The ‘Stronger Futures’ consultations form the basis for recent Federal Government report, which purportedly shows that most people in remote communities support the NT Intervention and associated policy measures.
FaHCSIA contracted ‘Cultural and Indigenous Research Centre Australia’ (CIRCA) to review the consultation and communication strategy for the Stronger Futures Consultations.
I had a look at the CIRCA review this morning (thanks to fellow anthro’s for the link) and it makes it very clear that the meetings were not ‘consultations’ so much as they were public presentations delivered to various communities by Government trained ‘facilitators’. I’ve summarised a few key points from the CIRCA review below. Please share on.
The ‘Stronger Futures’ consultations were scheduled to include a number of different levels of/approaches to engaging with communities as follows:
‘Tier One’ consultations involving a small group or individual meetings with community members; ‘Tier 2’ consultations involving communities and residents in areas directly affected by current NTER measures (73 communities); A number of ‘public meetings’ for NT residents in Darwin, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Nhulunbuy; ‘Stakeholder meetings’ on specific subjects were also planned with relevant interest groups and Indigenous organisations.
However, CIRCA ‘did not observe any Tier 1 consultations or stakeholder meetings’ and was therefore unable to comment on these (page 4).
Apparently ‘monitoring the Tier 1 consultations was outside the terms of reference for the CIRCA review, primarily because these meetings were often unscheduled and impromptu, and usually involved an individual or small group where the presence of an observer may not have been comfortable and may have inhibited the flow of conversation’ (page 4).
How were the meetings conducted and what was covered?
Each meeting was run by a Government trained facilitator. These facilitators trained in Darwin and provided with a script to use as a guide for the meetings/consultations.The meetings began with facilitators expressing ‘the Government’s desire to hear community views and ideas about what needs to be done to improve things for Indigenous people in the NT’ they spoke about the Government’s ‘aim to improve the relationship with Indigenous communities’ and made clear the Government’s ‘desire to work together to develop future approaches in the NT’ (page 6).
At this stage facilitators also acknowledged that the NTER had made ‘some mistakes’ and had both ‘good and bad’ aspects or effects. The CIRCA review notes that ‘this type of acknowledgement appeared to be important in the level of community acceptance of the current consultation and was a strategy which had been discussed in the training [of facilitators]’ (page 17).
Facilitators then focused discussion on eight, predetermined themes to be discussed during the course of the meetings. The CIRCA review notes that ‘facilitators clearly explained that the purpose of the consultation was to discuss eight predetermined themes’.
The eight predetermined themes included: schooling; jobs, training, businesses; alcohol; safer communities; health; community stores; housing and governance’ (page 6).
Facilitators were also provided with a number of ‘key prompt questions’ to guide discussion for each of these eight themes. The CIRCA review notes that ‘the large number of questions attached to each theme also presented a challenge, with many participants appearing to find the number of questions presented confusing and/or overwhelming’ (page 14).
One example of a ‘key prompt question’ was “How can we get parents to understand how important education is?” The inclusion of questions such led the authors of the CIRCA review to note that ‘some of the questions were value laden and caused negative reactions when displayed publicly in the presentation’ (page 20).
The consultation paper provided (with details of the themes to be discussed etc.) was only made available in English.
Interpreters were provided in 10 of the 12 meetings that CIRCA observed. However, ‘while interpreters were available at ten consultations, they were only used extensively in three of these. In another four instances interpreters were primarily used to translate the introduction and then community members spoke in English. Interpreters were not used at either of the public meetings where they did not appear to be required. There was also one community meeting where interpreters were present but were not used’ (page 21).
Further, ‘for two locations, interpreters were booked and expected but did not arrive. In both these locations, interpreters would have been very useful as there were participants who were only speaking in their first language, and many of these contributions were lost due to the lack of translation’ (page 22).
Furthermore ‘in some communities where participants opted not to use an interpreter due to adequate English skills, people were also speaking in language which meant that their comments were not necessarily collected’ (page 22).
What data was actually collected and recorded at each meeting?
The CIRCA review notes that while a range of people spoke at most consultations, ‘feedback was focused on a small number of speakers (generally six to seven people). For example, one initially large meeting only three people provided comments’ (page 24).
This hardly mattered given how little information was actually recorded.
‘In most cases the reports provided a list of each point raised in the meeting for each priority area’ (page 24). Not all of the reports, that is, even recorded a list of points raised.
‘There were only a few reports where more detailed commentary was provided on the nature of the discussions, the priority of the topics discussed, the level of participation, and the extent to which comments reflected a commonly held view’ (page 24).
‘[N]ot all reports indicated whether the responses were provided by a small number of attendees or by a larger number of community members (from our observations, a lot of the feedback was gathered from a few key community members)’ (page 24).
‘There were four reports which provided more detail on the nature of the meeting’ and ‘the context/detail with regards to the comments made’. For example these reports included a summary of each priority area, as well as quotes’ (page 24).
On top of everything only four reports recorded actual quotations – what actual individuals actually said.
Oh well, how did the facilitators perform within the confines of their role?
The CIRCA review acknowledges that the facilitators had a clear understanding of the eight themes to be discussed and the key points or questions to address per theme.
In terms of how they managed the context and course of discussion the review recommends, ‘in the future it would be valuable to provide greater emphasis on the skills required to facilitate large group meetings in Indigenous communities, working with interpreters, and managing consultations on issues that may be controversial and emotional’ (page 17).
One final point of detail that I cannot let slip:
The Alice Springs Town Camp meeting was held in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Alice Springs.
Is this a joke?!
The CIRCA review notes that this may be why next to no-one attended that particular meeting – the Crowne Plaza Hotel is ‘likely to be an unfamiliar, uncomfortable and unfriendly venue for many residents of the Alice Springs town camps’ (page 9).
This information was taken directly from the CIRCA review, which you can find online: