Research & Evaluation
Berry Street is committed to research and evaluation because they play a critical role in knowledge creation that directly and indirectly contributes to positive change in the lives of vulnerable children and their families. Research and evaluation efforts make this contribution through:
- ‘Discovery’, or the observation of new phenomena, and providing new reasoning to explain the knowledge gathered through such observations
- Needs analysis
- Informing design of new service models and practices
- Review of existing knowledge about what works
- Testing feasibility of implementing evidence based programs from other jurisdictions in the local context
- Identifying impact and outcomes of specific practices and service models
- Informing adaptation of service models and practice, and their replication and scaling up
- Informing continuous quality improvement in service delivery
- Informing system and structural advocacy
While evidence from research and evaluation is not the only form of knowledge required for sound decision making, it is an essential part of Berry Street’s overall knowledge base. Notwithstanding this, as a service delivery organisation, Berry Street has relatively modest research and evaluation resourcing. This makes it especially important to ensure these resources are directed to organisational priorities, and with a view to leveraging other resources and partnerships.
Berry Street is committed to the following as underpinning principles of its research and evaluation efforts.
- Respect for human beings
Respect represents recognition of each human being’s intrinsic value. Participants are able to exercise autonomy and make their own decisions in relation to the research or evaluation, and there is a commitment to participant welfare over and above research goals.
Justice relates to equity or fairness: a fair process for recruitment of participants; no unfair burden of participation on particular groups; fair access to the benefits of research; and no exploitation of participants in the conduct of research.
The likely benefit of the research must justify any risks of harm or discomfort to participants, to the wider community, or to both.
- Merit and integrity
Research and evaluation have merit when they are well-justified, show alignment between the aims, questions and methodology, are appropriate given the research/evaluation context, are conducted by persons with sufficient experience and competence, and have potential benefit in the form of new knowledge or improved social welfare or individual well-being.
- Child and family-centered
Berry Street commits to research and evaluation methods and approaches that seek to develop knowledge with children and families rather than on them. Drawing upon the increasingly important children’s rights movement, we seek to develop inclusive and participatory children-centered methodologies, which place the voices of children and young people, as social actors, at the centre of the research and evaluation process.
- Maximising the voice of the service user
Research and evaluation initiatives should seek to maximise participants’ voices through meaningfully inclusive and participatory design, conduct and associated knowledge transfer, wherever possible. This is a fundamental tenet of the Transformative paradigm. Berry Street is particularly committed to elevating the voice of the child through sensitive research and evaluation that can inform otherwise adult-centric knowledge building, policy and practice initiatives.
- An ethical research relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
A cornerstone of an ethical research and evaluation relationship between Berry Street and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples is respect for and valuing of cultural and language diversity, and the principles and values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Such research and evaluation should be conducted in an ethical and culturally safe and appropriate manner so as to protect the health, safety and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and their communities. It should also seek to uphold the basic tenets of the Transformative paradigm wherever possible.
- Culturally sensitive
Research and evaluation needs to be sensitive to cultural and language diversity in terms of design, conduct and associated knowledge transfer wherever possible. Such research and evaluation should seek to uphold the basic tenets of the Transformative paradigm wherever possible.
- Gender aware and family-violence sensitive
A gender analysis is a critical component of good research and evaluation practice. Researchers and evaluators need to be mindful of the dynamics of power, hierarchy and gender and the disproportionate nature of gender-based violence, such as family violence on females, sexual assault on children, and the differential responses to family violence by boys and girls.
Research and evaluation with adults and children who have experienced family violence should be conducted in an ethical and culturally safe and sensitive manner so as to protect their health, safety and well-being. Sensitively designed and conducted research and evaluation that seeks to understand and deliver findings about children’s own experiences of family violence can enable a typically hidden, marginalised population to have their voices heard; Berry Street seeks to promote an appreciation of the significance and responsibility of involving children in this under-researched field. Research and evaluation with these groups should seek to uphold the basic tenets of the Transformative paradigm wherever possible.
