Marg Rogers

Want To Know How To Get Funding For Your Project? We Talked To Stakeholders. Here’s What We Discovered.

Designing a research project that engages well with stakeholders is held up as the gold star when applying for funding. And we all know how competitive it is to get funding, so getting it right is key. 

If we don’t engage well with stakeholders, we risk having a project that doesn’t meet the needs of the people, organisations or communities we are trying to serve. Also, the success of a project is often measured by how well the project team have engaged with stakeholders. So, how do we engage in a meaningful way?

Our research project has been exploring a variety of ways to engage with different groups of stakeholders in our 3-year online community education project. Our research team is learning a lot about stakeholder engagement along the way and adapting our methods. We are keen to share what we have learnt.

Who did we engage with stakeholders?

We surveyed parents from defence families, educators and family workers to ask them what should be included in our funded project and what types of resources they thought would work best. We also engaged with experts in the field, such as Legacy staff and volunteers, psychology and social work academics, experienced educators and veteran parents.

What is stakeholder engagement?

Stakeholder engagement is sometimes called community engagement. It is a continuous collaboration with people:

  1. who will be affected by the project, or
  2. who are close to the project (geographically or through shared interests).

How do you work with stakeholders?

The key to the success of a project is how well the project team can identify and gather all the different interests of the stakeholders and manage through them.

Who are our stakeholders?

Knowing who your stakeholders are is a key starting point for engaging effectively. Stakeholders can be:

  • the end users of the program (in our project, children from military families and their educators, parents and family workers), and
  • those interested in governance (our steering committee)
  • those with influence (organisations such as Legacy and the Defence Community Organisation)
  • those who provide resources (our funders: The Ian Potter Foundation and the University of New England)

What’s a good framework for stakeholder engagement?

Figure1: Stakeholder conceptual framework for ECDP (from Rogers et. al., 2021)

It helps our research team to use this framework for engagement. We aim to:

  1. communicate effectively and often (using a variety of methods)
  2. consult with stakeholders early in the project (start when planning the project)
  3. identify stakeholders’ limitations (What will hold them back? How can we help them to interact?)
  4. have a plan for engagement (the research team should discuss and plan)
  5. work on our relationships (take an active interest in stakeholders and let them know how much you value their input and support)

How do we engage well?

Engaging well with stakeholders will look different for every project. In our Early Childhood Defence Programs (ECDP) project, we have focussed on the areas shown in this diagram.

Figure 2: Stakeholder engagement for the ECDP project (from Rogers et. al., 2021)

Types of engagement

There are many ways to engage well with stakeholders. The ECDP project uses a variety of methods, including:

  • social media posts 1) Facebook: linking project progress with current events (e.g. Children’s Week, Anzac Day) 2) Twitter: highlighting academic publications related to the project
  • media engagement (in publications that our stakeholders might read)
  • surveys to get ideas for our programs and resources (targeting parents, educators and family workers)
  • website (for project information, goals, progress, plans, events and draft resources)
  • stakeholder committee meetings (twice a year via video conference)
  • liaison with funders and influences (for advice and ideas)
  • funding reports (formal and informal)
  • presentations (at research events and interagency meetings, then uploading these to our website)
  • funding applications (with influencers for project extensions and future projects)
  • competitions (to engage with stakeholders and community contributions to the project)
  • providing resources (for children, parents and family workers, educators, those supporting children with special needs, academics and policy makers)

What are the benefits of opening the door?

The benefits of opening the door to stakeholders have been both predictable and surprising for the ECDP project.

Predictably we have gained:

  • fresh ideas,
  • ways to strengthen the project,
  • better ways to solve problems,
  • allies,
  • new networks of support,
  • advice
  • refinement of our work
  • a closer engagement with our end users, and
  • new knowledge.

We were surprised to gain:

  • a higher level of interest from stakeholders than predicted
  • an increased sense of direction
  • regular bursts of praise, appreciation and enthusiasm, leading to
  • energy and project momentum.

What are the challenges?

Time and energy. Our research team is made up of academics and academics are time poor. Academics work in a space that is demanding more of their time than ever before.

Due to a very limited project budget, we have chosen to use a very low-cost website and manage all social media engagement. This takes a lot of time and energy.

Figure 3: ECDP logo from our website

Engaging well with our stakeholders in all the ways we do takes stamina. Overall, we have found it to be well worth the effort. Our social media following is growing steadily, and this might help us recruit participants for our control trials.

‘When you open up the door to let the wind in, the dust follows’ according to the Vietnamese proverb. We have found this to be true when we have had to deal with spam, bots and bizarre online comments. Luckily, this has been rare.


