Winners and finalists of the 2022 Indigenous Governance Awards talk about the importance of developing the next generation of leaders and how succession planning takes place in their organisation...
- 01 Understanding governance
- 02 Culture and governance
- 03 Getting Started
- 04 Leadership
05 Governing the organisation
- 5.0 Governing the organisation
- 5.1 Roles, responsibilities and rights of a governing body
- 5.2 Accountability: what is it, to whom and how?
- 5.3 Decision making by the governing body
- 5.4 Governing finances and resources
- 5.5 Communicating
- 5.6 Future planning
- 5.7 Building capacity and confidence for governing bodies
- 5.8 Case Studies
- 06 Rules and policies
- 07 Management and staff
08 Disputes and complaints
- 8.0 Disputes and complaints
- 8.1 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous approaches
- 8.2 Core principles and skills for dispute and complaint resolution
- 8.3 Disputes and complaints about governance
- 8.4 Your members: Dealing with disputes and complaints
- 8.5 Organisations: dealing with internal disputes and complaints
- 8.6 Practical guidelines and approaches
- 8.7 Case Studies
- 09 Governance for nation rebuilding
- Governance Stories
- Useful links
- Preview new Toolkit
09 Governance for nation rebuilding
Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face many challenges, not the least of which is exercising self-determination to:
- govern themselves in ways that are meaningful
- initiate economic development that is aligned to cultural and collective priorities
- make laws and decisions that solve difficult social problems, and balance cultural integrity with change
- shape relations with encompassing societies in ways of their own choosing.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights to self-determination of this kind has been variously ignored, undermined, acknowledged or modestly supported over the years.
But Indigenous peoples’ desire to govern themselves within their own cultural units—and to build their capacity to do that well—remains a persistent concern across the country.
The concept of ‘nation building’ or ‘rebuilding’ explores the often complex challenges involved, and the ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups are currently working to overcome these challenges by reinvigorating their collective identities and governance arrangements.
While stories of disaster, deficit and despair still dominate far too many discussions of governance and community life, new stories of resourcefulness, creativity and success—as determined by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples themselves—are surfacing.
In this topic you will find information, ideas and examples that focus on implementing governance for nation rebuilding and development; along with several tools to kick-start your conversations and initial practical steps.
“Strong tree, strong people, strong culture.
The sun, the leaves, the branches, the flowers, the seeds, the water and the bark are all parts of governance.
The trunk of the big tall tree is an elder passing on knowledge and wisdom. The bark covers the trunk and holds it together.
The branches are networks. The yellow leaves are the old people who need to be looked after.
The seedlings in the waterhole are the young people listening to and learning from the elders, who are watching and supporting them.
The sun is looking to see who’s going to be a strong leader in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. This system provides strong governance—everything’s inter-connected, allowing the tree to provide good fruit.”
Illustration and story by participants at the “Sharing Governance Success Workshops” of the vision for their strong future governance.
As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups in Australia continue with their work of rebuilding systems of governance and look for new governing tools to assist them, they are faced with fundamental questions about their own collective cultural identities, such as:
- Who are the members of the group, clan, tribe or community that we might now call our nation?
- What do we value and what are we trying to protect?
- What kind of laws, relationships and behaviours do we want to foster among ourselves?
- What kind of future do we want to create for our grandchildren?
- What kind of relationship do we want to have with other Indigenous nations, and with Australian governments?
- What kind of governing arrangements will we need to achieve those goals?
In other words, how do we constitute ourselves as an effective polity (that is, an organised form or process of governing or government) in contemporary times?
These questions deal with the very practical tasks of self-determination and nation rebuilding.
Definition: A nation refers to a group or community of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent or history. A nation may share a single common territory with physical boundaries and government, or it may be located as a nation within another lager nation.
The concept of ‘nation’ in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia can include:
- a small clan or tribal unit
- a native title–holder or traditional land-owning group
- people who are dispersed across a wide region or city, but see themselves as a single cultural unit
- a discrete community whose differently related residents share the desire to collectively govern themselves.
A nation does not rely on legislated or treaty recognition, although that greatly enhances its jurisdictional and decision-making power:
“Understood as a human right, the essential idea of self-determination is that human beings, individually and as groups, are equally entitled to be in control of their own destinies, and to live within governing institutional orders that are devised accordingly.”
(James Anaya, quoted in conference report on ‘Common Roots, Common Futures: Different Paths to Self-determination—An international Conversation’,
University of Arizona, 2012)
Definition: Self-determination refers to genuine decision-making power and responsibility about what happens on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ lands, in their affairs, in their governing systems, and in their development strategies. It means having meaningful control over one’s own life and cultural wellbeing.
