Our PhD candidates and their research
I spent a decade as a teacher and education consultant in Chile and witnessed how schools reproduce socio-spatial inequalities to determine the futures of young people. When one Chilean school won a grant to develop infrastructure and a novel educational project, I was involved in strengthening school-community connections. This revealed both the transformative benefits and the challenges of sustaining an ‘open’ school with multiple stakeholders. I want to help more schools navigate these challenges successfully, so I’m investigating the development, implementation, and sustainability of Schools as Community Hubs (SaCH) in the Australian context, through multiple qualitative, holistic case studies (Yin, 2014). As well as collecting input from experts, I’m observing the daily reality in SaCH and capturing the lived experience of workers and users. I’m using digital data collection tools, interviews, focus groups and observation of SaCH in use, and applying Lefebvre’s (1974/1991) framework for ‘exposing and decoding both visible and invisible processes and practices’ (Buser, 2012, p.284) in social spaces.
All students deserve high quality education so they can realise their potential and choose a life they value. Seven years as a teacher and school leader provoked questions about the best way to achieve this, leading me to a Master of Evaluation at the University of Melbourne, measuring impact and value in large-scale, social-change initiatives. The number of Schools as Community Hubs (SaCH) is increasing, along with expectations that they can address ‘wicked’ (complex) problems (Williams & van't Hof, 2014), such as social inequities, though there is limited evidence for this. In my PhD, I’m using a national survey to: (i) verify a model – designed via literature review and stakeholder consultation – of how SaCH thrive; and (ii) select some SaCH for further analysis using the Success Case Method (Brinkerhoff, 2005) to define factors that enable/inhibit their success. For example, evidence suggests that Evaluative Thinking is an enabler. I want to understand how we can most effectively improve outcomes for students, families, and the community, and translate this knowledge into practical advice for schools, government, and other stakeholders.
Though the benefits of utilising schools as community hubs (SaCHs) are increasingly acknowledged, there has been little research into the policy frameworks – including governance, funding, planning, design and procurement – that impact the development, uses and outcomes of SaCHs. My background spans architecture, urban planning, and government/community/client relations. I’ve had direct experience of policy opportunities and constraints for integrated education and community infrastructure and services across various states and territories. I’m investigating how the representation, coordination, interpretation and enactment of policies affect everyday operations in the multi-agency, cross-sectoral environment of Australian SaCHs. I’ll be tracking policy development, auditing relevant policies, and investigating their application at SaCH case study sites. I’ll compare Australian developments with the interest and investment in extended-use schools in comparable countries. I seek to clarify the complex policy dynamics at this conjunction of educational, social and urban planning. I hope this research collaboration will contribute new theoretical and empirical knowledge to inform better policies supporting design and delivery of successful SaCHs.
I’m a registered architect, having worked in the field since 2005. I have a passion for design that enables positive social change, and a special interest in exploring the role of schools as critical social infrastructure. In my PhD, I’m mapping physical and social connections (both existing and potential) between schools and other community assets and facilities, within (relatively) local urban environments. Historically, community facilities in Australia, including schools, have been viewed and operated as stand‐alone. My research shifts focus from asking what schools can give to their communities, to viewing schools as nodes in a broader, integrated network of social infrastructure. I am looking into what challenges and opportunities arise for schools, other organisations and communities when operating in this way. My research aims to gain deeper understanding of how the relative location and uses of schools and other facilities affect school-community connections, and explore the potential to enhance these connections. By increasing our appreciation of schools’ complex relationships with local facilities and populations, we can better comprehend the role of schools in Australia’s social infrastructure networks and imagine how that role could be developed in future, for the greater good.