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Indigenous
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Reporting Indigenous outcomes

28 September 2012

An ACER review of a national report on the key indicators of Indigenous disadvantage found it would benefit from a focus on Indigenous strengths and achievements.

In April 2002, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) commissioned the Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision to produce a regular report against key indicators of Indigenous disadvantage. The resultant Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators (OID) report informs Australian governments about whether or not their policies and programs are achieving positive outcomes for Indigenous people.

After five editions, and given changes in the external policy environment and the emergence of other publications reporting on government performance, in 2012 the Steering Committee engaged ACER to assess the usability and usefulness of the OID report and make recommendations for improvements. ACER’s review involved document reviews, a literature review and consultation with the widest possible range of stakeholders whose organisations were known to be users of, or contributors to, the report.

It is not surprising, given the range of organisations and users consulted, that there was a variety of views in relation to the OID report. On the one hand the report was generally considered to be meeting its purpose in reporting on the performance of Australian governments in overcoming Indigenous disadvantage. On the other hand, a proliferation of other government performance reports in recent years has led to some questioning of the relevance of the OID report.

ACER found that, while there is some overlap with other government performance reports, there are also two key features that make the OID report unique amongst these others: its focus on outcomes and its whole-of-government perspective.

The OID report was found to reflect international ‘best practice’ in several respects, most notably in its reporting against specific targets. Key strengths of the report included the breadth of the information provided, time series analyses, clear identification of progress towards reaching targets, information around successful initiatives, and provision of information at different levels of detail and in different formats to meet the needs of a variety of users.

The most commonly identified limitations were around the reporting of data, the need for greater analysis of the interconnections and linkages between indicators, and the need for a more strengths-based approach in the reporting of Indigenous experience. This latter finding highlights an inherent tension between the purpose of the OID report – which reports on an explicitly endorsed COAG ‘Closing the Gap’ agenda – and a desire on the part of a significant number of stakeholders for a more positive report that recognises achievements, strengths and the positive dimensions of Indigenous experience.

The consultations provided a range of practical suggestions for improving the quality, reach and usefulness of the OID report, such as the inclusion of evidence-based case studies and reporting on sub-groups within the Indigenous population.

Importantly, ACER recommended that the Steering Committee examine ways in which information about Indigenous strengths such as connectedness to land and country, resilience, Indigenous leadership and language can be incorporated to help shift the balance of the report from a negative focus on disadvantage to a more positive focus on overcoming this disadvantage.

While the OID report is used in a variety of ways, including as a reference, for presentations, writing submissions and briefings, teaching and by some for policy purposes, ACER’s review suggests there is limited use of the report among Indigenous stakeholders. ACER therefore recommended that the Steering Committee investigate further the reasons for the apparently low level of use by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, with a view to adjusting the OID report to better accommodate their policy and research needs, and that they increase the level of Indigenous representation on the OID Working Group and publish the membership of the OID Working Group in the OID report to raise awareness of this group among stakeholders. ■

Read full report:
Review of the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators report, available at <www.pc.gov.au/gsp/indigenous/oid-review-2012>

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