As decision-making power and responsibility moves from external authorities into the hands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, self-determination grows.
Governance of this kind does not refer to self-administration or self-management of programs and services that are controlled by outside authorities.
Definition: Nation rebuilding thus “refers to the processes by which a Native [Indigenous] nation enhances its own foundational capacity for effective self-governance and for self-determined community and economic development” (Miriam Jorgensen, Rebuilding Native Nations: Strategies for Governance and Development, Editor’s Foreword, University of Arizona Press, 2007).
Nation rebuilding is really about how Indigenous peoples can pull together the tools they need to build the futures that they want—and put them into place.
By tools, we mean the rules, processes, checks and balances, and structures of governance.
Definition: When we talk about governance for nation rebuilding, we’re talking about the practical mechanisms that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people use to collectively organise how they go about trying to get the things done that matter most to them.
Simply put its how they can govern in a way that maximises their ongoing self-determination.
For many Indigenous Australians a transition is occurring from the pure ‘rights battle’ to the ‘governance and development challenge’ where practical capacity to govern is critical to future outcomes.
9.2.1 Two different approaches
“Many Indigenous groups have spent so much time and energy fighting for recognition and rights, and dealing with internal disagreements along the way, that they have cut short building their own governance foundations. As a result, when nations and communities do emerge from the maelstrom with rights, resources and development opportunities, they then face the challenge of having to implement and sustain those—but do so with ineffective or underdeveloped governing arrangements. They then have to race to catch up, or worse, they miss out on opportunities and get continually hammered by a downwards spiral of crises, loss of confidence and disengagement by citizens.”
(Steve Cornell, quoted at ‘Common Roots, Common Futures:
Different Paths to Self-determination—An international Conversation’,
University of Arizona, 2012)
What worked to get people through times of political advocacy or hard legal negotiations with colonial governments is not necessarily what will work to implement the rights and benefits secured out of those actions.
In Australia, governance arrangements have often been imposed on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups from the outside, according to the agenda, priorities and values of mainstream governments, missionary churches, and others.
In general this ‘standard’ approach to governance and development is very different to that of a nation-rebuilding approach:
Culture is portrayed as problematic.
Culture is seen as a strength and asset.
Decision making is short term, non-strategic and often externally controlled.
Decision making is able to be longer term, strategic and under the control of the nation.
External parties set the future direction.
Future agenda setting is directed by the nation.
Development is treated as primarily an economic problem and goal.
Development is seen as an interrelated social, economic and cultural goal.
Leaders act as hunters and distributors of resources and services, and make ill-informed decisions.
Leaders act as stewards, nation-builders, mediators and mobilisers, and can make decisions based on plans.
Accountability is upwards to external parties and focuses on financial administration.
Accountability is downwards to the nation’s members and focuses on collective goals.
Governing rules and frameworks are based on external values, standards and concepts.
Governing rules and frameworks reflect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander political cultures and concepts.
The result is failed governance and enterprises; politicised decisions; a governance culture that is dependent on external funds and remedial intervention; an impression of chaos and dysfunction; and continued poverty.
The result is growing governance capacity; consensus decision making; sustainable enterprises and community development; a governance culture where risk is evaluated, managed and diversified; an impression of competence and resilience; and socioeconomic progress.
(Adapted from S. Cornell, ‘Two approaches to the development of native nations’, Rebuilding Native Nations, University of Arizona Press, 2007)
9.2.2 The ladder of self-governance: where are you?
The ladder of self-governance for nation rebuilding is a simplistic diagram that sets out the levels or rungs on the climb towards achieving genuine governing authority and responsibility that will support nation rebuilding.
In real life there are many more rungs and complications involved. The move from the standard approach to a nation-rebuilding approach is usually a slow and stop-start process.
Every rung needs to be accompanied by building the capacity to practically exercise the governing authority that has been secured.
The descriptions in this tool will help you decide where on the ladder of effective self-governance you feel your group, community or organisation is currently located.
Adapted from Sherry Arnstein, ‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’, JAIP, Vol.35, No.4, July 1969, pp.216-224.
9.2.3 The nation-rebuilding approach
A nation-rebuilding approach requires a new conversation about the role and the strategic vision of tribal, clan or community governance—and how to go about achieving it.
Redesigning governance arrangements is, in effect, a sovereign decision—it’s what ‘self-determination in action’ is about.
