Younger man walking with elderly man arm in arm


Reimagining the future of care
Through the Australia Cares project and other initiatives the Lab connects care providers, care recipients, researchers, policymakers and other stakeholders to bring agency and dignity into care policy and practice and create fundamental shifts throughout our society and economy.

We need new vision for care in Australia: one that places dignity, human relationships and agency at its heart. They say that a society is defined by how well it treats those most vulnerable. What does it say about our society when our systems of care are at breaking point? Our research on care tackles these questions. 

Everybody needs care. Everybody deserves care. And everybody needs to have that done with dignity.
Dr Sheelagh Daniels-Mayes, Kamilaroi woman and lecturer Indigenous Studies, University of Melbourne. Participant in Australia Cares project.

Current public policy programs:

Australia Cares

Australia Cares aims to radically transform Australia’s systems, practices and cultures of care. Launched in 2022 and building on the momentum for change generated by the Covid-19 pandemic, this initiative has emerged from a diverse coalition of people across care communities, researchers and policymakers. This is not another welfare reform project, but something that aims to challenge the way we live and the way we organise our communities.

Read more about the Australia Cares project.

Previous public policy programs have included:

How do we collectively meet the needs and aspirations of the communities we serve?

One of the fundamental tasks of any government is to ensure the people and communities, especially those experiencing disadvantage, have access to the services and supports they need to lead full lives. But getting it right is extraordinarily difficult. Historically, governments have tried to rise to the task through welfare states and the introduction of corporate principles to public governance, yet many citizens remain dissatisfied with their experience.

Since the late 1990s, “commissioning” as a term has gained steady ground as a promising new approach to the design and delivery of human services, including in Australia. But what is commissioning? How is it different from previous methods of contracting service providers? And, most importantly, can it put people’s needs and aspirations at the centre of service design and delivery? These are the questions we explored with a coalition of peak bodies in the NSW community sector, guided by the central question: what is our collective vision and how do we build the relationships to move forward together to meet the needs of the communities we serve?

The resulting research brought together state-of-the-art academic knowledge, international best-practice expertise and deep local experience. It offers a new framework for commissioners to engage with in any given experiment, called “the commissioning jigsaw” as well four fundamental principles which, when taken together, form a lens through which the government and community sector ought to approach the design of commissioning initiatives in NSW: putting relationships first, letting communities lead, embedding learning and investing in people.

Download the full report (pdf, 8MB) or read more here. 

Research team: Professor Susan Goodwin, Professor Marc Stears, Dr Elaine Fishwick, Lisa Fennis and Mark Riboldi.

Project partners: The Centre for Volunteering, Churches Housing, Domestic Violence NSW, Fams, Homelessness NSW, Local Community Services Association (LCSA), NSW Council of Social Services (NCOSS), Shelter NSW, Y Foundations and Youth Action.

Data is increasingly used to direct services, secure funding and influence policy. However, for the disability community in Australia, access to high quality data is significantly lacking. 

The National Disability Data Asset (NDDA) is an ambitious initiative involving federal, state and territory governments that aims to better understand the experiences of people with disability by linking de-identified data across a range of domains including education, health, justice and employment. 

In 2022 Sydney Policy Lab was engaged by the NDDA National Project Team to capture the perspectives of members of the disability community to the idea of a NDDA in Australia.

The Lab’s interviews and workshops identified participants’ hopes that the NDDA will improve the quality and availability of data about people with disability, and that this improved data will be used to create positive change for people with disability. 

The clearest single insight to emerge from the research was that participants’ support for the NDDA was dependent on the meaningful involvement of people with disability in the Asset’s design, governance and operation. 

Read the No Data About Us Without Us report here.

Research team: Dr Emma Calgaro, Dr Juliet Bennett, Dr Sheelagh Daniel-Mayes, Dr Leigh-Anne Hepburn, Professor Kimberlee Weatherall, Libby Young, Louise Beehag, Amy Tong and Professor Marc Stears

Project partner: The National Disability Data Asset National Project Team

Despite all the talk of being “in it together”, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns have had dramatically varied effects on different communities across Australia and the world. Many autistic people felt unsupported. In 2020 the Lab collaborated with Macquarie University, RMIT University, the University of Western Australia and Reframing Autism on a first major investigation into the impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns on autistic people and their families. The report makes five key conclusions intended to influence ongoing policy responses. 

Read the full report here.  

Research team: Professor Liz Pellicano, Dr Simon Brett, Dr Jac den Houting, Dr Melanie Heyworth, Dr Iliana Magiati, Robyn Steward, Dr Anna Urbanowicz and Professor Marc Stears

Project partner: Reframing Autism

In November 2020, globally-acclaimed social reformer, Hilary Cottam, shared her vision and methods with an Australian audience at the Sydney Policy Lab’s annual event. Hilary was joined by Jon Owen, CEO and Pastor at The Wayside Chapel; Sophie Stewart, Campaign Coordinator at Social Reinvest WA; Dean Mosquito, Director and Youth Engagement Night Officer at Olabud Doogethu; Malcolm Edwards, Shire President of Shire of Halls Creek in WA; and Marc Stears, Director of the Sydney Policy Lab. The big question the speakers were asked was: how can we seize the once in a lifetime opportunity the COVID-19 pandemic provides to build a society in which everyone can find the support and care they need to flourish?

Read more about five key things we learnt here. 

In 2017 and 2018, Professor Smith-Merry and her team, in collaboration with Community Mental Health Australia, investigated the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The project found severe gaps in implementation —91% of people with severe mental illness will fall through the cracks of the NDIS— and worked with consumers, carers and practitioners from over 58 stakeholder organisations to propose solutions.

The report generated significant media interest, was tabled in Parliament and used to question the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA). 

Read the report here

Research team: Professor Jennifer Smith-Merry, Dr Nicola Hancock, Dr John Gilroy, Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn, Ms Ivy Yen and Ms Amanda Bresnan.

Project partner: Community Mental Health Australia