Productivity Commission calls on agencies to ‘lift the bar’ on the quality of evaluations of policies and programs affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday June 3, 2020

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The Productivity Commission has published a range of documents to help all federal government agencies improve their evaluations of policies and programs affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Launched at the close of National Reconciliation Week, the objective of the draft Indigenous Evaluation Strategy  is to improve the lives of Indigenous people through policy and program decisions informed by high-quality and relevant evaluation evidence.

Past and current approaches by governments to boost outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not good enough, according to PC chair Michael Brennan.

“It is a stark reality that despite decades of new policies and programs aimed at improving the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we know very little about their impact,” he said.

“Evaluation is too often an afterthought. We need to lift the bar on evaluation quality, embed it at the outset of policy design and make sure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are closely involved throughout.”

The strategy recognises that to achieve better outcomes, the values, expertise, and lived experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be reflected in what is evaluated, how evaluation is undertaken, and the outcomes policies and programs seek to achieve.

Under the strategy, the commission proposes the establishment of a new Office of Indigenous Policy Evaluation, which would oversee the implementation of the strategy and coordinate a whole-of-government approach to evaluating policies and programs affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The office would sit within an existing independent statutory authority of the Australian government, the PC said, but it didn’t reveal which one.

An Indigenous Evaluation Council — with a majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members — would also be established to work with the office.

The overarching principle of the strategy is centring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, perspectives, priorities and knowledges. The report includes detailed guidance material which outlines the strengths of different evaluation approaches, and how to ensure evaluation is part of every stage of policy making and program delivery.

The PC has published two documents to complement the strategy. A draft background paper provides further detail on governance arrangements and actions, while an evaluation guide offers extra information for agencies on what applying the strategy’s principles means in practice.

The evaluation guide also goes through the different stages of evaluating policies and programs while building a culture to support evaluation under the strategy. The stages include building evaluation into policy and program design; deciding what policies and programs to evaluate; evaluation planning, design and conduct; reporting evaluation findings; and building capability and a culture of evaluation.

While the documents have been designed for federal government entities, the PC noted state and territory agencies, and non-government organisations, could also adopt elements of the material when assessing their own policies and programs.

A Djugun man of the Yawuru people, commissioner Romlie Mokak said the initiative was about government agencies engaging effectively with Indigenous communities to better design and evaluate policies and programs.

“The strategy must improve evaluations to improve policies and the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” he said.

After consulting widely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities, and organisations when developing the draft strategy, the PC is currently seeking feedback on its new material. Submissions close on August 3, with the proposed final strategy to be delivered to the federal government in October.

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