Skip to Content
 Close search

Better Indigenous Policies: The Role of Evaluation

Roundtable proceedings

The Commission held a roundtable on Better Indigenous Policies: The Role of Evaluation at Old Parliament House in Canberra on 22-23 October 2012. This publication of the proceedings was released on 30 April 2013.

The roundtable considered both the particular challenges in Indigenous policy evaluation and the actions needed to ensure that evidence gained from evaluations can be embedded in policy-making and program implementation.

Participants included representatives of Indigenous organisations, government officials, academics, consultants and representatives of non-government organisations. The Commission thanks all speakers and participants for their contribution.

Download the roundtable proceedings

  • Chapters
  • Media release

Session 1 Introduction

Session 2 The challenges in evaluating social and Indigenous policy

Dinner address

Session 3 Key themes in evaluation of Indigenous policy and programs

Session 4 International experience

Session 5 Evaluation and policy


Proceedings of the Productivity Commission's roundtable Better Indigenous Policies: The Role of Evaluation, held in October 2012, were released today.

The Commission brought together a group of experts to discuss the role of evaluation in Indigenous policy. Participants included representatives of Indigenous organisations (such as Jody Broun and Les Malezer, co-chairs of the National Congress of Australia's first Peoples); government officials (such as Brian Gleeson, the Coordinator General for Remote Indigenous Services); academics (such as Deborah Cobb-Clark from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research and John Taylor from the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research); and representatives of non-government organisations (such as Fred Chaney from Desert Knowledge Australia and Reconciliation Australia).

International presenters (Frances Abele [Canada] and Helen Moewaka Barnes [New Zealand]) discussed evaluation of Indigenous policies and programs in their respective countries.

Gary Banks, then Chairman of the Commission, opened the roundtable, noting '[It is said that 'the greatest tragedy of failure is failing to learn from it'. But that seems to be the predominant history of Indigenous policies and programs. Until recently, evidence and evaluation have played only limited roles in Indigenous policy in Australia. The focus has tended to be on intuitive notions of doing good or avoiding harms - on the ends, rather than detailed analysis and review of alternative means.'

Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald noted that '[governments in Australia spend $25 billion annually on services for Indigenous Australians. ...Ensuring that expenditure aimed at 'closing the gap' for Indigenous Australians is effective and efficient requires good evaluation.'

Summing up, Mr Banks acknowledged the '[genuine, broadly based support for better evaluation processes and outcomes. However, despite confidence that we already know some of the key problems and potential responses, some fundamental system design issues are beyond the reach of piecemeal evaluation'. He reiterated the general view of roundtable participants that a broad-based policy review was required to address fundamental issues with 'government governance' - that is, the way governments work with, and in, Indigenous communities.

The roundtable proceedings include written papers from the following presenters:

  • Mr Gary Banks (Productivity Commission) - an introduction to the roundtable and the outcomes the Commission hoped to achieve
  • Mr Robert Fitzgerald (Productivity Commission) - current outcomes for Indigenous Australians, drawing on the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report and the Indigenous Expenditure Report (produced by the Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, for which the Productivity Commission provides the secretariat)
  • The Hon. Fred Chaney (Reconciliation Australia) - a critical summary of Indigenous policy experience in Australia since the 1960s
  • Mr Les Malezer (Co-chair, National Congress of Australia's First Peoples) - challenges in evaluating social policy in general, and Indigenous policy in particular
  • Professor Deborah Cobb-Clark (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research) - the case for making public policy evaluations public
  • Ms Jody Broun (Co-chair, National Congress of Australia's First Peoples) - how evaluations can help non-government bodies hold government to account
  • Mr Matthew James (Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) - the design of evaluation strategies, drawing on recent Australian Government experience
  • Professor John Taylor (Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research) - the importance of data: achievements, constraints and opportunities
  • Mr David Kalisch (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) - mechanisms for communicating evaluation outcomes: the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse
  • Associate Professor Helen Moewaka Barnes (Whariki Research Group) - an Aotearoa New Zealand perspective on the role of evaluation
  • Professor Frances Abele (Carleton University) - the Canadian experience in Indigenous affairs
  • Mr Michael Dillon (Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) - the use of evaluation in policy and program development: the case of Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory (paper presented by Matthew James)
  • Mr Brian Gleeson (Coordinator General for Remote Indigenous Services) - Learning from experience? Getting governments to listen to what evaluations are telling them.

Background information

Lawrence McDonald (Assistant Commissioner) 03 9653 2178 / 0421 584 905

Requests for comment / other

02 6240 3330 /