‘I’m sorry, but I can’t take a photo of someone’s capacity being built’: the need for better evaluation in Indigenous policy

Stream: Indigenous Research and Governance
Date: Tuesday, 26 September 2017
Time: 10.45 am – 12.25 pm


In February 2017, the Turnbull Government announced it would spend $40 million on evaluating the $30 billion of Commonwealth funds spent on Indigenous programs after critical reports by the National Audit Office and Productivity Commission on the failure to significantly reduce Indigenous disadvantage. This follows many years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people calling for greater scrutiny and accountability around government expenditure. While the announcement of this investment in evaluation has been welcomed, new research canvassed in this presentation highlights the ways in which the government’s current approach to evaluation may mean these funds perpetuate rather than address many of the problems in Indigenous policy and programming.

This presentation outlines the findings of qualitative interviews conducted with Indigenous leaders, policy makers, public servants, evaluators and program managers on evaluation in Indigenous policy. The title ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t take a photo of someone’s capacity being built’ is drawn from an interview with former Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, quoting a government minister seeking positive media coverage in the lead up to an election. It illustrates the tensions that can emerge between measuring the impact of community-based programs using data, metrics and timeframes that are meaningful and relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and those considered objective and rigorous by government. Drawing on this research, I explore questions of methodology, politics and accountability in government-commissioned evaluation, as well as the possibilities for evaluation to better serve the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.


Ruth McCausland (Presenter), UNSW
Ruth McCausland is a Research Fellow in the School of Social Sciences, UNSW. Ruth's research focuses on vulnerable groups in the criminal justice system, including young people, women, people with disabilities and Aboriginal communities, with particular interest in evaluation and cost-benefit of alternatives to incarceration. Her PhD was on evaluation and the diversion of Aboriginal women from prison, and she has a Masters in International Social Development. Ruth has been a Senior Research Fellow at Jumbunna, UTS, and policy advisor at the Australian Human Rights Commission and NSW Anti-Discrimination Board. Ruth is on the Board of the Community Restorative Centre.