Parkinson: Indigenous funding has weak evidence base

Evaluation and partnerships are both in short supply in the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, warns the nation’s top bureaucrat. Public servants need to learn to operate in the worlds of Indigenous people, not the other way around.

Governments need to improve evaluation of Indigenous programs because we don’t know whether many of them even work, says the nation’s top bureaucrat.

“A high proportion of what we fund has, at best, a weak evidence base of how it affects Indigenous peoples,” Martin Parkinson told the audience at last week’s Dungala Kaiela Oration in Shepparton.

“We must gather evidence which shows we are improving the lives of Indigenous Australians. And if that evidence tells us otherwise, we must change our approach.” “We need to move beyond a transactional approach … Indigenous people operating in the bureaucrat’s world.”

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary wants public servants to question what the department does: what did we get right and what did we get wrong? And why?

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.

  • themandarinau

    On behalf of Central Land Council director David Ross:

    The Central Land Council congratulates Mr Parkinson for urging public servants to question what the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet delivers to (sadly not with) Aboriginal people.

    The department has been left far behind by the efforts and leadership of Central Australian Aboriginal people who have gathered a solid evidence base for their community driven programs for years.

    Since 2009 they have enthusiastically invested and participated in the independent monitoring and evaluation of the CLC’s successful community development program.

    The strong evidence base they helped to create has certainly been noticed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which recently invited me to present our program at an international community driven development conference in Vietnam.

    Our evidence shows that Aboriginal control, engagement and decision making around projects affecting their lives delivers social outcomes that are highly valued by Aboriginal people and builds skills, confidence and self-reliance.

    We are now establishing a monitoring and evaluation program for our ranger program which we would like to extend to all our land management activities.

    We asked the department to contribute to this but were knocked back even before we mentioned any costs.

    We are seeking a meeting with Mr Parkinson and hope to share our approach so as to help him to overcome such attitudes and allocate resources for meaningful participatory monitoring and evaluation.

    This doesn’t come cheaply but in the medium to long term it saves taxpayer dollars that the government wastes in many instances on ineffective and damaging programs.

    Including Aboriginal people in setting monitoring and evaluation targets, as Mr Parkinson appears to advocate, is a great first step.

    The CLC hopes he will ensure their voices become a key source in determining and measuring the outcomes, policies and practices that affect them.