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Relationships built on trust, integrity and respect are crucial for effective engagement with Indigenous communities, according to two papers released today on the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse website.

Engaging with Indigenous Australia-exploring the conditions for effective relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities reviews the evidence on engagement and outlines the conditions required for effective engagement.

The evidence shows that engaging successfully with Indigenous communities requires:

  • an appreciation of the historical, social, cultural and political complexity of specific Indigenous contexts
  • active Indigenous participation from the earliest stage of defining the problem to be solved and defining aspirations, through to implementing the program and evaluating the results
  • long term relationships of trust, respect and honesty, as well as accessible and ongoing communication and clarity about roles and responsibilities
  • genuine efforts to share power, including through negotiated agreements
  • clarity about the purpose of and scale for engagement and appropriate timeframes.
  • attention to strengthening governance and capacity within both the Indigenous community and governments themselves, and good leadership
  • negotiation of clear and agreed outcomes  and indicators of success with monitoring and evaluation processes that meet each parties' needs.

This paper says evidence shows that effective engagement requires strong and strategic Indigenous and government leadership and adequate governance, and that hurried one-off 'consultations' that are organised without Indigenous input do not work.

Fragmented arrangements, where each agency tries to engage with the same Indigenous people and organisations, place unnecessarily heavy burdens on Indigenous people.

These findings are consistent with the findings of the second paper, Engagement with Indigenous communities in key sectors. This paper reviews evidence from studies of Indigenous engagement in early childhood services, environmental and natural resource management activities, and health programs at local, regional, state and national levels.

It outlines the common lessons on different levels of engagement from local engagement through to regional, state-wide and national engagement.

The Closing the Gap Clearinghouse (www.aihw.gov.au/closingthegap) is jointly funded by all Australian governments and provides an online source of information on what works to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage. It is delivered by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS).

Canberra, 4 October 2013

Further information: Nigel Harding, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1025, mob. 0409 307 671

Full publication available at: http://www.aihw.gov.au/closingthegap/