ST Vincent de Paul Society Queensland and the University of Queensland have entered into a pioneering partnership to undertake research providing an evidence base for the charity’s “good works”.
Vinnies Queensland chief executive officer Peter Maher said: “It was critical for the society to understand what it is doing to assist people in need in our communities, and what is having the most impact on ending their dependency on charity and welfare.”
Vinnies has plenty of anecdotal evidence from its members in the community, who conduct on average 60,219 home visits to people in need each year.
But Vinnies decided it needed more robust evaluation of its activities to further strengthen credibility in the sector and to funding sources – be they valued donors or various grant funding bodies.
“Partnering with the University of Queensland’s Institute for Social Science Research has given us access to enormous expertise and research resources, none of which we have the capacity to realise in-house,” Mr Maher said.
In an initial 12-month partnership, researchers from the University of Queensland are examining and extrapolating from nearly 10 years of records held on the Vinnies Queensland client database.
In the thick of things is Dr Christopher Ambrey, who has been assigned to the project.
Describing himself as an “economist with a conscience”, Dr Ambrey has spent several months cleaning and coding the many thousands of entries in the database, which have all been de-identified to protect the privacy of people Vinnies supports.
He has been very ably supported by Mary O’Callaghan, helpline manager and the Brisbane Vinnies helpline staff and volunteers.
“Initially, the biggest challenge was familiarising myself with the complexity of the many large tables that make up the database and how they are related,” Dr Ambrey said.
“It was the first of a number of challenges that I had to overcome.”
Using micro-econometric techniques Dr Ambrey, is using the data to build what he describes as “… one of the most sophisticated models I have developed”.
In practical terms Dr Ambrey’s analysis is providing Vinnies with valuable advice on what information it should capture from the people it assists.
“This aspect of the project is very timely as we are currently in discussions about moving to another client relationship management platform,” Mr Maher said.
The analysis is also providing interesting insights into the emergency relief services provided by Vinnies Queensland.
For example, one intriguing finding is that while the number of requests for assistance tend to be higher overall in the greater Brisbane metropolitan area, the number of requests for assistance throughout the rest of Queensland is increasing at a greater rate than metropolitan areas.
The research aims to explore how assistance may be more effectively targeted to reduce prolonged disadvantage and decrease long-term dependency on the support provided by Vinnies Queensland.
By Richard Robinson
Richard Robinson is a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society’s Queensland State Social Justice Committee.