week of bed rest. This can mean the difference between dependence and independence for an older patient and slow rehabilitation for younger patients.

Efforts are routinely made to get and keep patients mobile, but these rely on busy nursing staff and allied health professionals having time to do this. One study estimated that the average hospital patient walks for only 43 minutes a day.

On discharge, patients are also often sleep deprived, poorly nourished, in pain and discomfort, and facing stressful and mentally challenging situations. Patients who have been in intensive care face a profusion of problems, including impaired pulmonary function, difficulty swallowing and mental health disorders that can mimic post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Patients need referral services and medical follow-up for these problems as well as for the condition that first brought them to hospital. Malnutrition can affect recovery and wound healing and reduced stamina and co-ordination increases the risk of falls and makes it harder to resume activities of daily living.

One problem that too often goes unnoticed and untreated is hospital-acquired delirium. This is a common and dangerous condition which typically lasts anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks but can even last months. It is caused by a combination of numerous factors, including surgery, infection, isolation, dehydration, poor nutrition and medications such as painkillers, sedatives and sleeping pills. Up to a third of patients aged 70 and over experience delirium and the rate is much higher for those in intensive care or undergoing surgery.

However, it can be prevented and treated. Some of the modifying factors include less noise, not waking sleeping patients unnecessarily, windows and clocks in patients’ rooms, and making sure patients have access to their hearing aids and eyeglasses. Early psychological intervention is also important.

Failure to understand and address the impact of what is loosely termed “hospital-associated dysfunction” is costly for the healthcare system and for patients. It can lead to longer hospital stays, re-admittance in the period immediately after discharge, and failure to follow medical advice and make follow-up medical appointments. Older people may be wrongly diagnosed with dementia and lose their independence.

Clearly what is needed is more research and initiatives on how to make hospitalisation less toxic. We should not be so consumed with technological and surgical wonders that we miss their adverse impacts on the very patients whose lives they save.

The National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission report has some recommendations that could begin this effort. It proposed increased investment in and expansion of sub-acute services, and more efficient and effective transfers of patients’ care to these and other, non-hospital settings. In some case this might mean initiatives such as hospital-in-the-home to keep patients out of hospital completely.

These approaches should not permit the ‘quicker and sicker’ discharge of patients or the substitution of alternatives to hospital care solely on the basis of cost. Rather they should be patient-centred and patient outcome-driven. Such initiatives will require new resources (the cost of which will be at least partially offset over the medium to long term by savings), improved links with community-based health and social services, and changes in culture from governments, bureaucrats, clinicians and patients.

Dr Lesley Russell is adjunct associate professor at the Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney.

This post was originally published in The Canberra Times and is cross-posted here with permission. See the original article.

Academia and motherhood: The impossible combination of parenthood and womanhood

pocket money

On International Women’s Day 2016, this post by UK academic Marie V. Gibert (@marievgibert) resonates across sectors and time as she prepares to leave formal academia. In the post, the first of two originally published on the PSA Women and Politics Group blog, she reflects on the combined challenges of parenthood and womanhood in academia, and how they strongly affect the career chances of academic mothers – and constrain the work they can do.

Image is from a campaign run by the then Equal Opportunity Commission Victoria. The issue still applies.


Marie V. Gibert writes

When I told a fellow female academic and very good friend, some months ago, that I was considering leaving the profession because I felt it had become incompatible with mMarie V Giberty family life, she was quite distressed and told me she felt academia was probably one of the careers best suited for parenthood because of its inherent freedom and flexibility. I could not completely disagree with her – I have often been grateful for the fact that I could pop out of my office/study to go and buy a few things outside of the busy shopping hours, or to attend my child’s Christmas school play. In fact, I had agreed with her for so long that I was unable to articulate a good answer to her protest.

The truth is, though, that the flexibility afforded by an academic life does not even begin to make up for the built-in pressures, workloads and patriarchy of academia. Academic mothers deal with the combined challenges of parenthood – shared with academic fathers, or at least most of the academic fathers of my generation, who are increasingly fully involved in their children’s upbringing – and of womanhood – shared with all women, whether they have children or not, and with other academic minority groups. That combination is a tough one – one I have no doubt can be overcome in the right context, with enough thoughtfulness and talent to deal with a constant race for, and lack of, time, but one I have stumbled against for lack of institutional support, awareness and strategy and in a context of relentless reforming.

Let me start with the challenges linked to parenthood, those I have no doubt we academic mothers share with a growing number of academic fathers.

