Naomi Feely is Senior Policy Officer at Age Action, a leading advocacy organisation in Ireland working on ageing issues.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I am not sure what I wanted to be when I was a child but as I reached my teenage years I wanted to work in a local authority. For some reason I used to be fascinated with the planning notices in our local paper. When I had to decide in my final year of secondary school what to do in college, I decided to study for a degree in Public Administration at the University of Limerick (UL).
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
During my degree I enjoyed the modules in social research the most. I enjoyed having to undertake mini research projects and found this work more accessible (and enjoyable!) than economics and politics. In my final year I was suddenly a little unsure what to do next. As it turned out, the Department of Sociology at UL introduced a new Masters of Arts in Sociology (Applied Social Research), which I applied for and got a place on.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
I graduated from the MA course in 2003 and moved to Dublin – somewhere I never thought I wanted to live! For my first job I worked in the research division of the Combat Poverty Agency for six months. The Agency was an independent statutory body charged with advising the government on poverty and social exclusion. Unfortunately during the downturn in the economy it was merged back into its parent department. But while I worked there it was producing some great research and it was very good at establishing a link between the community and voluntary and public sectors. My first project was writing a policy statement on waste collection charges and their impact on low-income households. The project looked at the variation in charges across the local authority areas in Ireland and the impact for those on low incomes.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
Directly following this I had another short-term research contract for 9 months working at the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice. I was employed to undertake a specific piece of research that involved adapting the University of York’s Low Cost but Acceptable Budget Standards to the Irish situation. This was a real turning point in my career as I began to see how to use research as a means of lobbying for changes in social welfare and minimum wage rates.
I then moved on to work with an NGO working on issues to do with one-parent families for two years. From there I worked in another public sector body, had a brief stint in the private sector as a consultant (it was not for me!) and undertook work as a freelance researcher. I also completed a second Masters in Political Communications.
In the last four years I have come back to the community and voluntary sector again. My primary objective is to work for organisations who develop a strong evidence base on the issues affecting those they represent and who utilize this evidence to shape debates within the public and political spheres. I enjoy combining my research skills with policy and advocacy work in my current role.
What has been your best professional moment?
Probably the publication of the research I undertook at the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice. It really opened my mind to how to use research as a tool to inform policy development while also being grounded in a strong sense of social justice.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
Probably one of my lecturers in UL - Dr Amanda Haynes - who taught qualitative research methods on the MA in Sociology course. Her teaching conveyed a very pragmatic approach to undertaking research and she was always enthusiastic and eager to help. Just last year I was struggling to find some literature for my PhD on interviewing elite organisations and as a long shot I sent a #phdchat tweet looking for inspiration. She replied with a book and search term suggestion!
Do you have a favourite quote?
At one of our first lectures on qualitative research, Amanda had noted on the slides the phrase ‘Standing on the shoulder of Giants’. I think this sums up very well the contribution of research. No matter how small the research it contributes to an existing body of work and helps us to further understand a phenomenon or social issue.
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
If you have a curious mind research will really feed your curiosity as you are continuously finding out new things.