Interested in postgraduate study in family studies?

The Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle offers two online postgraduate programs in family studies:

You can do up to three subjects in each of three 12-week trimesters a year, and can start in any Trimester. (In 2019 Trimester 1 started on 4 February, Trimester 2 starts on 20 May, and Trimester 3 starts on 2 September.)

If you could be interested, we are offering an online, interactive information session on Wednesday 10th April, 2019 at 7.30pm, Newcastle time. (Click here for other times in Australia and around the world.) At the information session you will hear from Alan Hayes (the director of the Family Action Centre) and Jennifer St George (the program convenor), learn more about both programs, be able to ask questions, and hopefully be inspired to study with us!

You can book (so that you receive the link to the free Webinar) and found out more at

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My current projects (April 2019)

I’m employed as a lecturer at the Family Action Centre (FAC), University of Newcastle (Australia) which is a great place for somebody with my interests as the FAC incorporates teaching, research, and the delivery of family and community programs. (Before moving into a more academic role I was employed as a community worker supporting permanent residents of caravan parks.)

There is always something interesting going on. Here are some of the projects I’m currently involved in.


In 2013, the Family Action Centre introduced the first Australian postgraduate program in family studies (a Graduate Certificate of Family Studies and a Master of Family Studies) and we also offer a range of undergraduate subjects, focusing on family studies, in the Bachelor of Social Science and available as electives in other degrees.

This year I’m teaching three online subjects (all our teaching is done online to allow students from anywhere in Australia or even the World to study with us):

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Strengths-based measurement and collective impact

Sign - Changed Priorities Ahead
(Photo: Addison Berry )

Data driven approaches like collective impact often prioritise shared measurement and collecting data, particularly quantitative measures, and do not consider the impact of what questions they ask, how they collect data, and who is responsible for interpreting the data.

If we adopt a strengths-based approach to collective impact it is important that we think about strengths-based approaches to measurement. The questions we ask in collecting data and measuring impact, not only give strong messages about how we see the communities and people we work with, but they also actually shape how we see them.  

The questions we ask in trying to measure the impact of our work can send messages about how we see the community and, if we are not careful, they can help reinforce negative perceptions. Here I will consider the difference between two youth surveys used in collective impact initiatives (one which is clearly deficit-based and one which is more strengths-based) before discussing some other issues relating to a strengths-based approach to measuring impact.

A deficit-based survey

The first, a youth health survey, is a 114 question survey used as part of a collective impact initiative in the USA. Only 20 of the questions (18%) were positive, 16 (15%) were neutral and 78 (68%) were negative. Continue reading

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A strengths-based approach to collective impact

A word cloud based onstrengths-based collective impact. Other key words include change, power-with, people and community.
(Created with Wordle)

Collective impact is an approach to addressing complex social problems. As discussed in the previous post (Collective impact and community engagement), community engagement needs to be at the heart of collective impact, but the (sometimes subtle) message underlying too many initiatives is that the community is part of the problem. When initiatives take a top-down approach and do not involve the community from the start, they are implying that the community has little of value to offer.

Adopting a strengths-based approach to collective impact fundamentally changes the questions we ask and the way we relate to the people affected by the issues being addressed. Although the focus of collective impact is on creating change that will help address complex social problems, thus starting with the problem, it is still possible to be strengths-based. In addressing the issues involved, we can discover what is already working in the community, what their vision is for their community, what resources they can contribute to creating their vision, and who is passionate about helping to create change.

Dan Duncan 1, in discussing what collective impact can learn from asset-based community development, suggests that:

Professionals often believe that we have achieved community engagement when we ask people, “What do you need and how would you like it delivered?” Then we change our service model based on the input received. However, I believe we have the opportunity to make an even greater difference in our communities when we help the people we serve to move beyond their roles as clients and advisers to become producers of their own community’s well-being. My experience tells me that if we truly want to make a difference, we need the people we serve to act as co-producers. We cannot do it without them. (p. 5)

If we do not actively engage community members in creating change, it leads to them being the objects of change (having things done TO them) rather than them being the subjects of change (where they are the ones DOING something).

Asset-based community development and other strengths-based approaches to working with communities:

  1. Focus on community assets and strengths rather than problems and needs
  2. Identify and build on individual and community assets, skills and passions
  3. Are community led
  4. Are relationship driven.
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Collective impact and community engagement

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Kania and Kramer 1 argue that collective impact involves “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors.” There can be a great deal of variation in how these “important actors” are defined and identified. Some collective impact initiatives are quite top down with a focus on government agencies and professional community services rather than adopting a more bottom up approach that starts with community members.

As a range of authors and practitioners have argued, community engagement needs to be at the heart of collective impact 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Wolff 8 argues that collective impact emerged from a “top-down business consulting experience and is thus not a community development model” and does not necessarily “set a priority of engaging those most affected by the issue in their collaborative impact processes” (p. 3). While this may be the case, collective impact initiatives can, and I argue should, effectively engage the community and ensure that those who are most affected by the change are involved from the start. The following provides an overview of ways in which collective impact can have a greater focus on community engagement.

Rethinking the 5 conditions of collective impact

Cabaj and Weaver 2, 9 propose changes to the leadership paradigm underpinning collective impact and the five conditions, that place community engagement at the heart of collective impact.

The start by arguing that the approach to leadership (or the leadership paradigm) should change from “management” (which they suggest is the current approach) to “movement building,” and that this requires a fundamental shift in the way in which many collective impact initiatives are managed. According to Cabaj and Weaver 2:

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What is collective impact?

