What does it take to make a partnership ‘genuine’?

Written by John Burton
Manager, Policy and Resources, Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care

Over the last three years the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) has been exploring what it is that underpins genuine partnerships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous service providers. As part of this effort, in 2012 a case-study-based research report profiled the experience of nine promising partnerships and revealed the principles and practices enabling their success.

One of the key messages of the report was that achieving genuine partnerships requires attention to principles that go to the core of relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. To be effective, partnerships must recognise and respect cultural differences and strengths, as well as respond to the impact of past injustice on present-day relations. Genuine partnership development is part of the healing journey for all Australians, and the empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to meet the challenges facing their communities.

While partnerships have long been recognised as essential for developing effective and culturally competent services, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had negative experiences of tokenistic relationships being labeled as ‘partnerships’. This has led to a level of mistrust from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and a concern that governments and mainstream services use partnerships to ‘tick boxes’ of cultural competence and community engagement, without any deeper commitment to sustainable relationships or local community empowerment. Achieving better outcomes requires a shared commitment to building deeper, respectful and more genuine relationships.

SNAICC research has also highlighted eight core principles that underpin genuine partnerships:

Commitment to long-term sustainable relationships based on trust

Significant time spent building relationships between staff, organisations and community. Partners commit to an ongoing relationship not just an activity or project.

Respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history

A commitment to build cultural understanding, to consult and listen to the local community, and to value Indigenous knowledge and professionalism.

Commitment to self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Empowering Indigenous communities to lead the response to child and family needs. Building Indigenous community, organisation and workforce capacity.

Aim to improve long-term well-being for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and communities

Identifying and sharing respective strengths in supporting children and families. Partnership resources viewed as community resources and shared for the benefit of children and families. 

Shared responsibility and accountability for shared objectives and activities

Negotiated and shared vision is developed. Partners jointly develop indicators of success and work together to monitor and evaluate progress.

Valuing process elements as integral to support and enable partnership

Agreements clarify commitments, roles and accountability. Time and resources allocated to joint planning, review, and partnership development.

Redressing unequal or discriminatory relationships, structures and outcomes

Recognising that Indigenous disadvantage reflects historical and continuing discrimination, and working to correct resulting power and resource imbalances.

Working differently with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families

Developing cultural competence in service delivery. Recognising mainstream approaches are often not the best way to engage and support Indigenous families. 

Through a process of consultation with partnership leaders, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child and family service experts, SNAICC has built on our partnership research to develop resources that will support good practice in putting these principles into action. We have produced two recent resources in a series called ‘Creating Change through Partnerships: Supporting and sustaining genuine inter-agency partnerships in service delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.’  These are:

  • A Genuine Partnerships Training Manual: A guide for partnership leaders and ‘champions’ within organisations to support partnership development.  The manual provides information and practice resources to inform processes of establishing, sustaining and reviewing partnerships.
  • A Genuine Partnerships Audit Tool: A partnership review tool to support partners to identify partnership strengths and weaknesses and plan together to strengthen partnership work.
SNAICC encourages organisations working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, especially non-Indigenous organisations, to access and use these resources to support their practice. SNAICC also offers training and facilitation supports to organisations that want to build skills for genuine partnership development. We believe that adopting a strong commitment to genuine partnership can contribute to empower communities to lead service delivery, create culturally strong service supports, and enable better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.  
Contact SNAICC if you are interested in finding out more about our research, resources and training on genuine partnership: www.snaicc.org.au
The following further reading and resources are available on the SNAICC website:
  • SNAICC (2010) Working and Walking Together, access here.
  • SNAICC (2012) Opening Doors through Partnerships, access here.
  • SNAICC (2013) Developing Capacity through Partnership, access here.
  • SNAICC (2014) Creating Change through Partnerships: Partnership Audit Tool, access here.
  • SNAICC (2014) Creating Change through Partnerships: Partnership Training Manual, access here.
We also recommend:
VACCA (2010) Building Respectful Partnerships: The Commitment to Aboriginal Cultural Competence in Child and Family Services. Melbourne: Author.
The feature image is by Rusty StewartCC BY-NC-ND 2.0