BA/LLBhons (Auckland), MEcon (Macquarie), PhD (UNSW)

Policy and administration

Karen Fisher’s distinctive research achievement is her social policy impact in Australia and China. She is known for research that influences individualised disability support, leading to evidence for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the closure of disability institutions. Her leadership promotes methods for disability inclusive research in social policy, now an accepted and increasingly expected approach to fulfil the rights of people with disability. 

Her academic achievements are in social policy theorisation and human rights frameworks, derived from disability inclusive methodologies. These contributions influence international scholarship and government policy. Her career bridges research and industry, working to increase the policy relevance and utility of her research to inform theory and practice.

In Australia, her research leadership has an impact on policy decisions to reform and expand disability service programs. This impact is most dramatically evident in her work that contributed to the implementation of NDIS. During the ten years before NDIS she ran a series of projects about how examples of policies for individual packages were effectively operating in Australia and could be expanded system wide. That work now continues to inform how to resolve the broader questions of shifting control to NDIS participants about how their support is organised.

Karen Fisher has always chosen to hold part-time academic positions to fulfil community and family commitments. She has held Ministerial appointments for Official Visitor positions in disability and mental health services to bring her research expertise into direct practice.

Her unique contribution to Australian Chinese disability policy exchange was recognised with two 6-month Endeavour Australia Cheung Kong Fellowships to the Chinese Academy of Social Science in 2005 and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 2009. There she forged partnerships with Chinese scholars in the field of government contracted disability services, at the time when grassroots non-government organisations (NGOs) were seeking to transform their relationship with government. Her work has influenced Chinese policy, particularly the move of orphans and young people with disability living in institutions towards living in the community. 

Karen Fisher is one of the few international disability policy academics collaborating with Chinese colleagues to include people with disability in social policy methodology, known as inclusive research. Her research in Australia and China facilitates inclusive methods in research, where the people with disability affected by policy participate in the research design and conduct. Her contribution to the development of this methodology is significant because it reflects the change in the direction of social policy towards citizen empowerment and policy participation. Her approach has influenced policy officials to adopt inclusive evaluation methodologies in government projects. She successfully argued that the research briefs were ethically inappropriate and ineffective for socially responsive policy research.

Her leadership in Australia China social policy research exchange has demonstrated that the opportunities to learn from each other are well overdue. Her experience of knowledge exchange research practices means that Australia is now also learning from China about how social problems are understood, how the people experiencing the problems can be included in research and how policy change can respond to their rights in both countries.

2006-12 Official Visitor, Ministerial Appointment, NSW Mental Health

1995-00 Community Visitor, Ministerial Appointment, NSW Disability Accommodation 

2019 Visiting Fellow, Department of Social Work, National Taipei University, July to August

2015 UNSW Social Impact Award

2014 Visiting Fellow, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, July to Dec

2009 Endeavour Australia Cheung Kong Fellowship – China 

2009 Visiting Fellow, School of International and Public Affairs, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, July to December

2005 Endeavour Australia Cheung Kong Award – China 

2005 Visiting Fellow, Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Science, July to December

1. Shang, X, Fisher, KR 2016, Disability Policy in China: Child and Family Experiences, Routledge, UK.

2. Shang, X, Fisher, KR 2014, Care of Orphaned Children in China, Lexington, USA.

3. Fisher, KR, Li, J 2008, Chinese disability independent living policy, Disability and Society, 23(2): 171-85.

4. Purcal, C, Fisher, KR, Laragy, C 2014, Analysing choice in Australian individual funding disability policies, Australian Journal of Public Administration. 73(1): 88-102.

5. Fisher, KR, Robinson, S 2010, Will policy makers hear my disability experience? How participatory research contributes to managing interest conflict in policy implementation, Social Policy and Society. 9(2), 207-20.