Improving Indigenous community governance through strengthening Indigenous and government organisational capacity

Improving Indigenous community governance through strengthening Indigenous and government organisational capacity Report

Resource Sheet

  • Author(s): Komla Tsey, Janya McCalman, Roxanne Bainbridge, Cath Brown
  • Published: 2012
  • Publisher: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Australian Institute of Family Studies
  • Volume: Closing the Gap Clearinghouse

Abstract: The term ‘capacity strengthening’ rather than ‘building’ or ‘developing’ capacity is used in this resource sheet. ‘Capacity strengthening is based on a strengths-based perspective that all people have knowledge and skills, all people can improve … at the same time all people need to learn in order to engage in different activities which contribute to their wellbeing and prosperity’. This term goes some way towards meeting the critiques by Aboriginal people such as Richard Ahmat that Indigenous people may even feel that the term ‘capacity building’ itself reflects a patronising view of them: - To restore capacity to our people is to let us be responsible for our own future … we have had 40 to 60,000 years of survival and capacity! The problem is our capacity has been eroded and diminished … the concept of capacity building is the idea that Aboriginal people are innately deficient, or incapable, or lacking … there is a danger of fostering a hidden bureaucratic racism and prejudice against our people … our people do have skills, knowledge and experience. Our literature review concerning organisational capacity strengthening and governance finds that descriptive studies, providing suggestions for what needs to be done, are prominent in the literature. Well-designed evaluations assessing the effectiveness of capacity-enhancement projects are rare. Therefore, this resource sheet will draw out some of the principles that appear to work, rather than detailing evidence of proven strategies. Of 127 references that focus on Indigenous Australians reviewed, only 12 (9%) provide accounts of programs designed to improve Indigenous Australian governance through strengthening organisational capacity. Of these, three focus on strengthening the capacity of leaders, three involve informal governance through groups, four account for Indigenous organisations and two relate to Council of Australian Governments (COAG) initiatives. None of the 12 assesses the costs versus benefits or value for money of capacity enhancement as a strategy for promoting Indigenous Australian health and prosperity. Implementing and evaluating programs to determine what works is more expensive and logistically difficult to undertake than describing the extent of the problems, but is nevertheless critical to overcome the present ‘sorry state’ of the evidence base for improving Indigenous wellbeing. This resource sheet draws on the largely descriptive research from Indigenous Australian and global settings to examine capacity-strengthening programs targeting Indigenous community governance and organisational development. The research suggests that organisational capacity strengthening for Indigenous community governance needs to involve intercultural engagement between Indigenous people, their organisations and Australian governments.

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Suggested Citation
Komla Tsey, Janya McCalman, Roxanne Bainbridge, Cath Brown, 2012, Improving Indigenous community governance through strengthening Indigenous and government organisational capacity, Volume:Closing the Gap Clearinghouse, Report, viewed 09 August 2022,

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