The Institute is committed to researching and supporting practice that engenders progressive social change. We seek to understand, and assist in the growth of work that redresses the inequalities and social injustices that beset our world. A key part is to explore the organisational, institutional and policy contexts that shape and are shaped by practice, so as to better understand how progressive practice can be best supported.

We see research as critical to the development of progressive social change. Our emphasis is on research that has direct implications and alignment with improved practice as well as research, which challenges and expands current practice. This research agenda is pursued in a number of ways. A significant area is our research programs undertaken with partners. The Institute also supports academics whose projects are consistent with the Institute's research agenda. This support is provided by grants and scholarships from a dedicated La Trobe University Disciplinary Research Program fund. Finally, we also commission independent projects from time-to-time in our focus areas. The Institute has developed a research position paper that sets out our principles and desired practice for research in the area of progressive social change.

Developmental Leadership Program (DLP)

Power, Politics and Coalitions

Team Members: Chris Roche, Tait Brimacombe & Gillian Fletcher
Funding: DLP

Civil society organisations (CSOs) and coalitions in the Pacific provide a unique and important space through which to challenge gendered power relations and structures.

This project aims to address gaps in our understanding of the role played by civil society and coalitions in challenging gendered power structures, and promoting women's leadership and decision-making in the Pacific. It aims to provide some preliminary insights into the processes and practices used by CSOs and coalitions when engaging with these power structures and relations, and some of the challenges faced when engaging with different forms of power.

Communicating gender equality for social change in Melanesia

Team Members: Tait Brimacombe
Funding: DLP

The promotion of gender equality is a key development goal for the Pacific region, particularly addressing gendered power structures and combating inequality and gender-based violence in Melanesia including Vanuatu, Fiji, PNG and the Solomon Islands.

Communication is central to these efforts as a means of changing attitudes, values and beliefs and promoting positive social change.

This research aims to provide insights into the use of various communication tools, techniques and platforms to challenge gender norms and stereotypes and/or promote gender equality in Melanesia. It will also explore the conditions that enable or constrain such practices, particularly the role of the donor community.

Digital Feminism in Fiji

Team member: Tait Brimacombe
Collaborators: Glen Finau (USP), Romitesh Kant (USP), Jope Tarai (USP), Jason Titifanue (USP)
Funding: DLP

This research project explores how feminists and women’s rights activists in Fiji are using digital technologies, specifically social media, for advocacy and activism. It is a collaborative project with researchers at the University of the South Pacific (USP). This research will unpack the scope of digital activism, identifying individual and collective pathways into online activities with the view to exploring how such activities can be better enabled/supported.

Pacific Leadership Program (PLP)

Longitudinal applied research on the 'Change for Simbo' Women's Empowerment Pilot Initiative (Solomon Islands)

Team Members: Lesley Hoatson
Funding: DFAT

This research documents and supports a long-term piece of work being conducted by PLP with one of its partners in the Solomon Islands. The research feeds new knowledge back in to the ongoing implementation of the program, and also draws out lessons for the broader development community on supporting coalitions for social change.

This research commenced in mid-2014, and will continue to mid-2017.

Longitudinal applied research on the Women in Shared Decision Making (WISDM) coalition and the attainment of Temporary Special measures (Vanuatu)

Team Members: Benedicta Rosseau
Funding: DFAT

This research documents and supports a long-term piece of work being conducted by PLP with one of the coalitions it supports in Vanuatu. The research feeds new knowledge back in to the ongoing implementation of the program, and also draws out lessons for the broader development community on supporting coalitions for social change.

This research commenced in mid-2014.

Longitudinal applied research on the Tonga National Leadership Development Forum

Team Members: Helen Lee and Michael O'Keefe
Funding: DFAT

This research documents and supports a long-term piece of work being conducted by PLP with one of the coalitions it supports in Tonga. The research feeds new knowledge back in to the ongoing implementation of the program, and also draws out lessons for the broader development community on supporting coalitions for social change.

This research commenced in mid-2014, and will continue to mid-2017.

Partnership for Effective Development

Team Members: Chris Roche, Fiona Deppeler
Collaborators: Linda Kelly (Praxis Consulting), Australian Council for International Development (ACFID)
Funding: ACFID

The rapidly changing context within which Australian NGOs (ANGOs) are working has a number of implications for how they approach partnerships. These include taking into account shifts in the geography and nature of poverty and inequality, the increasing number of players on the development scene, and the challenge of navigating the political realities of calls for greater accountability. Over the last 10 years of ANGO work, a far greater range of relationships has begun to emerge

In 2013, the Institute, in conjunction with the Australian Council for International Development, undertook research on effective ANGO partnership practices.  The results from this research can be found here.

The Insititute has also supported ACFID to host other events including setting the scene on the future of the sector at the ACFID Learning and Development Expert Reference Group Workshop on 29 May 2014 in Melbourne, and co-hosting and running a workshop on 'Changing the world and Changing Ourselves' on 3 June 2015 (link to report). The institute will also be running a workshop at ACFID's national conference in October 2015 on 'The SDGs and Transformational Development: Critical Juncture or Passing Fad?'