Initially it may be about a small area of decision-making control and responsibility. But whatever the focus, under a nation-rebuilding approach, the governance arrangements must, first and foremost, be the result of informed decisions made by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people involved.
Beginning a nation-rebuilding strategy will necessarily involve your group or community in conversations and some hard decisions about how you can:
- draw on your unique governance cultures and traditions, and work from a basis of respect for and protection of your cultural identities
- determine what constitutes legitimacy for your nation—who can speak when, for whom, to whom and about what. This includes ensuring the vulnerable within your nation are equally represented
- determine what kind of leadership you need, what effectiveness and capacity means for your nation, and then design appropriate processes, rules and structures to implement those
- build a strong mandate from your members and provide them with a voice to participate in decision making about governance priorities, aspirations and arrangements
- engage with the wider governance environment and your networks, and insist on your governance arrangements being respected in relationships with other parties.
The next topic provides you with practical tools and advice about how to get started on these conversations.
Alice Springs, NT. Image, Wayne Quilliam.
“The challenge for traditional owners, like the Yawuru, is how do we, as a people, leverage our native title rights so as to promote our own resilience and reliable prosperity in the modern world?” (Patrick Dodson, presentation for ‘Common Roots, Common Futures: Different Paths to Self-determination—An international Conversation’, University of Arizona, 2012)
“Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development.”(Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, 1999)
“The top 500 Indigenous corporations hold a total of $1.22 billion in assets. [They] add significant value to local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, functioning across a wide range of sectors, and employing over 9,100 people nationally.They also make a significant contribution… to the Australian economy, through income generation, employment and the provision of services.”(A. Bevan, ORIC Registrar, The Top 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporations, 2010)
The Muntjiltjarra Wurrgumu Group (MWG) was awarded Highly Commended Category B in the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards.1Category B recognises non-incorporated Indigenous projects and initiatives. In this video, MWG members Regina Ashwin and Stacey Petterson discuss how the family groups put their differences aside to work together for the whole community.
9.3.1 What is development and why is governance important?
The mounting evidence from national and international research indicates that having effective and legitimate governance is a ‘development enabler’.
In other words, it pays to invest in your governance.
While it is important, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations do not need to have legislated rights or treaties in order to be able to undertake sustained development.
However a critical factor is having governance arrangements that are capable of putting self-determination into successful practice, and so your members can be fully engaged in considering their options for the future.
Definition: Development is change or transformation that makes life better in ways that people want. It can take a variety of forms, including growth in traditional subsistence activities to increased participation in market economies; from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entrepreneurship to joint ventures with non-Indigenous corporations; from collective nation, community and clan enterprises to small individual and family cottage industries.
Development is sustainable when it ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (The World Commission on Environment and Development’s Brutland Report).
As such, it involves value judgements about the preferred direction and speed of change.
For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the internal ‘test’ of sustainability in their development initiatives involves coming up with answers to a set of difficult questions, including:
- What kind of future are we trying to build, not only for ourselves but for the next generations?
- What kinds of governance arrangements might be acceptable and consented to now, and will remain acceptable to our people in the future?
- What role should our collective culture play in our governance arrangements and economic initiatives, and how might that change over time?
- Who should benefit from economic development, and will the benefits of current development still be available for future generations?
- What kinds of development will help us maximise self-determination in the long run?
Effective governance enables a nation to be able to properly consider these questions, and to then prioritise, plan and implement their solutions.
9.3.2 Governing capabilities needed for development
Extensive research suggests there are several important governance capabilities that are needed in order to get successful development happening.
Governance capabilities for development include:
- a stable, accountable leadership
- broadly representative and fair representative structures
- strong culture-based rules of governance
- capable management and staff support
- clear lines of authority and responsibility
- consistent and fair decision making
- fair and reliable dispute resolution processes
- strategic business planning and risk management
- effective communication and information systems
- networks with public or private sector partners to engage with the wider economy;
- working infrastructure in place
- education and financial literacy
- access to relevant training and mentoring opportunities
- legitimacy and credibility with your members.
Tjanpi Desert Weavers, Central Australia. Image, Wayne Quilliam
Definition: A net is an open fabric of string or rope or wire woven together at regular intervals. Like the string that is woven together to form a basket, a network weaves together different people, relationships, things and organisations. A network is a connected group of people with similar interests or concerns who get together to work and support each other.
9.4.1 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander networked governance
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governance is networked governance. It is dynamic and sophisticated, having:
- interdependent connections between people, places and things (past, present and future)
- layered systems of representation and leadership
- overlapping memberships and mandates
- dense networks of relationships and mutual responsibility
- corresponding dispersed layers of decision making, accountability and authority.
