“A lot of ideas about respectful relationships begin at an early age, in primary school or preschool,” says Associate Professor Nina Burridge from the School of Education. “We have to be better at developing support mechanisms for children, for women and men, and for schools. It should be a whole community approach.”
Associate Director of Social Research and Evaluation at the Institute for Public Policy and Governance (IPPG) Andy Goodall agrees.
“Research indicates that violence against women is mainly driven by attitudes towards gender and equity,” says Andy. “The actual act of violence is just the manifestation of these attitudes.”
Educational initiatives such as White Ribbon Australia’s ‘Breaking the Silence’ are working hard to change these attitudes. Breaking the Silence does so by equipping school leaders with the knowledge, tools and strategies they need to help strengthen a culture of respect and equality in their own communities. But when you’re aiming for long-term change, how do you know that you’re actually making a difference?
That’s the question Nina and Andy are working to answer.
The team is doing participant surveys and creating in-depth case studies of selected schools to provide a comprehensive picture of the program’s impact. This dual qualitative and quantitative approach meant cross-faculty collaboration was essential. Andy, the former head of evaluation for the NSW Department of Education, and Nina, who has previously helped assess the impact of Indigenous education programs in NSW, were a perfect match.
“At IPPG, we’re policy and method specialists but we don’t necessarily have specific skills in a particular subject area,” says Andy. “By being able to bring academics on board, we can add another layer to what we’re producing and add more value for clients.”
Nina agrees, “Andy’s approach is great because he’s identified where the expertise at UTS is and he’s able to bring this together in a really useful way.”
In the case studies and the survey, the team will be looking for evidence of changing attitudes, behaviours and culture at participating schools. Given that Breaking the Silence doesn’t provide a blueprint for teachers, this will mean examining everything from events and lesson plans, to playground behaviour, school rules and how language is being used.
“If we see a shift in those attitudes in the survey, or if Nina sees evidence of those desirable actions and behaviours in the case studies, that will give us an idea of if the program is having an effect.”
Currently Breaking the Silence is philanthropically-funded. The hope is that the evaluation will provide a compelling case for permanent government or private-sector funding. But it will also help the program to better affect change in the communities they are targeting.
Andy says, “White Ribbon have taken the core of our survey and already embedded it for use in an ongoing fashion, so they can measure effectiveness and improve their strategy.
“The ultimate outcome is that anyone exposed to the program is less likely to be a perpetrator or a victim of men’s violence against women. And that’s an outcome we want to support.”