Helen Gerrard, MG Corporation Board Director (2012), explains how MG Corporation is governed She talks about how it’s changed over time and how it represents different groups through the Dawang Council “Wi...
- 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
9.5 Kick-starting the process of nation rebuilding
“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, Townsville, 2012)
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.
Subscribe to AIGI news and updates.