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Performance against 2019/20 strategic initiatives

Four pillars organise the work we undertake to achieve our outcome. We:

  • create knowledge by generating high quality, impartial research relating to the wellbeing of families in Australia
  • communicate knowledge by disseminating research and resources through multiple channels to target audiences
  • connect and collaborate with policy, practice and research communities to strengthen capability and enable evidence-informed action that improves outcomes for children, families and their communities
  • activate our future sustainability by building an organisational culture of excellence, impact and effective operations and governance.

AIFS’ Strategic Directions set out four long‑term goals in each of these pillars to be achieved in a five‑year time frame. At the outset of each financial year, we identify shorter-term, priority initiatives designed to help achieve these goals. See Figure 3.4 for the Strategic Directions and Initiatives implemented over 2019/20.

In 2019/20 we identified three key areas of strategic focus and corresponding initiatives:

1. Strengthen AIFS' ability to do impactful research and to report on our work in ways that better demonstrate our impact:

  • develop and implement an AIFS Knowledge Translation and Impact (KTI) Blueprint for adaptation across the organisation
  • develop and implement KTI strategies at research program and project levels
  • deliver capacity-building training to staff
  • plan and deliver the AIFS 2020 Conference.

2. Transition significant change initiatives from the previous year to business as usual:

  • transition TechOne shared finance services as the AIFS’ system for project budgeting and management accounting.

3. Plan for AIFS' future capability requirements to ensure we continue to create knowledge and communicate with impact:

  • review and refine AIFS' recruitment strategy
  • design and implement Learning and Development program
  • develop an Implementation Strategy for the upgrade of our website's content management system
  • upgrade AIFS Data Management Strategy for future capability requirements.

Through the project discovery and business case stages, we refine the scope and purpose of these initiatives. This can mean some alteration to the initiatives as they were originally envisaged. In addition, in the last six months of 2019/20 AIFS, like many other agencies, experienced significant disruption to our operations in the wake of both the summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maintaining operational effectiveness and project delivery in this context required considerable organisational effort as we pivoted to:

  • finding new ways of working collaboratively with colleagues, funders and project partners in a remote working landscape
  • maintaining, and indeed strengthening, our workplace culture in the absence of physically being at work
  • continuing to deliver high quality products and projects to funders
  • meeting the emerging needs of our end users and stakeholders as they too shifted their practice.

As detailed in our organisational case study on the Pivot to COVID-19, we have maintained, and in some cases strengthened, our organisational performance.

To ensure initiatives remain aligned to our higher-level goals while also being responsive to our changed internal and external operating environments, specific initiatives have been revised (but do not diverge significantly from the intended focus). See Figure 3.4 for a description of these revised initiatives.

Figure 3.4: AIFS’ Strategic Directions and 2019/20 Initiatives  Activate

Pillar 1: Create knowledge

A key function of the Institute is to create knowledge and contribute to the broader evidence base on the factors affecting families. In 2019/20, we undertook 31 research and evaluation projects. The strategic initiatives under Pillar 1 aimed to enhance the impact of this research for the policy and practice communities we serve. Three key initiatives were implemented:

  • development of Knowledge Translation and Impact (KTI) strategies at the Research and Program levels
  • development of collaborative research relationships with La Trobe University
  • instigation of the Families in Australia Survey program.

The implementation of KTI strategies at the research program level was identified as a key initiative at the outset of 2019/20. This initiative aimed to cascade KTI learnings developed through CFCA to the research work of the Institute overall.

In addition to this, we commenced discussions with La Trobe University as part of a longer‑term strategy to harness shared interests and complementary strengths in the areas of family wellbeing, and to maximise the data assets of each institution. By the end of 2019/20, plans were in place to hold a round table on potential research and funding opportunities, with a particular focus on the impact of COVID-19 on families. This will form the basis of collaborations in 2020/21 and beyond.

Finally, as the implications of COVID-19 on the Australian economy and daily life started to become apparent in February and March, the Institute rapidly pivoted to the question of how Australian families were faring. We developed an online survey to capture, in real time, the challenges families of all kinds were experiencing. Plans are now in place for subsequent waves of data collection (see the case study on the Families in Australia Survey).