Carving out thinking space

The one thing all academics desperately need because of the intrinsic nature of their profession – one of creation, whether in teaching or research – is thinking space. In British academia, however, this is a dwindling resource. The academic year effectively never stops – once all the exam boards are over, there are still postgraduate dissertations and PhD theses to supervise, reading lists to prepare or revise, academic conferences to attend. The three months (July-September) between the last exam boards and the first teaching week thus go by fast. Shared office space, the slow disappearance of weekly research days (often eaten up by the rising demands in student supervision, teaching preparation or administrative and management tasks) and the increasingly unequal access, across institutions, to sabbatical leaves further limit this much needed thinking space. A lot of my single and/or childless colleagues work long evenings and week-ends and effectively take no or little holiday in the summer to carve out some precious thinking space for themselves. I have also done so – I worked evenings after putting the children to bed, sent my partner off at the week-end with the children to have a quiet day’s work and took some work on my holiday. But as I and my children are growing older, that way of doing things has become increasingly unbearable. Once the children are in bed, there is still a house to tidy up (a little, at least!) and some life administration to deal with; week-ends and holidays are precious time with my children, which I am not ready to give up anymore; and my lack of sleep was having unpleasant effects on my mood. The little time I managed to save during the week thanks to my work’s flexibility did not – could not – make up for the relentless academic year.

There is also the increasing pressure to be constantly productive, which has come hand in hand with the assessment cycles that are the REFs (Research Excellence Frameworks) and other (all too) regular reviews. Of course, there are some allowances for parenthood and other caring responsibilities – in the REF, mothers can thus submit one (!) publication less per child born during the REF cycle. Most institutions, however, fail to offer any specific support to academic parents who have had to put a brake on their research activities and wish to revive them in a fast-changing environment. It is for each individual to make a case for such support, thus wasting more of their time and energy and leaving it to individual managers to show understanding and support. Likewise an academic parent who wishes to apply for promotion, or for a job in another institution, will have a hard time explaining why they are not able to produce the same high number of publications as their single/childless competitors.

Out of hours, out of time

What my friend who was underlining the advantages of academic flexibility was also forgetting was that this flexibility goes both ways – institutions also expect us to be available out of hours to attend research seminars that will characteristically end at 6 pm, book launches and talks that start at 7-8 pm, open days that take place on Saturdays and conferences that end at the week-end. With a reliable co-parent around, this is not an unsurmountable task although it does take some planning (and, therefore, some more of that precious time!). For single parents, it gets a lot tougher – a female academic friend, single parent to a secondary-school-aged child, was thus telling me recently that she could finally stop spending several hundred pounds a month in baby-sitting/after-school provision to cover this out-of-hour work.

Geographic flexibility is also expected, at least at the beginning of a career where it has become normal to multiply temporary, postdoctoral research and teaching positions in different institutions. Academic careers are also increasingly international and academics are now expected to apply for visiting fellowships abroad (many of which do not include any allowance for a family life, starting with their length – how one is to accommodate a child’s school year within a six-months-fellowship remains a mystery to me). Moving around in this manner does not have the same cost when a partner and children must follow. I should know – in barely more than five years since completing my PhD, I’ve moved four times. Each time, and with each of the many job applications I prepared, I spent hours considering the impact it would have on our family life, on my husband’s career, searching for childcare options, considering the different commuting possibilities, etc. And with each move, one loses the support network that becomes essential when children get ill on a teaching day. A lot of energy and time thus goes lost and there is little understanding, let alone mitigating support settings, for this in the academic world.

Academia’s gender bias

Then comes academia’s gender bias, one which affects academic mothers as well as every one of their female colleagues. I have long found it difficult to accept that what should be one of the most enlightened and progressive professions has barely given up on a very patriarchal way of doing things. Interestingly, there has been a growing awareness of this state of things, supported by some strong research and some vivid debates on a number of online academic platforms.

There is thus mounting evidence that student feedback and citation metrics are not only unreliable but are also reinforcing academia’s built-in patriarchy. Recent research by Philip Stark, Anne Boring and Kellie Ottoboni at one French and one American university has thus shown that student feedback will systematically disadvantage female lecturers – even when distance learning students have not met the lecturers and roles have actually been switched between the female and male lecturer. Likewise analysis led by Cassidy Sugimoto and Blaise Cronin has shown that articles with women in dominant author position received fewer citations than men in the same positions. Another research project by Gita Ghiasi and her team has more recently shown that despite publishing in more prestigious journals, female engineers are cited less often than their male colleagues. It is worth reflecting on these figures and on the ways we may unwittingly be contributing to them. I encourage my students to either use a default ‘she’ when referring to authors, or look up their gender, rather than systematically assume they are male. But I also recently found myself assuming that the author of the best (anonymously-marked) paper on one of my classes was male. When the marks and names were released, I discovered my brilliant student was a woman and felt deeply ashamed.

