Our research

Social cohesion impacts all facets of our society. Participation from government, communities, and business is essential to transform Australia's approach to building social cohesion.

This program will work with government, community and business to learn together how to successfully build social connections, engagement and inclusion for the benefit and wellbeing of all Australians.

Building in partners who are international scholars, from government, businesses, and other agencies, we will shift research outputs from Australia to other states and theoretical approaches to operational outcomes.

Research design: the 5 S's


Director: Israr Qureshi

Associate Director:Kate Reynolds

Purpose and outcomes

Improve our understanding of social cohesion, to harness it and help Australia become a worldwide leader in social cohesion policy and research.

ASCEND's mission is to demonstrate how we can all contribute to stronger social cohesion for the prosperity of all Australians.

Our vision is for a socially secure world where individuals function together to survive and prosper.

S1 Synthesis: Current State of Social Cohesion Research

Lead:Ann Evans

Purpose and outcomes

Investigate existing measurement of social cohesion used across disciplines and collate indicators, develop a new measurement tool that incorporates multi-disciplinary indicators and identify antecedents, facilitators, barriers and outcomes of social cohesion.

S1 Synthesis will collate national and international social cohesion data; utilise data to identify the barriers and facilitators of social cohesion and make comparisons with "like-countries"; and assess strengths and limitations of measurement.

The interdisciplinary measurement tool will be used as a companion tool to measure the outcomes of interventions designed in S3 Solve, and by helping quantify the effect of interventions on social cohesion, it will allow baseline comparators to target social investment schemes in S4 Scale-Up.

By conducting case studies on 6 communities in ASCEND's Design Phase, the project will underpin trials in the Demonstration Phase. Ultimately the S1 Synthesis stream will create the indicators that test the strength of social cohesion.

S2 Stocktake: Successes, Failures and Opportunities

Lead:Babita Bhat

Purpose and outcomes

Investigate the success, failure and challenges of current multiculturalism policies, laws and programs (turning 50 in 2023), which have served as the main tool of Government to strengthen social cohesion and investigate the role of social enterprises and other community organisations in building social cohesion.

S2 Stocktake will map current initiatives that are showing promise in strengthening social cohesion including across government community grants, within six targeted communities and in 15 social enterprises (including four indigenous). This stream will study current successes, failures and challenges. There will be particular focus on programs for marginalised groups and that involve majority ethnic groups.

S2 Stocktake will also identify a range of current activities in communities, assess existing material and conduct interviews to learn more. A specific focus will be on citizenship laws and multiculturalism policy in Australia as it approaches 50 years.

The steam's catalogue of interventions, policies and programs, and case study information will better inform the co-design and development of interventions in S3 Solve and target communities and enterprises to roll out and further validate in ASCEND's Demonstration Phase. Ultimately the S2 Stocktake steam will identify the interventions to test in strengthening social cohesion.

S3 Solve: Design New Solutions

Lead:Clarke Jones

Purpose and outcomes

In complex community settings, design, implement, and assess new large-scale interventions to strengthen social cohesion co-designed with community stakeholders

S3 Solve will develop a proof-of-concept method for co-designing interventions to strengthen social cohesion. We will co-design a new entrepreneurial skills based intervention for marginalised youth, measuring impact against social cohesion indicators from the S1 Synthesis stream and related outcomes such as social isolation, well-being (strengths and difficulties), social networks (bridging community and ethnic groups). The aim is to trial best practice community engagement and participatory methods and to assess potential risks.

At the conclusion of the Design Phase, S3 Solve will have created a stronger understanding of how to engage communities in the co-design of interventions, and tested models of best practice that will allow communities to design their own interventions to increase social cohesion. S3 Solve will have a roadmap to engage trial communities and policy makers in strengthening social cohesion.

S4: Scale-up: Increase Scale and Impact

Lead:Israr Qureshi

Purpose and outcomes

Design strategies to enable communities to implement independently the social cohesion enhancement interventions and build collaborations to maximise impact.

S4 Scale-Up will establish the knowledge base to underpin development of a sustainable funding mechanism for social cohesion interventions. The stream will identity successes and failures of social impact bonds, with a particular focus on social metrics that could be transferable to social cohesion.

The stream will identify with stakeholder communities and beneficiaries potential models for social cohesion impact bonds to trial in the Demonstration Phase. S4 Scale-up will ultimately encourage wider uptake and growth of social cohesion interventions though innovative funding models to test for enhanced social policy outcomes.

S5 Share: Promote Knowledge to Increase Impact

Lead:Michael Zekulin

Purpose and outcomes

Build networks and forums to shape the national conversation and promote knowledge to increase impact.

S5 Share will focus on knowledge-sharing, ensuring new insights are embedded in the mindsets of wider community commentators, political leaders, practitioners and policy-makers to create better outcomes.

The stream will focus on consolidating the team of ANU researchers across relevant disciplines and establishing collaborative partnerships with relevant government agencies and not-for-profits through hosting workshops and forums. S5 Share will shape the policy-research-community partnerships to contribute to an evidenced based national conversation.



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