A word cloud based on collective impact. Key words include collective, impact, community, change, engagement, backbone, approach and shared.
(Created with Wordle)

Collective impact is a multi-sector/multi-agency, collaborative leadership approach 1 to large scale social change in communities 2 that is usually place based 3 (i.e., it is focused on a particular town, neighbourhood or community). In simple terms, collective impact aims to get the community, local organisations and external agencies (e.g., government departments) to work together to address an agreed priority. Proponents of the approach argue that the five conditions of collective impact (discussed in more detail below) elevate it above simple cooperation and collaboration.

According to John Kania and Mark Kramer, 2 who proposed the approach in 2011 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, collective impact involves “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem” (p. 36) and that it is “distinctly different” (p. 36) because it also involves “a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants” (p. 38).

Collective Impact Australia (quoted in Howard4) described collective impact as

A framework for facilitating and achieving large scale social change. It is a structured and disciplined approach to bringing cross-sector organisations together to focus on a common agenda that results in long-lasting change. (p. 18)

Dawn O’Neil and Kerry Graham 5 suggest that:

The Collective Impact approach is premised on the belief that no single policy, government department, organisation or program can tackle or solve the increasingly complex social problems we face as a society.  The approach calls for multiple organisations or entities from different sectors to abandon their own agenda in favour of a common agenda, shared measurement and alignment of effort.  Unlike collaboration or partnership, Collective Impact initiatives have centralised infrastructure—known as a backbone organisation—with dedicated staff whose role is to help participating organisations shift from acting alone to acting in concert. (para. 10)

Collective impact is often describes as a data-driven approach 3, 6, 7 because of its focus on shared measurement and the way in which “data plays an essential role in understanding the social issue and in monitoring the outcomes of interventions.” 3, p. 17

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Exploring the impact of Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP)

(Image: Pixabay)

Although the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) began in 1975 and has since spread to over 50 countries around the World, there has been little formal research or evaluation done in relation to its impact.

In the context of an increasing emphasis on evidence-based practice and evidence-based programs there has been increasing pressure to be able to demonstrate that AVP does make a measurable impact.

While AVP practices and processes mean that AVP workshops are recognisable anywhere in the world, their is a great deal of variation from group to group, and workshop to workshop. Evidence-based programs often have clear program guides and standardised agendas so that there is a consistent agenda, structure and process (to help maintain program fidelity). AVP, on the other hand, involves a broad approach and no set agenda, AVP manuals include a wide range of activities that can be selected depending on context, and facilitators are free to add other material as needed.

This variety and flexibility means that the workshops are easily adapted to different countries and contexts, but it means that outcomes are unlikely to be consistent and it makes it harder to state, “This is the impact of AVP.”

The AVP International Research team, which I’m part of, is exploring how we can measure the impact of workshops, while maintaining the experiential, flexible approach of the workshops.

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Power and strengths-based practice

(Photo: Pixabay)

I’d really welcome some feedback about how this post could be improved—I might update it depending on the comments. I wonder if I have missed some important points or my logic needs tightening in places. One of the limitations of a blog compared to writing for more formal journals is the lack of peer review. So if any of you are happy to act as a critical friend – I’ll really welcome it! Feel free to suggest changes in the comments section.

Despite the wide spread acceptance of strengths-based practice—What family or community service would not claim to be strengths-based?—practice does not always live up to the rhetoric.

One of the things that often undermines practitioners’ claims to be strengths-based, is that they fail to recognise the way in which strengths-based practice challenges traditional power relationships. As I suggested in my last post, we can differentiate between four types of power[1-3]:

  1. Power-over
  2. Power-with
  3. Power-to
  4. Power-within.

Power over relies on force, coercion, and threats. It allows an individual or group to make decisions for others and to force them to comply[1, 4]. If the “others” fear the consequences or sanctions that may be applied, then they are more likely to comply[5]. Family and community workers often have a range of sanctions or consequences that can be applied if families or communities do not cooperate, including:

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4 types of power: What are power over; power with; power to and power within?


(Photo: Pixabay)

When I first started as a youth worker in 1991, I was working in a medium-term accommodation unit for young people who were homeless. I really struggled with being in a position of authority having just graduated from a welfare degree that had emphasised “client self-determination.” I was really uncomfortable being in a type of parental role where I had to make decisions about what the young people could or couldn’t do, where I was responsible for behaviour management and where I had to be willing to set limits.

I was in a real position of power and I felt very uneasy about it, especially as I saw plenty of examples of power being used in quite coercive, if not abusive, ways. I had to learn ways of being in authority that were consistent with my philosophy and approach.

I was in a position of power over the residents, but I needed to learn this did not define the whole relationship, and there were other types of power that were also important which I could nurture.

A number of authors differentiate between four types of power [1-3].

  1. Power over
  2. Power with
  3. Power to
  4. Power within

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9 things we can do to challenge fast fashion

Some upcycled outfits by Cathy (Photo: Eddie O’Reilly)

In my last post I discussed some of the environmental and social issues involved with fast fashion. If we are serious about sustainability and social justice we need to find alternatives.

The following are eight things we can do to challenge fast fashion.

1. Shop less and buy less

We cannot afford to continue consuming as if we have unlimited resources. One very effective way to do something, is to shop less and buy less.

2. Buy second-hand and/or through clothes swaps.

So many clothes are discarded and end up in op shops, thrift shops or second-hand shops that there are so many choices. Buying from op shops or thrift shops will not only reduce the consumption of new clothes, but by doing so you can also support the work of charities and not-for-profits. A number of places now organise clothes swaps or you could arrange one with your friends.

3. Upcycle

Rather than discarding clothes, try upcycling them and creating something new out of something old. (My partner is the driving force behind Upcycle Newcastle.) Continue reading

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