Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies


Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

Strengthening Indigenous evaluation

Sara Hudson

09 June 2017 | Ideas@TheCentre

SH program evaluationOur research identified a plethora of small programs (particularly health and well-being programs) currently being delivered by Aboriginal organisations that are not being evaluated. Out of 1082 Indigenous programs just under half (490) were delivered by Aboriginal organisations; of these, only 20 programs were formally evaluated and made public.  The lack of formal evaluations is a problem that plagues all providers of programs — not just Aboriginal organisations. However, given that the number of programs provided by Aboriginal organisations is so high, increasing their capability to undertake evaluations could have a significant impact on Indigenous outcomes.

While there is general agreement that random control trials (RCTs) are the ‘gold standard’ of research evidence, they are not always appropriate or practical. Estimating the counterfactual — what would have happened in the absence of the program, can be virtually impossible given the myriad of different programs in Indigenous communities. Moreover, there are few people significantly trained to carry out this type of evaluation in Australia.

There is also a difference between a health intervention and a program. While there may be evidence for the benefit of the intervention there may not be evidence on how best to deliver that intervention as part of a program.  Recent research suggests that it can take up to 17 years for health research findings to be adopted into practice. A recent inquiry found $72 million dollars was spent trying to implement reforms following the Gordon Inquiry into child abuse, but this money could not be accurately accounted for. Monitoring was abandoned because it was deemed too difficult to track progress of actions against particular recommendations.

The federal government has announced $40 million over four years to improve the evaluation of Indigenous programs, but this money will not go far if the government relies on external evaluators to conduct the evaluations. Instead of hiring outside contractors, the government should embed evaluation into the delivery of programs and fund organisations to self-evaluate and collect data through online data management systems. A co-accountability framework could monitor the achievement of outcomes and provide a two-way exchange, with the experiences of those delivering the program being used to inform its ongoing implementation.

Sara Hudson is a Research Fellow and Manager of the Indigenous Research Program at the Centre for Independent Studies. Her report Evaluating Indigenous programs: a toolkit for change  was published this week.

Stop the economic celebrations!

Michael Potter

09 June 2017 | Ideas@TheCentre

MP 3 bankers champagne celebratingThe government is back-slapping and self congratulating in response to news the Australian economy grew in the March quarter — with some commentators saying Australia now has a world-beating record of economic growth.

Sorry, but they should put away the champagne and cancel the party. The state of the economy is in reality pretty ordinary, and is likely not world beating.

First, the government and some commentators are relying on the wrong measure of growth, using headline growth instead of growth per person. And this makes all of the difference in Australia, which has one of the fastest rates of population growth in the developed world.

If we want to compare like with like, we need to take out the effect of the GDP boost from new Australians, and when we do this, the figures don’t look so good. The economy actually shrank in per person terms in the March quarter by 0.1%, with a larger decline of 0.8% in the September quarter. In fact, yearly growth in GDP per person hasn’t been this low since the GFC and has been below the OECD average for the past three years.

We also have other official figures showing a slump in net financial flows into Australia. Foreign investors are cutting capital flow into Australia, and Australians are preferring to invest overseas instead of locally.

Similarly new business investment is at recessionary levels as a share of the economy. These figures have only been seen before in the 1990s and 1970s recession. What is worse, the budget forecasts business investment to fall further as a share of GDP.

You’d like to think the slump in investment would encourage lower taxes on investment — that is, lower company tax — and stopping random unprovoked attacks on business (eg: the major bank levy). But somehow a continuation of the unwarranted celebrations seems more likely.

More evidence-based education policy is needed

Blaise Joseph

09 June 2017 | Ideas@TheCentre

BJ school fundingIf you asked any of the key players clamouring for more money in the Gonski 2.0 rumpus at the moment for (a) evidence that more funding will improve student outcomes, or (b) evidence-based policies the extra money should be spent on, you would likely receive a blank sheet of paper in reply.

While the federal government, the opposition, the Greens, the states, and the Catholic system will all admit funding isn’t the only important education issue and more money by itself will not improve student outcomes, this is certainly not reflected in the way they are approaching the Gonski 2.0 debate.

This is an endemic problem in Australia’s education system: investments are not necessarily informed by evidence and teaching practices are not subjected to rigorous evaluation.

A recent report from the Productivity Commission details the current issues with the education evidence base. The report identified a number of gaps in existing education data, most notably a lack of evaluation of school policies and programs. This particular gap means less accountability, making it difficult to identify best practice and subsequently turn this into common practice.

It is important the federal and state governments carefully read and respond to the report. It behoves Australia’s school system to invest in evidence-based practices that are cost-effective in boosting results — for the sake of both student achievement and fiscal responsibility.

The Gonski 2.0 plan risks getting the process back to front: the government committed to spending an additional $18.6 billion over the next 10 years and commissioned David Gonski to look at how the money can best be spent. In other words, they decided how much to spend before thinking about what it should be spent on.

As Sir Humphrey Appleby said: “Government policy has nothing to do with common sense.”