Social impact research aspires to reach higher

Centre for Social Impact Flinders team

Working closely with the most vulnerable people in our community, the Aspire program has provided lasting tangible results in eliminating homelessness and reducing the associated negative impacts on individuals.

Aspiring to improve society is not enough. Effective change demands the introduction of social equity programs that deliver measurable results – and the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) at Flinders University is proving the effectiveness of support programs that make a measurable difference.

A key success has been the Aspire program, a diverse collaborative partnership that connects people experiencing homelessness to housing through South Australia’s first social impact bond to target homelessness.

CSI Flinders worked alongside multiple South Australian Government agencies, Hutt St Centre, Social Ventures Australia and private investors to better understand the benefits of effective intervention, which has enabled many of the Aspire participants with a history of chronic homelessness to now enjoy stable housing and to help them on the way to a better life.

Professor Ian Goodwin-Smith, Director of CSI Flinders, says this work provides conclusive research evidence that is vital to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable people in our community.

“The research on Aspire that we conducted proved that if you work with people in an intensive way to improve their lives and get good outcomes, it simultaneously delivers significant savings across several government departments,” says Professor Goodwin-Smith.

“Aspire provides evidence that if you stick with people experiencing chronic homelessness and work with them closely, you get great results to help those people overcome barriers and great results for the community.”

The final report compiled by CSI Flinders identified that, through a three-year program, 369 Aspire participants secured a tenancy, mostly in public housing, and 93 per cent had maintained their tenancies.

The program also improved Aspire participants’ trauma symptoms, disabilities, and combinations of co-existing physical, mental health, drug and alcohol issues. Their hospital emergency department visits decreased 27 per cent, and inpatient stays went down by 26 per cent. Court system interactions by Aspire participants went down 70 per cent.

Aspire participants’ overall wellbeing scores increased by 15 per cent and they reported improvements in their interpersonal relationships and community connections, plus significant reductions in their access to hospital services for mental health and alcohol or drug related issues.

This equates to $8.9 million in service costs saved by the South Australian Government.

“Research conducted with such a broad collaboration of different stakeholders is providing essential assurance to State Treasury that the Aspire model is successful and worth funding,” says Professor Goodwin-Smith.

“The Aspire program was not only great in theory, but funding conditions attached to a social impact bond demand evidence of outcomes, so CSI’s analysis of Aspire demonstrates exactly where outcomes are being achieved.”

Understanding the positive results from such complex, multi-stakeholder collaborations represents an important success for CSI Flinders, which has worked on 30 research contracts since the Centre was established in 2022. It reflects strong demand for evidence to identify success in social impact projects.

“CSI is identifying an evidence base to ensure our social investment is geared towards getting bang for buck and outcomes for people in our communities,” says Professor Goodwin-Smith.

CSI Flinders has now launched the state’s first tertiary offering for social impact education, to empower more South Australians to work in an evidence-informed way when tackling the most pressing social issues. Professor Goodwin-Smith says these new courses are vital for improving further outcomes for our community’s most vulnerable people.


Promoting positive social change

Established in 2008, the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) is a national education and research collaboration which catalyses positive social change through transformational research and education. Flinders University is the fourth CSI university partner, joining UNSW, The University of Western Australia and Swinburne University of Technology in the national network.

CSI Flinders sits within the College of Business, Government and Law at Flinders University, tackling social equity challenges around technology, health and social impact. This crucial work that stimulates positive social change through research, education and leadership development is being further enhanced by new course offerings from Flinders University – a Graduate Certificate in Social Impact and Master in Business Administration (Social Impact) commencing in 2024.

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2023 Encounter Magazine College of Business, Government and Law Social work

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