Networked structures not only form the bases of traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governance, they are also visible and inform many contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governance solutions across Australia.
|You can see networked Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governance at work
in the structure and operation of:
The more ‘visible’ leaders of organisations are also part of wider networks of leaders and extended families, often extending well beyond their own group.
In such governance systems, networked leaders are people who can consider multiple options and ideas, and who can facilitate connectivity and mobilise community support.
This is a more sustainable form of leadership for the kind of governance needed for development.
It is this kind of networked logic and leadership that are also likely to inform ongoing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander initiatives in nation rebuilding.
Girringun Aboriginal Corporation was awarded Highly Commended Category A in the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards. In this video, CEO Phil Rist outlines how Girringun’s leadership fostered a common goal to bring 9 tribal groups together. By working together as ‘one voice’, and building relationships with surrounding stakeholders, Girringun established a form of contemporary sovereignty.
“We represent 9 tribal groups, over a pretty huge area in North Queensland. We’re not a land council or an Indigenous legal service, or a health service, we’re just a bunch of Traditional Owners that have managed to really come together as one community, one organisation and formed this very strong, effective, powerful Indigenous NGO at the grass-roots level … And not much happens in our area without us knowing about it because we have built this relationship with all those different partners, government and others, and they as well act as if sovereignty exists within our area.”
– Phil Rist, CEO
9.4.2 Why networks and networking are important
There is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander preference for local control of decision making, action and responsibility.
But at the same time, local networks are usually flexible and open-ended.
The very great advantage of such networks is that governance arrangements can be (and always have been) linked across to other similar scales of networks (such as across several outstations), and scaled up vertically (for example, to form larger federations and alliances).
This means that the local parts of any nation’s networked governance are directly connected to many other surrounding parts, and each part will have bridging relationships and shared goals that connect it outwards to the governance networks of other nations.
Networks and networking can improve your governance in many ways:
Networks can foster constructive solutions
Networks are flexible and responsive
Networks create close relationships and ties, shared priorities and goals
Networks can be a source of information and support
Decisions reached by networks can be more legitimate and easier to implement
Networks can link the national and regional to the local level
Networks encourage the exchange of knowledge and build new skills
Networks can benefit from economies of scale
Networks improve your reputation
9.4.3 Networked governance: problem signs and tips
To make sure your networks give you the best support for your governance, here are some potential problems to watch out for, and some tips for how to address them.
Network governance problem
Some networks aim to reach consensus decisions—that is, all parties agreeing. But sometimes a single party may disagree, stopping a decision being made or later undermining it.
Networks can run the risk of becoming complacent, operating only in their comfort zone. They may also become bureaucratic and inflexible.
|Accountability can become dispersed.
Accountability may become more difficult to monitor in large networks because decisions are made at many different points. Large networks are also more likely to lose touch with outlying members.
|Acquiring new skills.
Setting up new partnerships may require entirely new skills and knowledge, or may come up against resistance from the existing network.
Networks between groups or organisations with similar functions, memberships and funding sources may become competitive rather than collaborative.
Leaders and managers risk losing control of their own agenda if key stakeholders in your network—government, non-government organisations or industry groups—have different ideas and priorities.
9.4.4 Mapping and maintaining networks: practical tools
Building governance capacity—that of individuals, organisations or nations—is greatly strengthened when it includes long-term partnering and support from within your wider networks. So managing and maintaining relationships with your key stakeholders is very important.
Some of the relationships in your networks will be enduring and close (your members and partners); others are short term and issue specific (professional advisors, consultants, casual contractors, volunteers, bureaucrats).
Some relationships may be informal and based on common interests or simply a willingness to help; others will be formalised through written partnerships, contracts, grant conditions or agreements.
It is likely that in many of these, you will have governance relationships with people or organisations that have very different values to your own.
As a first step in successfully managing these, it is useful to identify or map your nation, community or organisation’s important networks and relationships.
A ‘map’ visually shows specific kinds of information by its spatial and geographic location and interrelation.
A map of your governance and development networks does the same thing. It will help you ‘locate’ and analyse:
- your important networks for governance and development
- where your networks are weak, and where are they strong
- your high-influence network members
- whether they are antagonistic, neutral or supportive
- their concerns, values and priorities
- whether they have a high or low impact on your plans and capacity
- how you can build upon your networks and better manage key relationships.
