Matt Baumann is currently an independent researcher and evaluator
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
For quite a while, I had two professions in mind. My first choice was to work on an oil rig, my second was to be a cowboy. I understood that there was lots of money in oil, and I was certain that cowboys had lots of fun. But I wasn’t happy with having to choose between money and fun and so when I heard about social research I was delighted.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
After finishing a degree in history and politics in 1993 my first job was working in a telephone fundraising company. Initially I worked on campaign administration and making direct fundraising calls, and then I got involved in some customer care projects which involved interviewing charity supporters about their values, views and opinions. It was then that I caught the research bug. I went from here to get some training with NatCen (then SCPR) and worked on the British Citizenship Survey interviewing people in their own homes.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
My first ‘proper’ research job in 1996 was as a research officer for Dorset Social Services (Dorset being where I grew up). My first project was a survey of parents’ experiences of day-care provision. It was a great introduction to running a random sample survey. Dorset County Council kindly sponsored me to study part time for a masters’ degree in social research methods and statistics at City University – affording me the chance to learn the theory and practice of research alongside one another.
And after that?
I stayed in Dorset for 3-4 years and completed several studies for Department in adult and children’s services. I then moved to London to take up a job at Newham Social Services. Then in 2000 I started at what is now the Department for Communities Local Government working on the development and implementation of the £1.5bn Supporting People programme. The central government role was a very different experience to my previous roles, mainly because I was now a research buyer rather than a hands-on researcher, but also because the work was around policy implementation, and what I bought tended to be ‘information based outputs’ to support development and delivery of the new programme rather than social science research. I enjoyed working with the policy team – and it was an interesting diversion from social science.
What has been your best professional moment?
My years at Dorset would be a strong candidate for a ‘best professional moment’ – the value base was strong, there was variety in what we investigated and the research team was well integrated into the strategy and policy function whilst managing to maintain well its own boundaries.
However, I think my actual BPM was getting my first academic publication. There is something about knowing your research builds on and contributes to ‘the literature’ on a topic. My first article was published in 2008 and it set out the findings of a study of good practice in six sites where hospital discharge delays had been minimised (the project was aptly titled ‘what went right?’).
For the large part of the past six years I’ve been self-employed. I’ve worked on a number of health and wellbeing focused programmes and service evaluations including studies for NHS organisations, the Arts Council, Youth Music and I’ve most recently worked for NESTA on its People Powered Health Programme.
I am currently drafting three articles on the findings of three arts and health initiatives that I evaluated during 2007-10. Managing to complete this research to an academic standard outside of an academic environment, and getting some more articles published will be my next BPM.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
Kevin Bales has spent the past 15 or more years researching and leading action on modern day slavery and his research (written up in numerous books such as the award winning Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy and Ending Slavery: How we free today’s slaves) has made a huge impact on the way individuals and global institutions perceive and act with respect to human trafficking and slavery. The number of international awards, recognitions and honours he has received is awe inspiring. I would have to say then that he and his former partner, my sister Ginny with whom he established the charitable organisation Free the Slaves around 10 years ago, are my social research heroes/heroines.
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
I think it’s a difficult climate in which to enter a social research career but the world is changing so fast and the need for intelligent people who will vigilantly and passionately seek to understand society as it changes, and to support powerful institutions to develop supportive and enabling communities and service infrastructures, remains just as important as it has ever been.
Interview by William Solesbury