There is also some very convincing evidence that female academics are not welcome to negotiate their salary and working conditions at the point of entry in the way their male colleagues do. In a recent case in the US a female colleague saw a job offer rescinded following an e-mail in which she underlined her enthusiasm for the position and also gently but firmly opened negotiations. This is a general truth that goes well beyond the small academic world – research has found that few young women graduates negotiate their entry salary and that this explains – alongside the impact of maternity and parental leaves and part-time work patterns – the on-going gender pay gap. Contrary to Sandberg’s Lean In argument that suggests that this is about women not valuing or asserting themselves enough, however, Hannah Riley Bowles and her colleagues have shown that, as illustrated by the above academic case, women who negotiate will be penalised. I can very much relate to this. When I was offered my first ever permanent position I was very much made to feel that I was pushing the boundaries by negotiating (with a female manager) my starting date. Once that was done, I lacked the energy and courage to negotiate my salary and entry level in spite of having received advice to the contrary and being able to evidence several years of teaching and a good publication record. In a context where permanent jobs are so dear, that is unlikely to change any time soon.

We know, finally, that female academics are more likely to be given teaching jobs, as well as pastoral care and administrative tasks (what American academics call ‘service’), than their male colleagues who will more readily be invited to focus on their research. This, as shown by research led by Joya Misra, Jennifer Hickes Lundquist, Elissa Dahlberg Holmes and Stephanie Agiomavritis, then impedes their promotion in a system that undervalues teaching and administration and privileges research-active staff. I have witnessed this pattern too. In my former department (which at the time counted 11 men and 7 women on permanent contracts), the four research clusters were headed by men, leading to a nearly all-men departmental research committee (the only woman member being our head of department), thus reinforcing the impression that the women in the team were junior researchers. Undergraduate teaching, year tutoring and other administrative tasks were, on the other hand, disproportionately carried out by female colleagues.

Time for equity, and acts of petty resistance

Academia’s bias against both parenthood and womanhood is very clearly amplified by ever higher levels of competition for jobs in an at best stagnating market and the relentless reforms that are creating new layers of work for and pressure on academics every year. Things could, and must, change. The best response would be some strong institutional arrangements that would mainstream equality and diversity policies – rather than treat them as largely cosmetic add-ons, as is all-too-often the case – and use the very real advantages of the academic world’s flexibility in favour of academic parents and other minorities. But even the best institutional responses will not suffice in the absence of a normative revolution within academia. As was very recently underlined by Victoria Bateman, all academics need to rethink their relationship to work – acts of petty resistance such as refusing to attend a conference at the week-end (join the #endweekendconferences campaign) or to undertake another layer of meaningless paperwork will improve their own working conditions as well as support academic mothers, fathers and other minority colleagues (I explore these issues in another, subsequent piece).

Read Part 2 of this blog series HERE

Marie V. Gibert is currently an associate lecturer in the Department of Geography, Development and Environmental Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London. See her publications.

‘How do I make people care?’ Reframing that question in the media and beyond

Power to Persuade aims to improve understanding and communication between the main groups involved in the policy process: government, academics and the community sector. Often that is done, or fails to happen, through the media.

fiona morganFiona Morgan (@fionamorgan on Twitter) is the Journalism Program Director at Free Press (@freepress). In the post below, republished with permission, she talks about a US project that believes the future of quality local journalism lies in collaborations between newsrooms and communities. Her discussion on the ‘theory of change’ behind its work – and the need to ask different questions about readers and stories – has much to offer those working for policy change.


Fiona Morgan writes:

When I was a reporter, I would sometimes find myself asking: How do I make people care?

Journalists often ask this question, especially when they’re tasked with writing about the minutiae of policy or political process in a way that conveys the high stakes involved. That can be tough.

But I recently advised a group of young journalism students to be wary of asking this question as it contains a sense of fatalism, an expectation that people would rather focus on pop culture and political scandal than pay attention to the things we think are important. The assumption underlying the question “How do I make people care?” is that people don’t.

That just isn’t true. In every community, there are people who care — deeply — about what’s happening around them and about the future they share with their neighbors. The people who care are a diverse group. They don’t all care about precisely the same issues, they don’t have the same perspectives, they face different obstacles to getting involved, and they often disagree on solutions. But they all need timely, credible, factual information on which to base their actions and inform their advocacy.

At some point, I began to make a habit of asking better questions:

Who cares about this issue, and why? What do they want to know? If they wanted to make change, what information would they need?

These questions always led to better reporting, and to a stronger bond with my readers — along with a stronger sense of accountability to the people I was writing for. On my braver days, I backed up further and began with a bigger question: What do people in my community care about, and why?

From the start, News Voices: New Jersey has set out to bring people who care together with the newsrooms that serve them, and to create a space where we can all ask these questions together.