The various templates below will help you map and monitor your important networks, and then consider how to manage and make the most of your relationship with them.
This governance environment monitor is from the governance development and action plan provided below and in Topic 9.
You can complete it by itself or as part of the larger work set out in that plan.
It will help you identify the important external stakeholders in your wider networks and environment, and trends and issues that are influencing or having an impact on your governance.
This resource is from the governance development and action plan provided in Topic 9.
You can complete it by itself or as part of the larger work set out in that plan.
Stakeholders are the people and groups that have an interest or ‘stake’ in the success and legitimacy of your governance and development outcomes.
This resource will help you to identify the influence, concerns and impact of the key stakeholders in your networks, and determine ways to better manage those factors.
These are some general guidelines that your organisation, community or group can use when engaging external professional expertise.
- Identify good experts. Check the professional websites of the people you want to engage so you can read and evaluate their code of conduct and ethics guidelines.
- Use your existing networks and ask other communities to find out about people’s previous experience with the same professionals.
- Above all, check references of the professionals you want to engage. Conduct a face-to-face interview where possible, and ask for samples of their previous work.
- Choose someone who’s keen. Look for individuals who show a genuine interest in your organisation and community, who are committed to spending the time that you need on your projects, and who want a long-term relationship.
- Engage people who have a proven track record in working on the issue, and in writing reports in a style that is easily accessible to your members.
- Balance cost with efficiency. Remember that university academics—whose overheads are normally covered by their institutions—usually cost much less than consultants, but a consultant may work more quickly and efficiently.
- Establish effective contracts or other forms of agreements. These may vary according to whether the work is voluntary or paid. You may have to call for competitive bids; however, you may get better value by engaging someone who costs more but has experience and expertise in dealing with a particular issue, or has worked with the community for a long time.
- If possible, start with a small contract or project as a test run, with the understanding that good work and relationships will lead to larger projects or assignments.
- Develop clear terms of reference in the contract right from the start, including specific deliverables, methodologies and timelines.
- Keep the contractor fully informed. Give the expert the protocols that will be used when consulting with members or stakeholders, and your organisation’s policies and codes of conduct.
- Get agreement on the content of reports. When a written report is required, ensure that the contract or agreement states that the expert should discuss the contents with management before writing the report.
- Ensure that the costs of the work meet industry standards. Competitive bids may help but it is also wise to check daily rates and the time estimated for each task.
- Check who is doing the work—senior or junior experts. Clarify in the contract the time allocated for the senior and junior experts. Also clarify how much they will contribute to training and mentoring people within your organisation or community.
- State a maximum cost for the work. If there are extensions or additions to the work, make sure these are confirmed in writing and that a new cost is firmly established.
- Make someone in your organisation responsible. Allocate a specific person in your organisation or group to monitor the contract or agreement.
- Conduct a face-to-face exit interview. As well as a written report, it can be helpful to have a face-to-face exit interview with key leaders, management and the expert to discuss their findings.
- Get feedback from the expert. When the work is finished, get feedback from the expert about the whole process and, if applicable, how they think it could have been improved. Also get feedback from the members of your organisation or community who were involved.
Adapted from Graham, J and Bassett, M. 2005. Building Sustainable Communities: Good Practices and Tools for Community Economic Development, Institute on Governance, Canada.
This tool is from the governance development and action plan in Topic 9.
You can complete it by itself or as part of the larger work set out in that plan.
It will help you to identify important similarities and differences in the cultures of your key network members, partners and other stakeholders that might affect your governance.
Here are some basic questions and suggestions about ways other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups and organisations have successfully tried to expand their networks.
“There will be no magic leap from ‘rights recognition’ in the courts to self-government or self-determination. We need to be practical and we need to begin with effective governance. But even that won’t be easy, given the … The size and remoteness of our communities, the chance of having and retaining experienced, educated Aboriginal people with capacity and skills, of being able to build organisations with economies of scale, and of having access to economic opportunities, all present a significant challenge. Nevertheless, we have to find innovative ways to meet this challenge, and perhaps, eventually, we will have to make some difficult decisions.”
(Neil Sterritt, Keynote Presentation to the AIATSIS Native Title Conference,
As an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leader put it, “Australian governments may not see us as a nation, but we are going to act like a nation, in every way we can”
How can you make a start on the work of rebuilding or refashioning governance for the new era, and act as a nation?
How can you rebuild effective governance that will strengthen self-determination, rather than undermine it?
How can you deliver real outcomes that are proactive rather than reactive?
What would a new kind of effective practical governance for nation rebuilding look like?