Table 3.6 highlights progress against the initiatives in Pillar 1 of our Strategic Directions relating to creating knowledge in our Corporate Plan 2019/20 to 2022/23.

Table 3.6: Pillar 1 initiatives

Initiatives

Purpose

Desired outcomes

Achievements

Implement KTI strategies at the Research and Program levels

Integrate KTI principles into research projects

Build researcher capabilities in KTI concepts and methods

Clear understanding of how projects achieve impact

Implement strategies to achieve this

Demonstrate AIFS’ leadership in impactful research

Developed impact strategies and narratives for each research stream

Showcased impact narratives to broader organisation

Develop collaborative relationships with La Trobe University

Identify and explore key areas of mutual interest

Leverage shared data, skills and capabilities

Identified avenues of collaborative research and funding opportunities

Collaboration working group established

Working group met four times August–June 2020

Plans for a research round table in place by end June

Instigate Families in Australia Survey (COVID-19)

Understand the diverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on families and how they adjusted

Giving families a platform to share their experiences of the pandemic

Provide insights about families experiences of the pandemic and what was negatively and positively impact on their wellbeing for policy makers and practitioners

Document the lived experience of the pandemic for families, providing context for future research around longer term outcomes and impacts

Survey developed and launched between May and June

Preliminary analysis completed

Webinar to share preliminary findings confirmed

Pillar 2: Communicate for impact

A second key function of the Institute is to share and communicate research to our stakeholders in policy and practice communities, and to the general community, with the aim of providing accessible, relevant and timely high quality information. We use our capabilities in strategic communication and knowledge translation to:

  • publish accessible research reports and resources
  • produce webinars as a key platform to share research and practice evidence with stakeholders across Australia
  • deliver AIFS’ biennial conference and other events.

Two priority initiatives were identified for delivery in 2019/20:

  • the AIFS 2020 Conference
  • an implementation strategy for the upgrade of our content management system.

The purpose of the AIFS Conference – which was to also coincide with AIFS’ 40th Anniversary – was to share knowledge and build cross-sector capability to accelerate positive change in family policy and service systems.

In January 2020, we were on track to deliver this. However, as the restrictions resulting from COVID-19 impacted Australia, it became clear that hosting the AIFS conference in June 2020 would not be possible. Rather than lose the planning already invested, and still wanting to have a platform for knowledge sharing, we have explored the option of shifting the conference to June 2021, and in its place ran a Families in Focus webinar series with selected keynote speakers. The webinars delved into key family safety and wellbeing issues impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Five webinars were held in June.

Table 3.7 highlights progress against our actions for Pillar 2 of our Strategic Directions, relating to communicating for impact in our Corporate Plan 2019/20 to 2022/23.

Table 3.7: Pillar 2 initiatives

Initiative

Purpose

Desired outcomes

Achievements

Families in Focus webinar series (replaced AIFS Conference 2020)

Make some of the conference content available to our stakeholders

Conference speakers contextualised their keynote topic in relation to COVID-19

Access to knowledge for policy makers, practitioners and researchers

Capacity building

Inform national discussions about family wellbeing

Six webinars attracted over 1,974 participants

91% of participants rated the quality of the webinars as ‘very good or excellent’

78% of participants said the webinars added to their knowledge base (webinars either ‘met’ or ‘exceeded’ their expectations)

Strategy for the upgrade of our websites’ content management system (CMS)

Develop a business case and roadmap for the migration of our websites to a new CMS

Develop a plan for ongoing hosting, support and management of our websites

Our online content is accessible and easy to find.

Our online content meets our users’ needs.

Our CMS supports our websites securely and effectively.

Management of our websites is secure and financially sustainable

Approached market to determine requirements for a new CMS, hosting and support

Successfully determined CMS, hosting and support requirements

Pillar 3: Collaborate and connect

In addition to creating and communicating knowledge, the Institute also aims to:

  • bring policy makers, service providers and researchers together in dialogue to share knowledge,
  • insight and new directions on the issues facing families and what works to support them
  • support stakeholders in policy and practice in their work.

