The University of Notre Dame Australia is leading a four-year national research project to investigate how Aboriginal organisations in the Kimberley region of Western Australia deliver value in their communities and to the wider public, whilst still remaining true to their cultural origins.
The $439,000 collaborative project, funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project Scheme, is led by Professor Patrick Sullivan from the Nulungu Research Institute on Notre Dame’s Broome Campus. It is the first successful ARC Discovery grant for Notre Dame as the lead institution.
Dr Janet Hunt and Dr Julie Lahn from the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University will also contribute to this vital research project titled: ‘Reciprocal Accountability and Public Value in Aboriginal Organisations’.
“Aboriginal organisations in the Kimberley region are funded by governments to deliver services that are of value to the public. They also reflect Aboriginal culture and identity, and represent Aboriginal interests. This also creates value for their own publics. This project investigates the tension between these two ways of understanding public value,” Professor Sullivan said.
“Better accountability will foster Aboriginal organisations that are more adaptable, have better relations with wider society and efficiently create value for their publics.
“The Kimberley presents an ideal backdrop for this research project as, in fact, the region is a quiet achiever in delivering organisational value to their Aboriginal communities.”
Researchers aim to explore how Aboriginal identity and values affect the type, quality and frequency of services delivered; how identity and cultural values are being preserved in the delivery of these services; and how the delivery of these services can be improved.
“Aboriginal organisations are the hidden force that holds Aboriginal communities together in the face of external pressure. They rarely receive the attention they deserve for their role in providing leadership, representation, local employment, practical services and support for Aboriginal culture,” Professor Sullivan said.
“This project is an opportunity for selected Kimberley organisations to describe the value they produce for their public and to work towards better forms of accountability that truly reflect their diverse roles.”
Professor Sandra Wooltorton, Director of the Nulungu Research Institute, said the project will be innovative in that it brings together international advances in public management theory and local knowledge of Kimberley Aboriginal community service organisations, within the disciplinary overview of organisational anthropology.
“This is significant because reciprocal accountability is at the heart of the relationship between Aboriginal people and the descendants of settlers and immigrants in Australia, and Aboriginal organisations are essential mediators of this relationship,” Professor Wooltorton said.
“Nulungu is delighted to be part of this significant ARC Discovery project to improve the creation and delivery of public value between Aboriginal organisations and their communities.”