This section provides you with an overview of the practical steps that successful nations have used in their journey. Several tools are provided to support your nation’s discussion of its governance priorities, capacities and future options. Use these in conjunction with the other templates and tools in previous sections of the toolkit if you want to focus on a particular area first.
9.5.1 Ten practical steps: your foundations
All the national and international evidence suggests that the 10 steps listed below are critical to building effective self-governance for the work of nation rebuilding.
- Seriously consider an incremental approach. Start off with one or two achievable priorities, achieve success there and then build on that. With continued success, community leaders could consider tackling a broader range of issues in a comprehensive approach.
- Make sure your community is behind you. There are countless stories of leaders getting so far out in front of their members that when the time comes for community ratification, it fails because the members are hearing about the details for the first time. Your members give you the mandate to build governance.
- Make sure your leadership is credible. Leaders must include their members in community planning and implementation. Credible leaders work hard to involve and unite the entire community or nation, and engage wider networks to support solutions.
- Build capable and legitimate institutions. These are your laws, constitutions, regulations, rules, policies, and checks and balances. Use them to develop a strategic approach to rebuild your nation’s governance and identify priorities and the approach to be taken.
- Identify strategic priorities and concerns. You cannot do everything at once. The current generation may have particular needs that will change in the future. Some foundations need to be built now, and others can be built upon later.
- Look hard at genuine cultural solutions. Culture is a source of innovation. Look at your enduring cultural values and the realistic role they can play in revitalising your governance and nation. Leaders that embrace cultural integrity work hard to harness the strength and resilience of cultural roots in ways that are credible and workable in today’s world.
- Ensure the governance capacity and confidence of your people is being actively developed and continuously promoted. Do this in parallel with implementing your other strategic goals and agreements. Don’t leave this until a crisis hits. It is no use having authority unless you can practically implement and exercise it.
- Ask the hard questions along the way. This will help ensure that your governance solutions continue to work as you want them to. In other words, make sure you monitor and periodically review your checks and balances.
- Make sure you have a succession plan in place and that young leaders can contribute their new ideas now, not later. Leaders build for the future by mentoring youth who will carry on their good work long into the future.
- Create genuine strategic alliances with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations and with non-Indigenous supporters. Experiment with networked and collaborative governance arrangements that will support your agenda.
These 10 steps are drawn substantially from the governance research and writings of Dr Neil Sterritt; the Australian Indigenous Community Governance Research Project at The Australian National University; and the research of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Udall Centre, University of Arizona.
Sam Jeffries, Chair of the Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly talks about the emerging structure and governance model of the Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly.
9.5.2 Lay the groundwork: consider your governance history
Nation rebuilding is about informed cultural choice.
A sensitive reconsideration of your group’s governance history can positively assist the process of reconfirming or renewing cultural choices about what kinds of contemporary governance you value.
And you can do it at your own pace.
This resource lays out some basic questions and instructions for mapping your governance history. Follow these instructions and work with your leaders, nation or community members to see how your governance history is influencing the way you work today.
In this video the Arnhem Land Progress
Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA) considers its history, where it is today and its vision for the future.
9.5.3 Map your governance assets and strengths
Before you begin your rebuilding work, have a think about the kinds of strengths, assets, resources, talents, skills, experience and knowledge you can call upon from the members of your own nation.
Something as important as a plan for rebuilding your governance needs to be initiated and championed by your nation or community’s network of leaders and elders.
It needs people with real authority and cultural legitimacy to take the lead in order to make changes to governance, so that the results win the support of your members and external supporters.
As an organisation or community leader, first explain to your members the importance and benefits of mapping the organisation’s or community’s governance assets, then you can follow these steps to map your governance assets.
- Form a community or organisational mapping team.
- Engage interested people at the beginning, as governance mapping also involves building governance capacity.
- Identify and define the purpose of the governance map. Decide on the governance issues or problems that need to be addressed.
- Identify the target audience of your governance map. This will affect what kind of information you need to collect and how you present it.
- Decide on the most appropriate scale for the mapping project. Determine whether you will focus on:
- your particular local community
- your community and its outlying outstations or neighbourhoods
- two related communities
- two or three related groups or organisations within a wider community, or
- your location as a discreet settlement or as a dispersed set of groups.
- Hold a training workshop to enhance community mapping techniques and skills. Make sure everyone involved in governance mapping takes part and that the workshop is controlled by your community or group.
- Identify and collect relevant information from local people, as well as statistics, administration data and other sources. What you want to do may have been tried and tested already.