The News Voices team recently shared the lessons we’ve learned during the first six months of our project. Now, as we plan for our next event and continue engaging with the communities where we started our work, we’ve been reflecting on how our activities relate to our goals and our theory of change.

A theory of change helps nonprofit organizations guide strategic planning. It’s a way to look up from day-to-day work and think broadly about what impact the work you’re doing will have in the long term: If we do this, what do we think will happen, and how?

So here is News Voices’ theory of change, developed in consultation with ORS Impact.

free press theories of change

It’s a bit dense, so let me break it down.

First, we engage and mobilize the communities we’re working in — New Brunswick, Atlantic City, Asbury Park, Morristown and Newark — by catalyzing conversations between community members and news organizations. We then lay the groundwork for community-driven partnerships and collaborations, letting them take shape according to the needs and drive of local participants.

As the project expands, we’re also exploring state-level opportunities to work with media organizations and consider policies that can help support journalism and press freedom across New Jersey. We’ll share what we’re learning, build networks locally and statewide, and set the stage for what may come next.

Our hope is that the work we’re doing will affect many different stakeholders, which are labeled in the theory of change with colored dots: newsrooms, residents and groups in local communities, decision-makers at the local and state levels, funders, and Free Press members across the state.

Changes in awareness, capacity, networks and local news set in motion what we think of as a virtuous cycle between community engagement and journalism. Stories become richer, presenting a greater diversity of perspectives and reflecting the needs of community members.

As newsrooms engage their communities and allow them to help set the news agenda, outlets will have greater insights about community concerns and start to regard their readers, viewers and listeners as constituents, not consumers.

As community members see their perspectives are heard, valued and reflected in local coverage, they will trust their local newsrooms more. This sense of empowerment and investment in local media will lead to deeper support for journalism and press freedom.

Down the line, this virtuous cycle will influence the actions of leaders as well.

If all of this seems crazy-ambitious, it is. But we’re not doing this work alone.

News Voices is part of a network of projects, organizations and people working toward the same goals. We work collaboratively with many of the Dodge Foundation’s grantees across the state. We work with local news outlets and journalists of all kinds: reporters and editors from daily newspapers; hyperlocal news sites; ethnic print newspapers; documentary filmmakers from public television; and independent voices from local radio, public access TV and social media. Within communities, we’re working with church groups, arts organizations and activists, and people who may not have been part of conversations about journalism until now.

And what we’re doing so far is making an impact.

In the months since our first event in New Brunswick, journalists and residents have become invested in creating a community advisory board. Advisory boards are a common tool for journalist engagement, but most tend to initiate from a single newsroom. What’s exciting to us is that multiple newsrooms in New Brunswick are interested in taking part. We continue to work with this group as its hones its plans. They hope to host their first public meeting in late spring.

The Press of Atlantic City has done a lot since the forum we hosted in Atlantic City last December.  Managing editor Buzz Keough told us that meeting residents face-to-face and hearing their stories led to several articles, including a profile of a local artist and entrepreneur. While the paper had already planned to do special coverage for Black History Month, the News Voices event helped the paper connect with new sources and ideas.

This led to a series of profiles of Black leaders in South Jersey, a multimedia story about Atlantic City’s civil rights garden, and a five-minute video, narrated by a former mayor, about the African American experience in the community. The paper is also planning long-term projects that will focus on poverty throughout the region, and on what Atlantic City can do to rebound economically. We hope to help the Press continue to incorporate community voices into their reporting process.

Our next News Voices: New Jersey event will be in Asbury Park on Wed., March 23.

Once again, we’re excited to bring together members of area organizations with local media to explore how journalism can unite communities.

In Asbury Park as elsewhere, we will build the network, set the stage, listen, connect — and support the great work that will follow.

Click here to learn more about the News Voices: New Jersey project.

Fiona Morgan is Free Press’ Journalism Director and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. She oversees News Voices: New Jersey, a Dodge-funded Free Press initiative designed to create conversation and respond to the needs of both journalists and residents.  See the original article published at Dodge Blog:

Lifting the quality of ‘evidence’ for the youth foyer model

Evidence-based policy only works if the evidence base itself is robust enough to inform decisions. Joseph Borlagdan (@borlagdanj), Iris Levin  and Shelley Mallett of the Brotherhood of St Laurence started their review for ANZSOG’s Evidence Base journal aiming to evaluate the evidence for the effectiveness of the youth foyer model. But after their literature search revealed an overall lack of rigour in evaluation studies, they realised they needed to take a different tack.

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The marketisation of social and community services: Finest hour or poisoned chalice for the Productivity Commission?

The marketisation of health, education and welfare is one inquiry the Productivity Commission may well wish it had never been given, reflects Policy Whisperer Paul Smyth of The University of Melbourne.

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