Indigenous evaluation strategy

By Mark Ragg.

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Submissions are closing this week for the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into a national Indigenous Evaluation Strategy. The Commission has been asked to develop an evaluation strategy to be used by all Australian Government agencies, ‘for policies and programs affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’.

As part of this strategy, the Commission is to:

  • “establish a principles-based framework for the evaluation of policies and programs affecting Indigenous Australians
  • identify priorities for evaluation
  • set out its approach for reviewing agencies’ conduct of evaluations against the strategy.”

Tremendous scope to influence

There is tremendous scope for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups and individuals to influence the process. The Commission says its overriding objective is ‘to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’, but acknowledges that what this means is open to interpretation.

Does that mean it should develop a core process ‘to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander input into policy processes’? Or is evaluation simply about what works? And in whose terms?

The way the issues paper is structured suggests the Productivity Commission sees the first objective is primary, and in particular it says that:

“The Commission considers that the UNDRIP [United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] situates the strategy within a broader international context of promoting greater self-determination for indigenous peoples.”

Self-determination as a foundational right

It goes on to quote the UNDRIP at length and describes self-determination as a ‘foundational right’. It then asks:

“What objectives should a strategy for evaluating policies and programs affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seek to achieve?

To what extent are the evaluation practices of Australian Government agencies consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? How could practices be improved in this respect?”

It appears that the Productivity Commission is inviting submissions to support the argument that the primary objective of evaluation is ‘to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander input into policy processes’.

At the time of writing, only four submissions have been received.

CATSINaM: No to evaluation

One from the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM) is blunt. It does not support a strategy for evaluating policies and programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people because quality monitoring is not engagement, and because evaluation will have no impact on the problems caused by poverty.

CATSINaM says there should be a focus on reducing the cost of administration of programs so that “these savings may be applied to on the ground health, nutrition, alcohol education and rehabilitation and land care programs.” It argues that overlaying an evaluation strategy on programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is “turning poverty into an industry.”

Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service: Evaluation takes money from programs

A submission from the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service highlights that organisation’s concern that expecting more widespread evaluation will “introduce another layer of bureaucracy that will further undermine the already scarce resources available to service providers.”

Anonymous: Similar concerns

An anonymous oral submission came from a Gomeri/Gamilaraay woman with a long career in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy and programs. She says evaluation “is a wonderful thing” and says the most important thing is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be at the centre of the process. But she, too, argues that evaluation means more money for administration and reporting, and less money for services.

Dr Liz Curran: Many issues with current practice

Dr Liz Curran, associate professor at the ANU School of Legal Practice, has worked as an evaluator, service provider and research for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander projects and programs. She supports evaluation but provides a long list of issues with current practice, many of which revolve around lack of respect for the knowledges and practices of the organisations being evaluated.

The Productivity Commission is taking submissions and comments until Friday 23 August.

Declaration of interest: Mark Ragg has been involved in evaluation of the Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities (CLSAC), which is a program of Legal Aid NSW, with Dr Megan Williams, head of Girra Maa, the Discipline of Indigenous Health in the Graduate School of Health, UTS. Megan and Mark will publish an article on Croakey when the evaluation of CLSAC is launched later in the year.

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