- Create a physical map or series of illustrations using your data. Use Indigenous materials, photos and paintings that define the governance of your organisation and community.
- Promote your governance map by sharing it with the community and your target audience.
- Conduct a workshop to discuss the content of the map and to identify possible gaps, strengths and collective opportunities for building stronger governance.
- Use the map to start practical activities that will help address any governance problems or weaknesses. Do not just stick it on an office wall.
- Make sure people in the community and organisation take part in these practical activities and that they have ownership of the map’s information and its outcomes.
- Recognise and respect the diversity of rights, values, ideas and opinions that exist within the community and organisation.
- Make sure this governance mapping work is closely linked to real results that are important to the group, community and organisation.
9.5.4 Use a governance development and action plan
Don’t lose momentum because you can’t keep track of your insights, conversations and good ideas.
To assist you work through the process of evaluating and rebuilding your governance, we have provided a governance development and action plan. This plan is also provided in Topic 3, where you will find additional useful information on how to use the template.
The template is a combined strategic and action plan that focuses on setting out your specific plan of attack, and your best options, solutions and tactics for achieving the governance goals of your nation, community or organisation.
It provides you with a series of practical steps, along with tips, advice, tools, and also explains some of the basic terms, concepts and issues of governance development.
You can work through it progressively, or you can work on specific issues you have already identified as priorities for change. Use it to start conversations amongst your members about their ideas, values and priorities.
You can use it in conjunction with the many self-evaluation tools and check-ups provided throughout the toolkit, to start assessing the current state of your governance.
You can adapt the plan to suit your own circumstances and to track your progress in working on the 10 steps above. It is suitable for small groups, communities and nations, as well as organisations.
This Governance Development and Action Plan is based on a strategic planning template that was developed by Dr Ian Hughes at the Yooroang Garang: School of Indigenous Health Studies in The University of Sydney.
You can customise the template to suit your own needs, doing it in chunks, or using it to create a longer-term strategic approach to your governance rebuilding
Your plan can start off small and focus on a limited number of specific issues, or it can be based on a wide-ranging evaluation of your governance.
If you carry out a broader plan containing big initiatives, make sure you have a realistic timeframe for implementation that allows several years for the changes to be made.
This will allow you to prioritise changes and carry them out at a pace that builds your members’ confidence rather than creates anxiety and uncertainty.
Governance rebuilding needs time for innovative solutions to be tested out in the real world—you will probably want to refine your arrangements over time.
So don’t set things in concrete too early. And get feedback on what your members think about the changes.
9.5.5 A mandate from your members
A critical factor for each step in building effective governance is communications—effective implementation is directly related to the level of support and engagement from your nation or community members. They are more likely to have trust and confidence in your governance proposals for nation rebuilding if they fully participate in and are consulted about the process and options.
Community and member engagement and communication should be ongoing, even when you expect they might disagree with some ideas.
Effective consultation is important for understanding member and community opinions about a particular issue.
Not everyone in your community or nation will have the same interests, cultural rights or enthusiasm for the process.
They should not be excluded—every voice is important and if neglected can later undermine consensus and solutions.
There are many different tools and reports on effective consultation and participation. The tool below summarises some of the key points.
Define the purpose
• Explain the reason for the consultation.
• Explain how the information gained will be used.
• Get people’s agreement.
Be guided by principles
• Be guided by a commitment to make the right decision for the community. Principles might include:
– desire to maximise positive impact of a decision
– maintaining culture
– ensuring a decision is sustainable
– complying with legal requirements
• Consult with the whole community—that means all interest groups, taking account of language, culture, age, gender, diversity of interests and rights.
Choose the best method
• Get local people to participate in the design and coordination of the consultation process.
• Use language and concepts which everyone can understand.
Provide enough information
• Make information available so that people can make an informed choice or provide thoughtful comment.
Allow plenty of time
• Allow enough time to consult thoroughly.
Allow enough resources
• Make sure you have enough resources (money, expertise, people) to properly consult.
• Consult members and the community regularly, not just when you have to.
• Consult people not only about controversial issues, but also about priorities and strategic direction.
• Respond to all issues raised.
• Make sure the process is transparent so that everyone knows what is being discussed and with whom.
• Give feedback about the final decision.
Evaluate the process
• Evaluate the consultation process after the decision has been made to assess whether it achieved the goals.
—adapted from Excellence in Governance for Local Government, CPA Australia.
