Social inclusion is identified in relation to long term, known, dimensions of social exclusion or inequality. These include economic class, racial and ethnic differences, gender and sex-based differentiations, religion-based exclusions, and inequalities associated with physical and mental disabilities. Studies of social exclusion have been well advanced in relation to the domains of employment, education, health, criminal justice, social welfare, and the environment. A matrix of the intersections between these dimensions of social inclusion and institutional domains designed to address them is presented in Table 1:
Table 1: Matrix of the intersections between dimensions of social inclusion and agency domains
Social Inclusion, Community Services and Equity
Social Inclusion is a central organizing theme for the work of The Institute. We take a broad perspective on social inclusion recognizing the important role of social theories, concepts and ideas in the formulation and implementation of public policy. A focus on “joined up” social and economic policy to the benefit of both is a key focus of our research agenda with issues of social justice and equity high on our research agenda. Community life is regarded as an essential benchmark in understanding the material manifestations of social exclusion. Our research informs policy implementation that focuses on tacking disadvantage by generating effective, practical solutions at the level of government, local communities, service providers and employers.
The provision of adequate and appropriate social and community services is critical to Australia’s social inclusion agenda and the development of a fair and equitable society. While services like child care and aged care are used by the majority of Australians, many services such as employment assistance, counselling, emergency accommodation, disability services and legal assistance are also vital in assisting disadvantaged communities. Our research aims to model joined-up community services that promote access, equity, participation and rights of all people in building social inclusion. These services act as a basic safety net against for those communities at risk of the worst effects of poverty, social exclusion, violence and inequality.
Historically, people have always sought ways to enhance their material and social conditions in all cultures, and there is ample reason to believe that the pursuit of individual well-being and societal well-being may in all these different times and places have coincided as frequently as clashed. However, it is increasingly apparent that modern people are uncomfortable with the individualism and narrow market mentality of recent unsettled times, particularly those political, economic and military perspectives that trap people into a false approach to the measurement of human value, freedom and quality of life.
In the landmark publication Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society (1990) Ronald Inglehart argues Western democracies have undergone, during the postwar period, a sea change in basic values or worldview. Where once materialistic concerns formed the basis of our culture’s most characteristic values, now we are increasingly concerned for nonmaterialistic values like self realization, peace, happiness and social justice.
With the publication of Social Indicators of Well-being: American’s Perception of Life Quality in 1976, Andrews and Withey reported on the first comprehensive investigation of the level and structure of subjective well-being on a nationwide scale. Research on well-being reveals the significance of personal relationships, trust and participation to sustain quality of life, yet it is an economic model that remains the dominant basis for political and social institutions and policy. Crucially this involves a stronger 'freedom to' agenda about quality of life and overcoming social injustice, rather than a “freedom from” welfare model of social protection and risk. The Institute integrates different interdisciplinary approaches from sociology, creative arts and values education, such as self-completion, self-discrepancy and value theory, to offer a comprehensive theoretical framework for understanding the impact of internalising core cultural ideals on how individuals see themselves and the implications this has for their social, psychological and physical health. Our work brings together theory and empirical analysis which connects ideas about well-being and comparative social policy to the 'regime' conditions facing politically unsettled societies, characterised by large-scale problems of poverty and social exclusion. It is our contention that social policy should be about well-being and quality of life rather than just welfare and education. Social well-being embraces a larger agenda in which individuals' sense of well-being is affected not only by their own welfare, but the welfare and well-being of others in other groups and the capacity of society-level institutions and social processes to guarantee an improved quality of life.
Evidence-based Practice for Accountability and Transparency with End Users
Exploring the fast emerging agenda of evidence-based policy and practice in Australia as it impacts on end users is a key priority for the Institute. Research Evidence has been a policy priority for Western liberal democracies for at least the past ten years. The knowledge transfer process by which research evidence is systematically transmitted and integrated into practice has been a source of much innovation including, increasingly education, social work, community services, police, child protection, criminal justice and mental health.
Evidence-based practice (EBP) is strongly shaping the nature and direction of professional practices and organisational culture. With the requirement for transparent and accountable practices front-line professionals are increasingly expected to adopt the principles of evidence-based practice (EBP) whilst also maintaining sound professional judgement and values integrity. While proponents of EBP are emphasising the value of evidence-based models in ensuring consistency in practice and end user transparency, there is increasing recognition of grassroots resistance to the imposition of best practice guidelines. The decision/evidence interface is crucial in understanding the veracity of EBP. Our research focuses on the potential of evidence-based practice in making professional decisions more transparent and accountable for end users.
Social Inclusion and Professional Values
Our theme on social values and professional education represents both a conceptual re-positioning on the part of the service professions, as well as highly applied changes in their practice. This work is directed especially at the service professions, with special though not exclusive attention to social work and teaching and the intersections and mutually beneficial conversations between them. For both professions, the conceptual challenge is to re-position away from mere instrumental service towards more inclusive, joined-up and holistic social interventions. Furthermore, once positioned, the challenge is to analyse and reflect on the nature of the service that should be provided.
The underlying thesis of this theme is that the call for such re-positioning is alive in the community, albeit not always in clear and univocal fashion. In social work, such community pressure is felt in the call for social work to address if not solve some of the increasingly social disintegrating problems of alienation, dysfunction and abuse, beyond merely reacting to them.