The Institute is currently exploring with ACFID how we might extend this partnership to collaborate with them in implementing their new strategic plan.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

Australia-Africa Community Engagement Scheme (AACES): Mid Term Review

Team Members: Chris Roche
Funding: DFAT

In 2014 Chris Roche was part of an independent team which undertook a mid-term program level review of the Australia-Africa Community Engagement Scheme, an innovative partnership between DFAT, ten Australian NGOs and their African partners. The program aims to develop, demonstrate and disseminate ways to work with marginalised communities in Africa, other civil society organisations, and public and private sector service providers to bring about sustainable change in the lives of people in targeted communities.

The review aimed to draw out the main themes from an NGO level review, and to assess the operation of the overall design.  See here for a report on the review process and findings.

Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development

Team Members: Chris Roche
Collaborators: Linda Kelly (Praxis Consulting)
Funding: DFAT

The Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program is a ten-year (2012-2022) $320 million initiative that aims to help improve the political, economic and social opportunities of Pacific women.

In 2013, the Institute provided research and support for the program's design phase, with a focus on women's collective action and monitoring and evaluation processes.The Institute continues to collaborate with this program through our engagement with the Developmental Leadership Program (see above).

DFAT-ACFID Partnership: Mid Term Review

Team Members: Yeshe Smith
Funding: DFAT

In August 2015 Yeshe Smith began an independent review of the DFAT-ACFID partnership, which will focus on recommendations for the design of the next phase of the relationship, due to begin in mid-2016. The review will be complete in October 2015.

Disciplinary Research Program

La Trobe has established seven Disciplinary Research Programs (DRPs) to maintain and develop the underlying disciplinary strength of existing and emerging high-performing research teams. The Institute for Human Security and Social Change is home to one of these DRPs.

There is a growing demand from governmental, non-governmental and private sector organisations for greater collaboration with universities and research institutes in order to produce more robust evidence of the impact of their work, undertake applied research on development issues and provide professional development opportunities for their staff.

The Human Security and Social Change DRP forms a research component of the Institute. It supports the Institute's intention to act as a 'one stop shop' for La Trobe's engagement with the international development sector, as well as a hub for La Trobe's research and teaching in this area. The Institute focuses on the following key themes of the DRP:

  • the role and effectiveness of governments and non-state actors (civil society, NGOs and community level structures, and informal networks and coalitions) in promoting development, and how greater participation, equity and inclusion might be fostered
  • how development leaders emerge, and the role of attitudes, values and ideas in development leadership
  • the role of collective action and coalitions
  • the implications of the above for aid programming.

In 2015, the Human Security and Social Change Disciplinary Research Program is supporting the following research projects:

  • Investigating the gaps to rights-based disability care and services for people with spinal cord injury and related neurological disabilities in Pacific Island Countries. Implemented in conjunction with the Living with Disability Research Centre at La Trobe University.
  • Assessing the changing status of women in Pacific countries - including their representation, leadership, economic opportunities, access to services and experiences of violence - and identifying opportunities for development programs to promote further positive and sustained change in women's status in the Pacific.
  • Assessing how Australian NGO development partnerships contribute to transformational development and might provide lessons for agencies seeking to realise the transformational intentions of the new Sustainable Development Goals. Co-funded by Oxfam Australia, ActionAid Australia and Caritas Australia and implemented also with Anglican Board of Mission.

Other Research

Design support to Scope Global

Team Members: Paul Nichols
Funding: Scope Global

In 2014, the Institute provided design support for volunteer programs managed by Scope Global (formerly Austraining International).

Support for Healing Foundation evaluation and research

Team Members: Chris Roche
Collaborators: Linda Kelly (Praxis Consulting), Social Compass
Funding: Healing Foundation

In 2015 the Institute, in conjunction with Social Compass, is providing support to the Healing Foundation to develop a Theory of Change for their activities.  This will allow the Healing Foundation to communicate their work on designing and delivering healing programs to Indigenous communities more clearly, and to a broader audience.

The Gendered Effects of Economic Development on Women's Empowerment

Team Members: Katharine McKinnon
Collaborators: Linda Kelly (Praxis Consulting), Social Compass
Funding: World Vision

In January 2015, World Vision Australia commissioned The Institute to undertake a study to investigate the gendered impacts of a successful economic development program, the Local Value Chain Development (LVCD) project implemented by World Vision Indonesia with support from World Vision Australia, in the Flores-Timor Province of Eastern Indonesia 2009-2012. This LVCD program aimed to improve incomes of smallholder farmers and producers. The model focused on improving productivity, improving relationships between local farmers and other market actors, and improving access to profitable markets. The program evaluation carried out in 2012, and the subsequent SROI conducted in 2014, showed that the program had been remarkably successful, so much so that the approach piloted in Flores became the basis for the LVCD model now being implemented by World Vision in more than 100 localities globally. Following on from this success World Vision Australia saw a need to investigate whether the LVCD program has contributed to achieving women's empowerment and advancing gender equality goals of World Vision.