There are many ways of balancing different interests with those of your organisation, for example:
Safeguard against pressure from different interest groups:
1. Refer to the organisation’s strategic plan (with its goals, outcomes, values, milestones etc.) —the governing body and members are obliged to uphold the overall plan.
2. Create policies about equity and transparency in decision making—these can lessen conflicts between community-wide and sectional interests.
3. Advertise these policies throughout the community so that people understand why a governing body must make its decisions.
4. Conflicting demands can be resolved by setting priorities for plans and for distributing resources, including well-publicised timeframes that stagger initiatives.
5. Run through potentially problematic sectional/factional scenarios, and collectively identify tactics to cope with them.
Be transparent and open to all:
6. Make sure your directors meetings (of the governing body) have a standing item on the agenda to hear reports from individual leaders on particular issues of local concern.
7. If a governing body member has advocated ward/constituent issues, but has not been successful, fully explain the reasons why not.
8. Make sure the culture and activities of an organisation and its governing body reflect the broad concerns and aspirations of its members as a whole.
9. Communicate and consult effectively with members and communities—you can use electronic newsletters or noticeboards, open meetings or workshops, community radio and TV.
10. Make sure your website has key policies, strategies and messages to target audiences, inside and outside the community. It may be the first point of contact a person has with your organisation or community. Ensure that it is attractive and easy to use.
Check out what other Indigenous organisations and communities have done.
Self-determination and community control
The Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly (MPRA) is comprised of the Chairs or representatives of 16 Aboriginal Community Working Parties (CWP’s) across the Murdi Paaki Region of NSW.
MPRA see self-determination as the key success to their governance model. Their model demonstrates true community control as the Aboriginal people of the region determine the composition of their local CWP, they choose the methods to bring that model together and they choose who represents them on the Regional Assembly. People volunteer their time and those who participate are genuinely interested in making a change for their communities. The model is evolutionary; it’s not competitive leadership but a traditional style of leadership where leadership roles are earned through respect, integrity and transparency.
The Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly (MPRA) is comprised of the Chairs or representatives of 16 Aboriginal Community Working Parties (CWP’s) across the Murdi Paaki Region of NSW.
The Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly has 100% Aboriginal membership. The Chairs or the representatives of the 16 Aboriginal Community Working Parties are Aboriginal people of the region, as is the independent Chair. The Assembly is governed by a “Charter of Governance” which, in the absence of legislative arrangements or incorporation law, provides the regulation, the goals and objectives, the functions and principles which the Assembly operates to.
The Chairs of the CWPs who comprise the Assembly are elected by their communities. CWPs have a structure that is representative of their community and derive their membership from Aboriginal community members and Aboriginal organisations from within that community. At the local level CWPs engage with both the State and Federal Governments, Local Government and service providers to Aboriginal people.
Partnership and inclusiveness
Bendigo Indigenous Homework Centre (BIHC) was set up in 2008 as a joint initiative by the Bendigo Local Indigenous Network, the Goldfield Local Learning and Employment network and the Department of Education Childhood Development.
BIHC was set up in an effort to increase the number of Koorie students completing grade 11 and 12 in Bendigo. As there is only one government Senior Secondary College in the Bendigo region, it made sense for the Homework centre to be set up on the senior secondary college campus. In order to do this, BIHC had to work closely with other partners such as the college and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) to ensure that this could happen. The homework centre has since become place of pride at Bendigo Senior Secondary College, an outcome which was able to be achieved through successful stakeholder engagement and partnership development.
BIHC acknowledges that not all valuable partnerships are underpinned by financial benefits. BIHC takes pride in nurturing its ties with the local Aboriginal community and has opened its doors to host a number of cultural collaborations, exchanges and programs over the last four years.
“The best part of our governance model is the incredible Indigenous network that supports the Homework Centre students in so many ways. For example a member of the Bendigo Learning Indigenous Network who works with North Central Catchment management suggested to the Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group that some of our year 11 and 12 boys may like to be involved in making a film “Our People/Our River. We also used our networks to help two of our senior College girls improve their fitness in order to increase their chances of gaining entry into the police force. In order to achieve this outcome we formed a partnership with Mallee Women’s Health Service, we now continue to run a nutrition and wellbeing program for all of our senior girls.”
It is in the spirit of developing partnerships that BHIC has welcomed and entertained representatives from the Goldfields Local Learning and Employment Network, Bendigo and District Aboriginal Corporation, La Trobe University, Department of Human Services and the Department of Justice.
BIHC recognises that it’s their partnerships and community involvement, along with their dedication and hard work that really allow them to achieve the best educational outcomes for young Koories in the Bendigo region.