What does work

Policy development and delivery must include all affected parties and be based on real dialogue and cooperation between government agents and local Indigenous elders and communities.

There is almost universal agreement that success requires bottom up, culturally appropriate, local engagement, rather than short term, top down, centrally designed and imposed models. Unfortunately almost all current policy development and delivery continues to use the latter top down model. Despite some initial rhetoric from the Abbott government, the changes they have made do not seriously address the way governments stuff things up.

The advice offered by the government's own official experts is quite clear and matches what communities have also been saying, so we need to use these findings to push for changes. Stage one is to adopt and adapt the nine items listed below which clearly show what works, that is what produces good policies and programs. These were developed and published by the federal government's own advisory body, The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). These clearly show what processes should be adopted to make Indigenous focused policies and programs work better. The criteria are interconnected and need to be taken together as a recipe for how to make sure what is offered is likely to achieve good outcomes. It is how the process is done that really counts in the end.

Therefore, read the list of criteria from the AIHW as a whole and get the picture, then click on each one for further information about that criterion, derived from our review of other reports, research and proposals

  • Appropriate consultations by government officials with target communities should be undertaken early on before decisions are made on what services are needed and how to deliver them.
  • The consultation process needs to include adequate time and prior briefings to allow communities/organisations to set up meetings that all relevant affected community people know about and can attend.
  • The process must recognise local cultural knowledge, and listen to ideas and discussion. Local people need to feel engaged, and be sure local ideas are heard and appropriately incorporated.
  • There should also be feedback on what has and has not been included, and why. 

Long term planning, funding and support for staffing are all essential for effective services.

  • This involves planned funding for multiple years with realistic renewal possibilities,
  • Limited likelihood of successful programs being defunded, as this breeds future distrust,
  • Allow enough time for local communities, elders etc to discuss, amend and offer their own ideas. 

Incorporate design processes that recognise and value:

  • The local leadership, culture and languages,
  • Input through collaboratively designed local services,
  • Reciprocal respect and cultural understanding between locals and outsiders that incorprates and acknowledges differences,
  • Cultural and language differences that effect mutual understanding of the project plan and outcomes.


This has to be integrated into planning, as it is the structural key. Partnership must involve:

  • The genuine sharing of formal and informal decision making
  • Mutual recognition of joint interests, whether expressed through self-determination or other forms of shared control. 


Collaboration is a vital asset that:

  • Allow people to work together effectively and as equals.
  • Minimises the need for complex bureaucratic processes.
  • Limits the use of FIFO and non local agencies and stems the short term high level turnover of staff. 


Programs must address local and structural issues and past historical effects as well as current needs. This requires including external pressures in planning, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) finds population wide social and health problems derive from institutional and structural inequities that limit people’s sense of control and autonomy, rather than from personal or familial deficits. 


This important idea is essential both for effective program delivery and to address power imbalances.

  • Relationships need to be genuinely collaborative between funders, providers and recipients of services.
  • There needs to be either formal written agreements or, if agreed, informal arrangements integrated into actual decision making and delivery,
  • Local and joint engagement models need to work to create effectiveness and goodwill, 
  • Decisions need to integrate Aboriginal knowledge and aspirations.  

Services need to plan, listen to and engage with local communities and other agencies:

  • The problem of too few or too many overlapping services must be avoided.
  • Recognise and involve current locally controlled services, where they exist.
  • Limit the number of large outside agencies operating in small or localised areas as they often fragment local goodwill, don’t share skills and undermine the effectiveness of linked programs.  

There needs to be a focus on joining up services so as to recognise that few issues have single causes, and that structural problems underlie many local issues. This builds local goodwill.