One of my favourite researcher pastimes is musing how to find better evidence about the experiences, preferences and needs of potential clients of dispute resolution services. How do we know what people want from their dispute resolution experience? There is a great wealth of research data captured by dispute resolution service providers, and those data don’t necessarily always come to the attention of researchers when they conduct literature searches in their habitual ways. Our network has the potential to bring research findings to the attention of people who want to access research about dispute resolution.
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Below are some examples of research projects, data and findings that are publicly available through service providers, specifically relating to family dispute resolution and related services. I hope readers might find some of these useful in their work.
Relationships Australia National Research Network
Relationships Australia is a national organisation that provides a plethora of services in relation to family and other relationships. They use their broad reach to work collaboratively between their various services to conduct research, through their National Research Network. A current project is a longitudinal Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) Outcomes Study, which promises to provide considerable insight into the quality of outcomes achieved in FDR. A brief summary of the findings from a 2012 study into the psychological distress levels in Relationship Australia family support services clients is also published on the website. Each month, Relationships Australia runs an online survey on a particular topic, and the findings of the survey are published. These surveys seek public opinion about various matters, and this might provide useful “snapshot” evidence about likely perceptions of particular processes, for example, child inclusive family dispute resolution.
Interrelate is a not for profit provider of relationship services that specialises in supporting parents and children. It has a healthy culture of research and a dedicated research and service development team, evaluating programmes in-house and in collaboration with research partners. In 2014 Interrelate presented its experiences of establishing a service-based research culture in a conference paper titled Creating a Research-Aware Workforce: Lessons from the Trenches. Publications are available on the Interrelate website. Some of the publications of particular interest to dispute resolution researchers include the 2017 Certifying Mediation: A Study of Section 60I Certificates, in collaboration with the Centre for Social Research & Methods at ANU and co-funded by the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department. The 2011 Report on the Study to Improve Understanding of Non-Agreement in Family Dispute Resolution is also an interesting research report, which was conducted by The Australian Institute of Family Studies. Also available are evaluation studies of Interrelate programmes, including:
- Parents Not Partners, a 6 week post-separation parenting programme to support parents caught in acrimonious separations to make good parenting decisions. There is also a description of the development of the Parents Not Partners program available on the website.
- Aboriginal Building Connections, an Aboriginal-specific, culturally appropriate, parenting education program focused on raising awareness of the risk of harm to children when there are high levels of unresolved and entrenched conflict between their separated parents.
Legal Aid Services
Back in 2008 KPMG conducted, on behalf of the Commonwealth Attorney-General, an evaluation of Family dispute resolution services in legal aid commissions. Legal Aid Victoria includes research activity as a core part of its business. The following research project reports are available on the Legal Aid Victoria webpage:
- Client profile data compiled and analysed from Annual Reports.
- Client satisfaction survey results.
- An Evaluation of Victoria Legal Aid’s Kids Talk Program 2007-2010, a child inclusive program.
- Other evaluations of Victoria Legal Aid’s programmes.
Legal Aid NSW published reviews, evaluations and discussion papers that it conducted in-house or commissioned between 2008 and 2015. These include Felicity Bell’s Discussion Paper on Facilitating the participation of children in Family Law processes, and client satisfaction survey results.
Anglicare Sydney have a Social Policy and Research Unit that conducts research and publishes reports on the Anglicare website. These include the 2018 Going it Alone: A Study of Lone Person Households, Social Isolation and Disadvantage in Sydney.
Finding the evidence
Quality research work occurs within service provider organisations. Research supports the field in the evolution of both practice and theory.
For researchers, the impracticality of capturing all of the research findings relevant to their work is an ever present challenge. The dispute resolution field spans all organisations, fields, disciplines and professions. This post focused upon family dispute resolution and related services, only one aspect of the dispute resolution landscape. Future posts might draw together service based and publicly available research related to other topic areas. Please contact me if you would like to volunteer to put together a similar post in your area of specialty.