NUS Social Service Research Centre receives S$1.4 million funding to advance practice research capabilities of social service agencies

The Social Service Research Centre (SSR) at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is aiming to ramp up practice research capabilities of social service agencies in Singapore. It has received a S$1.4 million boost from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and Tote Board for a Capability Development Programme for the next three years.

SSR Steering Committee Chair Associate Professor Irene Ng, who is also from the NUS Department of Social Work, said, “More social service agencies are incorporating research into their practice, but they often lack research capability. The outcomes of each agency’s research should also be shared to benefit the sector, while social services can benefit from academic research findings. We are grateful to MSF and Tote Board for providing the much-needed funding support to expand this work that we have been doing at SSR to help agencies build up their capabilities.”

Since its inception in 2015, SSR has made notable progress in becoming a leader of practice-oriented research consultancy, research training, and research information for the social service sector in Singapore. It has established itself as a strong research partner with social service agencies and government ministries on various topics on low-income households and housing in Singapore. To date, it has undertaken 17 commissioned research projects (including completed and ongoing projects) which received a total funding of S$16.7 million from government and non-government partners. Aside from research, SSR places a focus on developing insightful publications and training programmes, as well as annual conferences and a seminar series.

SSR Director Associate Professor Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman, who is also from the NUS Department of Malay Studies, said, “The MSF and Tote Board funding will allow us to engage a wider pool of relevant expertise, generate greater exchange of ideas through conferences and workshops and enhance research capacity relevant to social service practice.”

Capability Development Programme

The funds from MSF and Tote Board will support SSR in its Capability Development Programme, which consists of four components that aim to improve the practice research capabilities of social service agencies (SSAs) and generate practice research mindshare among the SSAs.

1. Research Training

SSR offers two 13-week long mentoring programmes and short workshops every year, catered to SSAs’ needs to enhance their practice-research capabilities. The programmes are run by SSR’s research fellows and experienced practitioner-researchers. Participants take on small-scale research projects that will help them to evaluate the interventions and services they provide to clients whom they are serving. Others take the opportunity to conduct studies that explore on current issues, such as how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected social services for low-income families, or embark on projects that enable them to improve their interventions to targeted beneficiaries.

Please refer to https://fass.nus.edu.sg/ssr/training/ for more information on SSR’s research training programmes.

2. Research Capability Development Service

SSAs and government agencies can also tap on SSR’s Research Capability Development Service which provides a research advisory service to help build research capability of social workers and public service officers who engage in social service research. Depending on agencies’ needs, the scope of service could cover the facilitation of the development of a research unit or team, consultancy on research agenda and proposal, supervision of research project, as well as consultancy on the translation of research findings into practice. SSAs have benefited from this service. One such example is Fei Yue Community Services, that had engaged SSR in 2019 for the evaluation of a pilot information and referral service in a law enforcement agency.

Ms Ivana Ong, Research Executive at Fei Yue Community Services, said, “SSR provided the expertise in the evaluation study on matters pertaining to research conceptualisation, research tools development, data collection methods, as well as data analysis. They lent a critical alternative perspective in considering the information and referral service in light of the social service landscape in Singapore, hence providing a holistic perspective to the evaluation of the implementation.”

Please refer to https://fass.nus.edu.sg/ssr/capability-development-service/ for more information on SSR’s Research Capability Development Service.

3. Conferences and seminars

SSR will continue its annual conferences which are multi-disciplinary flagship events that bring together about 300 practitioners, policy makers and academics each year. It also conducts a seminar series which has been well-received with an average attendance of more than 170 participants. These events are an opportunity for academics, practitioner-researchers, social work practitioners and public service officers to keep abreast with research findings and knowledge that are important to the social service sector, and to learn from one another.

For information on SSR’s events, please refer to: https://fass.nus.edu.sg/ssr/events/.

4. Publications

The funding support will also enable SSR to expand the number and range of publications, such as guides on specific research methods, or international and local best practices relevant to social service research. One of the key publications distributed by SSR is its annual conference proceedings. Last month, SSR published the proceedings of its 5th Anniversary Webinar Series on “COVID-19: Social Impact and Response”, which includes nine research articles from academics and practitioners, comprising insights on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities, and the response of social services during this period. In the past year, SSR has also published two reports - “From Digital Exclusion to Universal Digital Access in Singapore” and the “COVID-19 Social Data Bank” which reflected the concerns on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected low-income families in Singapore. Through its quarterly research bulletin, “SSR Snippet”, it also provides an avenue for social service professionals to share and gain new research insights and discussion in Singapore.

For more information on SSR’s publications, please refer to: https://fass.nus.edu.sg/ssr/publications-2/.

Ms Foo Suan Wee, Director and Principal Economist of the Policy Research Office at MSF, said, “An evidence-driven approach is key to a well-functioning social service sector. Social service agencies require a range of services and support to pursue research that informs practice, such as to better understand the needs of their clients and the effectiveness of their programmes. MSF has been funding and working with SSR to further research for the social service sector since its inception. We are very happy to continue our support for SSR, with a sharpened focus on equipping and partnering social service agencies in practice research. SSR is well-positioned for this role, having already established links and a strong track record with many agencies. We are excited to be in this partnership with Tote Board and SSR.”

“One of Tote Board’s goals is to strengthen capability and capacity in the non-profit sector, ensuring that social service agencies remain sustainable and are future-ready,” said Ms Lee Siok Koon, Assistant Director (Capability and Capacity Building) at Tote Board. “Similar to our initiatives like the Organisational Development Programme and acceleration of digitalisation of the non-profit sector, the funding support will boost the sector’s capabilities by driving more robust data-based solutions that help social service agencies improve the services they deliver.”