Wally Tallis discusses what culturally appropriate and effective service is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. He presents five essential steps to developing cultural capability within your organisation.

Wally is the Acting Executive Director, Program and Regional Operations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs. Based in Logan he has a clear and practical understanding of service delivery. He shared his experience at the QCOSS 2013 Conference.


I'm going to talk about cultural capability.

Throughout my whole life I've always heard people talk about you've got to be culturally appropriate, you've got to have effective service delivery for ATSI people and so I asked today, what is it? What is culturally appropriate, do we need it? And more importantly how do we measure it?

The work I'm currently leading in government now is actually on developing a cultural capability framework where it's actually sustainable and you actually measure your effectiveness. What the evidence suggests is that if we undertake culturally effective services, it actually increases and improves outcomes for ATSI people.

Someone has just talked about the Health Department, delivering effective services not only does services but for the business and the bean counters and the others, it actually reduces your bottom line too. It actually saves you money if you're doing more effective service delivery.

So today I'll discuss five key components that I believe in and what I'm leading with in government around what culturally effective or culturally appropriate service delivery is. By no means and I respectfully acknowledge other ATSI people in the room, there is others which we build onto but I believe these are the start of the foundation if you are an agency or an individual that actually follow these steps. You'll actually be a more effective service deliverer.

The first one is about valuing culture, the very essence and these actually go in order one to five. Valuing culture: if we recognize, respect and value ATSI culture as the fundamental to improving service delivery we'll go a long way. We as a nation have started that in regards to the apology, understanding of history, and our cultural awareness sessions. On the continuum of understanding what ATSI people go to when you're actually dealing with them as a client, the valuing of that culture is at the very essence. Some other measures could be around this is that ATSI culture is recognized, valued and embedded within your agency's business. You actually do that, you name it, there are significant events every year.

Agencies understand the value their clients and their cultural aspirations play and also agencies recognize and commemorate significant ATSI events, not just NAIDOC. We come together one week every year to celebrate our wonderful blackness. There's more to us than that, and more importantly agencies recognize and respect traditional owners, custodians and elders and more importantly they engage, like someone talked about, all the time, don't engage just because you need to, engage to build a relationship. How many times, and governments being guilty of this too, "oh we need to develop a policy that's got something to do with black fellas, oh we'll go engage with ATSI people." You have to develop a relationship around that. What this value in culture means is that on an ongoing basis we need to have an ongoing relationship with ATSI people clients and communities.

So that's the first one, the second one is leadership and accountability. First you understand the culture, second if it’s not driven by leadership, and someone's point, the senior officers have to be at the front. If your senior leadership and all the leaders are not accountable and demonstrating and promoting cultural capability, it will not work. It can't be from the bottom up. Some of the measures could be that the CEO accepts accountability and leads this across the agency. They do, him or her, lead this across the agency. Then all staff take responsibility for promoting and contributing to the cultural capability what is set within the agency and then agencies embed the cultural capability framework in their governance and mechanisms. So we all have achievement plans in Government where every staff member has that. In our achievement plans now we have a cultural capability section, where we sit down and say a key component of your employment is cultural capability. You must demonstrate that and we will give you the tools necessary to do that. So that's the second one.

The third one, I believe, is cultural capability and presence in the workforce and this takes two parts. Simply agencies actively increase ATSI employment in their agencies. If AMS didn't have ATSI people at their front counter I would suggest there would be issues with connecting and engaging. I'm not saying they all have to be ATSI, but you must have it, it's that natural ability to connect straight away with community because they understand. It's the ability to have the person at the front door. Agencies also actively improve ATSI retention rates. We leave jobs quicker than anyone else, that's a fact, we go into jobs but we churn, no more evident than in government at this present time. Agencies ensure that cultural capability is embedded in all work force management practices and processes and that all staff have the knowledge, skills and behaviours to effectively interact with ATSI people. That's the stuff you have to build into an achievement capability plan. I in my substantive role am based out of the Logan Central Child Safety Office which is one of the highest offices in regards to young people in care and as the induction process I sat down and said to the officer “Oi I've just started my first week” I said “oh as part of your induction are you going and visiting the local ATSI services?” She said no. I said “yet 40% of your case load are ATSI.” So now it's built into their achievement and capability plan.

The fourth one, and this is the concept of today is about is ATSI engagement. It needs to be sustained respectful and inclusive engagement that is essential to gaining the understanding of ATSI perspectives. I repeat that, to gain their perspectives. Not we have a product, here it is. How do they fit in and engage all the time, not for purpose. Some of the measures for that may be, agencies effectively engage ATSI people, not just from their local area, but if their program runs in urban, regional and remote, engage with people from urban, regional and remote because we are different, also within the Torres Strait we are different. Another measure is for ATSI people to be engaged in the development of policy and programs at the outset. We have a tendency of going, here's a policy, here's an initiative and a key target group ATSI people, so we've already developed the policy now we'll go and talk to them about it instead of actually saying, before we developed the policy, we know that ATSI people need to be engaged, let's engage them at the outset, you do this by having engagement mechanisms on an ongoing basis. And that staff are supported to actually do this if you're a manager and you're sitting in your office, the time you take for a week induction could be life changing, not only to you but, the minister talked about before, client focus. I say to my staff every day if you're not here to improve the lives of ATSI people, you need to look for another job and that very essence of induction around cultural capability is that if you are our service providers and we don't have a lot of ATSI services left so we rely on you to ensure that we have the best product.

The last one is around a culturally responsive service system and it again is at the forefront that we actually embed the cultural capability principles are embedded in your policy, program and practice. A simple exercise is every time you develop a business unit plan, if you're engaging with the ATSI community on a regular basis, ask them what they'd like included in their business plan. It's actually a feedback, what some talked about, in regards to how you engage and get feedback from your client, how effective are you unless you actually ask. How many services have an ongoing mechanism where they ask ATSI people about their effective service delivery? That's cultural capability.

So I want to thank you for that again I'll go through the five areas. So it's valuing culture first. Leadership and accountability to drive it. Cultural capability in presence in the workforce around the employment and retention. Engaging with ATSI people on an ongoing basis and this will ensure that you have a culturally responsive service system. I believe that they're the steps to take and what I'm leading with in government so thank you for your time.

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