What happens to research? Responses to a project on the residential movement of children and young people.

AuthorJames, Bev
PositionReport

Abstract

This paper discusses one example of research uptake. It reports on how findings from a study on the residential movement of children and young people in one New Zealand community were used. The study sought to gain an understanding of the dynamics of the residential movement of children and young people who were recipients of Child, Youth and Family (CYF) services. This was motivated by a widespread perception in the community that there was a need for improvements in the way these children and young people and their families and caregivers are supported. Several factors were critical to the uptake of research findings and subsequent development of support initiatives. Those factors include: the research programme was able to respond to a clearly identified community concern; the local research reference group was proactive in using the findings; the research team engaged with end users; the timeliness of research findings was critical; and research users at policy and operational levels were ready to be informed by the research.

INTRODUCTION

This paper presents one example of how a community's involvement in and uptake of research can inform policy and practice. It reports on what happened as a result of a study on the residential movement of children and young people, which was part of a research programme on residential movement and attachment in four communities funded by the Foundation for Research Science and Technology (FRST).

In New Zealand there is growing interest in the potential for policy and practice to be better informed by research. Indeed, the value of research is often judged by whether it provides evidence for decisions. However, the ways in which research can and does have an impact on policy or practice is often complex and unplanned. Although stakeholders may recognise the value of research, its actual influence on their activities may not be easily identified. Research impacts can be subtle or unanticipated, indirect rather than direct; occur through numerous paths; take a long time to become apparent; and may be quite different to what stakeholders expect (Hillage et al. 1998). Ultimately, research is just one of many sources of information that can influence policy and practice.

A developing body of inquiry into the links between research and policy shows that if research is to be taken up and used, there needs to be more than just the promulgation of results. Research uptake is about raising awareness of issues, understanding the implications of findings, influencing changes in perceptions, beliefs and attitudes, and informing decisions and behaviour. Uptake involves use, impact and influence (Jones and Seelig 2004, Nutley et al. 2004, Walter et al. 2003). Key factors in successful research uptake appear to be the readiness of users to engage with findings and their capacity to do so (Jones and Seelig 2004, Walter et al. 2003, Nutley 2003, Ellwood 2003, Hillage et al. 1998, Richardson-Koehler 1987, Rein and White 1977). Networks among researchers and practitioners are important in fostering readiness and increasing capacity, allowing research findings to be communicated and shared both formally and informally.

Commentators have suggested that one way of increasing research uptake is to involve the subjects and users of research more closely in defining the research agenda, in the research process, in decisions about its end use, and in the communication of research findings (Hanley 2005, Nutley 2003, Hovland 2003). These factors emerged in the community that is the focus of this article over the course of the research and facilitated the uptake of findings.

RESEARCH PROGRAMME ON RESIDENTIAL MOVEMENT

The Building Attachment in Communities Affected by Transience and Residential Mobility research programme explores the dynamics and drivers of residential mobility and transience and its impacts on individuals, families and communities. The programme focuses on the critical question of how communities can optimise the benefits of residential mobility while mitigating its potentially negative impacts on individuals, families and communities.

Despite a lack of standard measures of residential mobility and common definitions of frequent movement, international studies and some New Zealand research suggest that high levels of residential mobility can have significant costs for communities, individuals and families. Highly mobile families may find it difficult to access health and education services, to find adequate housing and to remain in employment. There is some evidence that high residential mobility can be detrimental to children's school attendance and learning, although it is also acknowledged that mobility effects may be compounded by other factors (Gilbert 2005, Greater Minnesota Housing Fund 2004, Biddulph et al. 2003, Michigan Public Policy Initiative 2001, Family Housing Fund 2001, The Providence Plan 2002, Conway 1999, Education Review Office 1997, 2007). For one, the mobility of frequent movers may exacerbate existing vulnerable circumstances. This may be felt even more by the young, as evidenced by the poor outcomes of New Zealand children and young people as compared to older people across a number of indicators (Ministry of Social Development 2004).

The challenge of providing effective social services to families frequently on the move has long been recognised as a critical issue in Australia (Eddy 1998, Taylor 1996), Britain (Richardson and Corbishley 1999, Green et al. 2001, Cole et al. 2006) and the United States (ERIC 2003, Lonner et al. 1994, Paik and Phillips 2002).

The research programme explored the patterns and dynamics of residential movement in four different case study communities: two North Island provincial districts, one North Island city suburb and a South Island farming community. The four areas provide examples of communities with strong Maori, Pacific or Pakeha/European bases, which enable an exploration of the meanings, experiences and impacts of mobility in different ethnic, family/extended family and community contexts. They show different patterns of movement, including communities that simultaneously experience both in and out migration, and where movements of people are changing the community's composition and social dynamics. Distinct local labour markets are apparent, with the communities providing a mix of urban, provincial and rural, industrial and agricultural, and changing seasonal demands for labour. The communities differ in the nature and extent of resources available at both community and family levels, as expressed in incomes, housing and access to local services. Three of the four communities experience considerable levels of disadvantage at an aggregate level, as measured by income, employment and access to amenities and services.

At the beginning of the research programme a critically important development was the establishment of a local research reference group in each of the communities to assist with the design of the research, access to the community, dissemination and uptake of research findings. The reference groups also identified the community boundaries for each case study.

In two of the four communities participating in the research programme the local research reference groups highlighted widespread perceptions that there was significant movement of children who were CYF clients (2) into their communities. These perceptions were associated with some local anxieties about the potential negative influence of incoming children on their peers and concerns whether local support structures (government, non-government and caregivers) could cope with their often complex needs.

Because of these perceptions, a study of the movement of CYF clients was developed as part of the wider Building Attachment research programme. Data on movement of CYF clients was obtained from CYF for each of the four case study areas and analysed to identify the patterns of movement of those clients (see Appendix). This article focuses on the community that took up the findings of that investigation, firstly looking at residential movement in that community, and then the findings and uptake of the work on the movement of CYF clients.

RESIDENTIAL MOVEMENT IN THE CASE STUDY COMMUNITY

The community that acted on the study findings on the movement...

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