Where possible, stakeholders are involved at every stage of the research and evaluation process so as to improve the likelihood that knowledge products will be both feasible and acceptable in the relevant settings. It also serves to build capacity of individuals, teams or the organisation to continue to value and participate in research and evaluation.
The basic tenets of the transformative paradigm of research or evaluation1 are important to uphold wherever possible. They include:
- That there are multiple realities that are socially constructed, and it is necessary for researchers/evaluators to be explicit about the social, political, cultural, economic, ethnic, racial, gender, age and disability values that define those realities. Different realities can emerge because different levels of unearned privilege are associated with characteristics of both participants and researchers/evaluators.
- That researchers/evaluators can choose qualitative or qualitative or mixed methods, but there should be an interactive link between the researcher/evaluator and participants in the definition of the problem, methods should be adjusted to accommodate cultural complexity, power issues should be explicitly addressed, and issues of discrimination, oppression and inequity should be recognised;
- That respectful research/evaluation practice means working with the cultural norms of interaction within a community and across communities; and
- That an explicit connection is made between the process and outcomes of research/evaluation and furtherance of participant community aspirations and a social justice agenda.
- An inclusive conceptualisation of ‘evidence’
A broad approach to knowledge creation and an understanding of the importance of multiple sources of evidence represents the best balance within a community service delivery context. This includes EBP’s, where appropriate, as well as practice that is informed by research evidence, client values and preferences, and practitioner experience.
Different types of research or evaluation questions require different types of research or evaluation designs. The choice of methodological techniques should follow from the questions asked, not vice versa. Method should be appropriate to the context, i.e. what would constitute reliable and actionable evidence given the context, and what is feasible given practical, time and financial constraints.
Research and evaluation initiatives should, as far as practicable, be managed in such a way as to enable them to provide timely input into decision making. This is a fundamental aspect of a utilisation-focused principle (see below).
Research and evaluation resources are limited and should be used as efficiently as possible.
- Utilisation-focused and actionable
Evaluation projects should begin with the premise that they should be judged by their utility and actual use: evaluation should be designed and conducted with careful consideration of how everything will affect use. Use concerns how real people in the real world apply evaluation findings, and learn from that process. Likewise, research should seek to generate actionable evidence.
- Committed to knowledge translation
A key element of ensuring that we maximise the reach and impact of our research and evaluation efforts is planning for knowledge translation.
- Collaborative in relation to knowledge transfer
We seek to work closely with those likely to put our research and evaluation findings into practice and people who can influence policy to identify those areas in which research and evaluation are likely to be able to contribute to improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families.
Getting involved in research & evaluation at Berry Street
Berry Street welcomes enquiries from research institutions and student researchers about potential research and evaluation projects and partnerships that would advance the strategic directions of our organisation.
Ethics approval of research and evaluation projects
Berry Street is committed to upholding best ethical practice in relation to research and evaluation projects, as guided by NH&MRC requirements, and the Australasian Evaluation Society Code and Guidelines. All research and evaluation projects conducted with Berry Street clients, staff, carers, volunteers and services must meet the principles of sound ethical research. These principles apply whether the research or evaluation activity is undertaken by Berry Street staff, or external researchers or evaluators, including academics and government consultants, or students.
In most circumstances, research and evaluation involving clients and/or staff cannot proceed without first obtaining ethical approval from a formally constituted Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) as per the NH&MRC, together with Berry Street’s own Research Advisory Committee. Berry Street also requires that these proposals be subject to an additional internal Berry Street ethics review. The intent of this additional process is not to duplicate the HREC application process, but rather to assess proposals against additional criteria, including:
Berry Street has a research and evaluation project application form, and guidelines for its completion. If you are interested in applying to undertake research or evaluation with Berry Street staff and/or service users you can make an enquiry below.
- alignment with organisational strategic directions
- risk of research fatigue
- operational feasibility
1. Mertens, D. (2007). Transformative paradigm. Mixed methods and social justice. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1 (3), pp 212-225.