Our First Year at ARTD

Like many evaluators, we all brought different backgrounds and skills to the table when we started. But after a year, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves, our abilities, and the sectors we work in. We’ve enjoyed the journey of growth, collaborating with supportive colleagues and contributing to projects from start to finish. As we mark one year at ARTD, we look back on where we started, how we’ve changed, and the successes we’ve had along the way.

What were we doing before ARTD?

Kat: I was in the final stretch of writing my PhD thesis in the field of criminology. I’d spent the last few years working with Queensland Correctional Services undertaking my thesis to investigate women in custody across Queensland, analysing their risk of return to corrections and how programs offered to them by QCS might reduce the likelihood of returning. I was also working as a university tutor at the University of Queensland across our introductory criminology courses and undertaking positions as research assistant across a number of criminal justice research projects. As the end of my scholarship approached, I was looking for a position where I could pursue my interests working in the justice system while using more applied approaches to research. Evaluation at ARTD seemed the perfect crossover between academia and public service. I was able to use the skills I had learned in research and apply this in a much more practical and independent way, allowing me to be part of policy change and program improvement for both service users and providers.

Theebana: Before ARTD I was working as a consultant in change management. My work was predominately supporting technology implementation, as well as behaviour and culture change within federal government agencies. I enjoyed it but I was looking for work that would allow me to pursue my interest in criminology and criminal justice and contribute to broader policy and program change.

Ellen: Before working at ARTD, I had recently completed my Honours year in Environmental Studies and was working as a sessional academic at the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney. I had, and continue to have, a keen interest in human geography, ecology and food systems, and was lucky enough to keep nurturing this passion by tutoring and contributing to the development of several courses covering all kinds of environmental content from natural disasters to environmental politics, to Indigenous land and food systems. At the same time, I was working part time as a researcher for the Australian Council of Learned Academies and getting my first taste for the world of public policy. A few opportunities had cropped up to continue with a PhD, but my gut feeling was that I needed to get some experience outside of the academic world first. So… I decided to take 3 months off to travel (best decision ever), and then upon my return, began to seek out new opportunities which would leverage my background and skills in research, but also expose me to new ways of doing. That’s when I came across ARTD!

How have we changed since joining ARTD?

Kat: When I started, I had some understanding of what evaluation meant. In the past I had undertaken a contract role as a senior evaluation officer in the Qld Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women. What I have developed since being at ARTD is a genuine appreciation for how evaluation is practiced and the importance of our deliverables to our clients. I have learned so much from our Directors, my colleagues and our clients about the value of what evaluation can provide to society. I also learned how to transfer my skills in research and academia into my role as a senior consultant. Particularly, that evaluative writing and consulting is about giving our clients decision making support, whereas research writing and practice is about building something from the ground up. I have also contributed to my skillset and now have experience in using new analytic softwares in my quantitative work as well as taking on project management roles where I have been able to practice my new skills in qualitative interviewing and analysis.

Theebana: Now, I am a consultant in evaluation and most of my work is within the criminal justice sector. This may sound like a big change, but as the year has gone by, I’ve come to realise how change management is integrated in evaluation methodologies. I have also been given the opportunity to do work in the sector that aligns to my interests and education, and this isn’t even the best part.

Ellen: 1 year ago, my goals were to continue honing my research skills through real-world application and get some experience in a professional setting. I also wanted to gain more insight into environmental policy, without limiting myself to one sector. Now, after one year at ARTD, I have been involved in numerous projects, spanning mental health, social housing, disaster recovery, community resilience, cultural watering, climate adaptation and more. It’s been wonderfully diverse, and while I’m still learning, I am surer of myself and where my passions lie. On top of that, I’ve also gained some very useful project management skills and have developed a lot more confidence in doing work for clients.

What’s been the best part?

Kat: There are many things that I have enjoyed about working at ARTD. The supportive working culture is second to none, where I have developed wonderful working and personal relationships with my colleagues. The team work taken to achieve our deliverables means that you are never without support to undertake your tasks. Further, the wide range of projects we work on, often simultaneously, means there is always a sense of excitement about the working week. This keeps you stimulated and engaged with your work. As an employee my ideas are also encouraged, my passion for AI, capacity building and learning has meant I have been able to suggest new opportunities for growth at ARTD both internally and externally that have been supported. Our opportunities to learn new skills and engage in personal learning and development is also one of the best parts about working here. As part of my personal development plan I attended the AES conference and was able to present work at the Australia New Zealand Society of Criminology conference in my first year.

Theebana: The best part is the people and variety. I’m not only challenged by the work I do, but by the people I work with as well.  I am constantly learning from my colleagues as they approach evaluation with experience, curiosity, and compassion. At ARTD, I’m also surrounded by people who encourage each other to explore their interests, and celebrate them too. There is so much variety in the work we do! I I have learned about and applied qualitative and quantitative methods, evaluation theory, ethical and trauma informed practice and data management in the projects I’ve worked on. Additionally, contributing to evaluation across different teams has allowed me to learn about a variety of different sectors, including health and education. Together, this variety has helped me gain confidence in my skills as an evaluation consultant.

Ellen: The highlight of my career at ARTD so far has been co-developing cultural watering plans with two Aboriginal communities in NSW. I really enjoyed the process of working closely with a community to articulate and translate their vision into a document which advocates for their water-related rights and values. It was a truly rewarding process that involved a commitment to deep listening and two-way learning, and I feel very privileged to have been welcomed into that space. And not to mention, we got to do a lot of fieldwork in some very beautiful Country!

Beyond project work, one of the best things about working at ARTD is undoubtedly the work culture. This being my first 9-5 job, I feel very fortunate to have stumbled into a workplace that is both supportive and progressive, and sees the value of things like team-bonding activities and the occasional yoga class (my partner and friends have assured me this is not the norm). On the daily, I get to work alongside a bunch of fun, clever and kind individuals, and we do a lot of laughing in the Sydney office. Also, people at ARTD take their food seriously, which is something I really appreciate. I’m pretty sure we have the best staff lunches in town!

What are we taking forward?

Kat: I have learned a lot in my first year, particularly how valuable project management is for our clients. Building trust and relationships with them, service providers and users has been one of the highlights of my first year and I aim to take this forward with me to both build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Most importantly I’ll take forward with me a growing passion for evaluation, undertaking new and creative approaches to best suit our clients. It excites me for what comes next.

Theebana: I have come to appreciate how adaptable I can be, and how important adaptability is. It’s safe to say that every week looks a bit different here. For example, one week I was working with an associate and travelling to regional and metropolitan correctional centres throughout NSW to facilitate interviews with people in custody, and the next week I was behind a computer plugging away at a literature review. The ability to do both requires adaptability to change, which is something I have learned to embrace throughout my first year at ARTD.

Ellen: While it’s been great gaining experience across a range of sectors, this year I really want to continue building my skills and knowledge across the environment sector. I am keen to work on more projects that bring together my passion for environmental restoration and community-led change, and I hope to grow ARTD’s work in this space.

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