Our research team doesn’t think the ECDP project would ever be immune to irrelevance, but we think our efforts are helping us avoid meaningless outcomes. Making sure our project stays relevant to our stakeholders is a work in progress and one we really enjoy. We also believe it gives our project strength, direction and purpose.

Marg Rogers is a Lecturer in the Early Childhood Education and Care at the University of New England. Marg’s current research interests are about programming and resourcing parents and educators to build resilience and understanding in 2-5-year-olds from Australian Defence Force (ADF) families, professionalism, and narratives.

Early childhood help for children of deployed military personnel

One parent shared with me that she was told ‘You’re just on your own until they go to school. There’s nothing out there’. She was part of my research project to find out what 2-5-year old children understand and experience when their parent worked away due to military deployment and training.

During the project many other parents and early childhood educators repeated this problem, telling me about the lack of resources. They told me they wanted storybooks and apps for children from Australian Defence Force (ADF) families to help them understand and build resilience to deal with the stresses they face.

These stresses include: long parental deployments, frequent parental training, frequent relocations and a parent who may get injured or suffer mental health conditions when they return. Children can react to parental deployment in many ways, including  emotionally, socially, physically and in their learning and development (cognitively).

The responses are shown in the infograph below, however, many families are able to use supports around them and adapt and try to cope in different ways.

Early childhood programs

During the research project, the activities I did with the children involved reading them storybooks I had created about defence families. These were used as a springboard to start group chats, artwork, craftwork, raps, puppet play and role play that focussed on their experiences, understandings and feelings about their parent working away.

During the project, an educator said, ‘I want programs like this in all the early childhood services and schools to help the children cope’, referring to the research activities. ‘It helps the children to be able to understand and verbalise what is upsetting them, rather than just whining and crying’.

Our first efforts

To begin to address this need, I published online, two research-based eBooks  for free, called ‘Waiting for Daddy: Rose’s story’ and ‘Now that I am big: Anthony’s story’.

Click on the image to access the free e-book
Click on the image to access the free e-book

Another parent had requested I create an app, saying her daughter had used a US app about military families which the daughter really enjoyed, but the parent said it was not culturally appropriate for Australian children because the context and uniforms were quite different. So, one of the eBooks was chosen to be developed into a free app for iPads. To do this, I joined with an early childhood technology specialist,  Dr Jo Bird, an IT technician, Raph Roberts and a media designer, Trish Donald from the University of New England (UNE) to create ‘Rose’s story’ app.

Click on the image to access the free iPad app

To support early childhood educators, I also published newsletter articles to communicate ideas to  partner with parents when they work away, and how to use various activities to gather the voices of very young children, as I had done in the research project.

For parents, I also published academic media articles about ways to support young children when they have a parent who works away. To further support military families, I published a recommendations report for policy makers, educators, family workers, social workers, and education liaison officers within the ADF.

A bigger response

After these efforts, I decided a more coordinated approach was needed and put together an educational research team, combined with a support team of technicians, digital media learning designers and parent, educator, research and community volunteers, with plans to create 2 free, online programs.

One program will be for educators and another for parents to support 2-5-year old children from defence families (see here for details). Our project then received funding from The Ian Potter Foundation and in-kind funding from the University of New England.

Timelines

We will be creating the programs in 2020 and early 2021, then trialling and evaluating them in 2021-2022. This will involve piloting the programs with parents and educators in early childhood services near navy, army and airforce bases. To register your interest in being involved in these control trials, please email us at ecdefenceprograms@une.edu.au . Once we refine the programs and resources, they will be released for free online by February 2023 in order to better support these young children to build resilience and have the opportunity to flourish.

Can you give us some ideas?

To make sure we create the best programs we can, we are asking educators who have experience working with children whose parents work away and parents from families who experience a parent working away to share some of the strategies with us. We are also asking them to let us know what topics they would like to see covered in the programs and which types of resources they would like the children to use.

There is also a place for feedback on the website for any community suggestions or comments. Please join with us to help make this project a success.

Marg Rogers is a Lecturer in the Early Childhood Education team within the School of Education at the University of New England, Armidale. Marg’s current research interests are about programming and resourcing parents and educators to build resilience and understanding in 2-5 year olds from Australian Defence Force (ADF) families. The programs are to assist them with parental separation during deployment and training and when the parents return with injuries and mental health conditions. She also researches professionalism in early childhood, creative arts education in early childhood and works with Dr Jo Bird in researching early childhood technologies.

Personal photos in images are supplied by defence families and ADF personnel