Think HBR

Innovating to solve regional problems

Every Hunter business looking to thrive in the current global economic environment needs to innovate. Non-profit organisations face similar challenges to other businesses.
The Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) has fostered a culture of innovation since it was established as an independent regional research organisation in 1956. Pursuing original research into the economic and social issues holding the Hunter Region back has generated a spirit of invention at HRF when it comes to defining the issues, designing research aimed at providing practical solutions and finding support to enable it to happen.
This spirit was demonstrated recently in the HRF’s YOUnite youth connectedness project.
HRF’s social researchers wanted to tackle the Hunter’s skyrocketing youth unemployment (18.5% at the end of March) and widespread reports of increasing youth disengagement from school and community. They developed their YOUnite youth project involving three pillars of innovation - collaboration, inventiveness and experimentation.
Firstly, HRF invited input from the public at its community lecture series event, which included an interactive panel discussion involving young leaders. They then consulted a Youth Stakeholder Group – educators, trainers, youth service providers – during a workshop to define the issues the research should address. The missing piece in the information puzzle was the voice of young people themselves.
Secondly, they designed an innovative methodology that put young people (14-24 year olds) at the heart of the YOUnite project. HRF wanted young people to conduct the research and analysis as well as be the subject of it. So they recruited six under-25s as research assistants and guided them to conduct 540 face-to-face interviews with young people in places where they meet – beaches, malls, trains and buses.
Thirdly, HRF staff experimented by coaching three of the research assistants to present the survey findings at a Youth Summit in Maitland in February. This also involved facilitated workshops with more than 60 under-25 year olds to find potential solutions to the issues the young researchers had defined. HRF took these results back to their Youth Stakeholder Group to try and identify practical programs and initiatives that can be delivered to make a difference to the outcomes of young people in the Hunter.
YOUnite will wrap up with a final report in June 2015. To read HRF’s YOUnite Project research paper, visit