Strategic initiatives for 2019/20 focused on strengthening our ability to support stakeholders close the evidence to practice gap.

Based on the Project Discovery and Business Case testing stages, we chose to integrate several smaller, related initiatives into one: a Knowledge Translation and Impact Lab that will work across the Institute. The Lab aims to build the capability of AIFS’ research teams to create and communicate knowledge to accelerate positive outcomes for families. It will also test innovative ideas about how to better translate our knowledge.

Table 3.8 highlights progress against our actions for Pillar 3 of our Strategic Directions relating to collaboration in our Corporate Plan 2019/20 to 2022/23.

Table 3.8: Pillar 3 initiatives

Initiative

Purpose

Desired outcomes

Achievements

KTI Lab

Build internal capability to translate research for maximum impact with our stakeholders

Innovate and test research engagement strategies

External capability building of sectors/organisations KTI skills

Increased knowledge, skills and confidence of staff in KTI

KTI is an organisation-wide capability

AIFS’ profile as leaders in KTI is increased

Development of a KTI Blueprint

Creation of resources to improve the skills of AIFS’ staff

Coaching and advice provided to researchers on applying KT strategies to projects for impact

Pillar4: Activate organisational sustainability

Pillar 4 is focused on ensuring that our organisational practices, processes, capabilities and culture are calibrated to support our work and sustainability as an independent research institute. The goals under this pillar are that:

  • We are operationally efficient and financially sustainable.
  • We maintain a sustainable program of incoming research that enables AIFS to achieve our purpose.
  • We are an organisation of choice for people who want to make a difference.

Since the commencement of AIFS’ Strategic Directions in 2016, significant initiatives have been implemented with the aim of achieving these goals, namely:

  • the co-design of AIFS Values by staff
  • the co-design of our new work premises
  • continuous improvement in our IMT capabilities to support flexible and remote working
  • continuous improvement in general business processes to maximise efficiency.

The positive impact of these efforts have been demonstrated in our APS census results each year. In 2019/20, we further built on these successes by:

  • reviewing our performance and development program
  • reviewing AIFS' recruitment strategy
  • transitioning TechOne shared finance services to business as usual practice
  • commencing work on AIFS' Data Management Strategy for future capability requirements.

These has been implemented against the backdrop of shifting the entire agency to remote working.

Table 3.9 highlights progress against our objectives and actions for Pillar 4 of our Strategic Directions relating to activation in our Corporate Plan 2019/20 to 2022/23.

Table 3.9: Pillar 4 initiatives

Initiative

Purpose

Desired outcomes

Achievements

Within Enterprise Agreement framework redesign performance and development program

To develop a program that:

  • staff engage with and find meaningful
  • uses performance and development program as a vehicle to strengthen people management

Better compliance

More useful agreements

Better understanding of development needs

Better recognition/reward as part of process

Better articulation with values, behaviours, wellbeing

Closer links to Strategic Directions

Better ‘management’ conversations

Co-design conducted and tested with a broad cross-section of staff

Unique program developed with launch in early 2020/21

Recruitment process review

Strengthen the process

Update our brand to applicant

Modern and culture-appropriate process

Good staffing decisions

Implementation strategy developed

Data Management Strategy

Implement a clear, agreed approach to managing data assets by developing set standards and tools in handling the creation, storage, management and processing of all data assets

Strengthened capability as a data-driven organisation

Strengthen AIFS’ position as trusted leaders in governing and managing data assets

An integrated, seamless and user-friendly data environment to support effective management of AIFS’ functions

Data Governance working group established and are progressing this work

Delays due to COVID-19 mean this will be finalised in 2020/21

TechOne to BAU

To streamline business processes more efficiently

Having a single source of truth regarding financial information for current and future years

When no longer require Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) implementation support

All major transition issues have been resolved, including additional training for Finance staff and updated documentation

System improvements including greater reporting capability will be progressed as BAU activities