By Alison Wallace | 19 Jan 2017

Service providers, government officials and program participants were on hand as two Urbis reports on ground-breaking program, Ability Links NSW, were launched on Thursday 18 January.

Funded by the NSW Government, Ability Links is the first program of its kind in Australia. It represents a fresh approach to building a more inclusive community through breaking down the social isolation and lack of community connection experienced by many people with disability.

Launched by Jim Longley, Deputy Secretary of Ageing, Disability and Home Care within the Department of Family and Community Services, the program links people with disability, their families and carers to information, resources, support groups,  mainstream services, education providers and local employers – based on what they want to achieve. They do most of this work themselves and are happy to do so, once they are pointed in the right direction, or receive encouragement from the program’s ‘Linkers’.

Jim Longley, Deputy Secretary of Ageing, Disability and Home Care within the Department of Family and Community Services holding a copy of one of two Urbis reports evaluating the  Ability Links NSW program. Source: FACS.

Ability Links also has a strong community development focus, working with community groups, services and employers to support them to be more inclusive – often in partnership with program participants. Through increased contact with people with disability, community members are more aware of the important role they can play in breaking down physical, social, communication or system barriers that people with disability often encounter.

These positive results are all the more remarkable given that the program involves no funding to individuals.  Instead, it taps into existing resources, draws on and builds social capital.

In 25 years of evaluating government initiatives, I have rarely come across a program that has achieved so much in such a short space of time.

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According to Urbis Director of Economic and Social Advisory Alison Wallace, who was responsible for the three-year evaluation of Ability Links, “The program model is a winner.”  

In 25 years of evaluating government initiatives, I have rarely come across a program that has achieved so much in such a short space of time.

“People with disability, their families and carers highly value Ability Links and told us countless stories of the positive impact it has had. The evaluation clearly shows that people’s lives really are being changed, said Alison.

The program has been particularly successful in Aboriginal communities – more than a quarter of the people accessing Ability Links are Indigenous – a major achievement. The evaluation found that the program model resonates strongly with Aboriginal communities and that many providers are locally -based Aboriginal organisations. 

The findings of the cost benefit analysis and social return of investment is ground-breaking work.

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Keys to the success of Ability Links to date as identified in the Urbis evaluation report, are that :

  • The program is driven by local, grass root activity and networks
  • It  has been co designed by the Department , disability groups and stakeholders
  • It  is community- based, non -bureaucratic and flexible – involving minimal red tape and paperwork
  • It adopts a strengths -based approach and helps people articulate and work towards achieving their goals
  • The program deliberately aims to have a light touch only on people’s lives  – supporting them to take action, and build their self- confidence and skills
  • The Linkers who staff the program are carefully recruited and supported to ensure they  ‘walk the talk ‘ in adopting a truly person -centred approach that empowers people
  • The dual focus of the program  – working both with individuals and at a community level – gives rise to natural synergies and the growth of social capital.

One of the most exciting aspects of Ability Links is that is has been found to have a high economic and social benefit relative to program costs.

According to Urbis Chief Economist Nicki Hutley, the findings of the cost benefit analysis and social return of investment is ground-breaking work.

“The program not only achieves economic benefits that exceed the costs (with a benefit cost ratio of 1.1), but it is also seen by program participants to deliver significant social benefits to individuals, their families and careers.

“In combination, economic and social benefits deliver a Benefit Cost Ratio of 3.0 – and this is before community benefits, such as increased access and participation of those with disability, have been able to be quantified,” said Nicki.

Meanwhile, Alison believes that the whole process has successfully demonstrated the benefits of government, providers and evaluators working in partnership to monitor, review, and capture key learnings as the new initiative is rolled out.

To be most useful, evaluation needs to be embedded from the beginning, providing independent, arms-length and ongoing advice about program  implementation, reach, access, outcomes , and developing practice.”

“Through including a Cost Benefit Analysis and Social Return on Investment, the Department has also been able to ascertain that the  economic and social benefits far outweighs the cost of the program  – which will be useful in informing decisions about programs of this kind in the future.”  

Links to the reports

Ability Links NSW Final Evaluation Report 2016

Ability Links NSW Final Evaluation Report 2016 (accessible version)

Ability Links NSW Social Cost Benefit Analysis

Ability Links NSW Social Cost Benefit Analysis (accessible version)

Ability Links NSW website

 

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Alison Wallace View Profile
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