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Indigenous Sport Program Evaluation Report

The evaluation of the Indigenous Sport Program is an investigation and reporting process on the current status of the program from the perspective of the current partners and stakeholders.

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August 2009

The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) has managed and administered the Indigenous Sport Program (ISP), in financial partnership with other Commonwealth agencies, State and Territory Departments of Sport and Recreation (SDSR) and the mainstream sporting industry since 1993.

Over the last 16 years, the sporting circumstances and needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have changed significantly with very little change in the way the ISP has been administered/delivered.

Policy and portfolio changes by the Australian Government, particularly relating to Indigenous affairs, have also created a relatively new environment for which the ISP had to operate in.

In acknowledging these changes and committing to improving the effectiveness of the ISP, the ASC engaged an independent consultant (Small Candle Consulting) in March 2009 to evaluate:

  • the effectiveness of existing ISP partnerships with SDSR and the mainstream sporting industry
  • identifying where sport for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples best fitted broader Australian Government policy agenda
    • identifying improvements to the program for more  effective service delivery and improved outcomes.

It is also anticipated that this evaluation would contribute to a much broader review of Indigenous sport and recreation to be conducted by the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA), post the outcomes of the Crawford All of Sport Review.

The ISP has existed through a fragmented and shifted past with a number of Commonwealth agencies that previously held stewardship over it including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) which have now both been abolished. This has meant a significant impact on the stability, direction and ownership of the program.

At present, the ISP is administered by the ASC with additional support from various state and territory sport and recreation departments.  The majority of funding for the ISP is provided to the ASC through a memorandum of understanding with DoHA.

DoHA also provides funding, under the much broader Indigenous Sport and Recreation Program (ISRP), to community groups and organisations to increase and encourage the active participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in sport and physical recreation activities.

The ISP has two main objectives. These are to:

  • increase the active participation of Indigenous Australians in sport and physical recreation
  • encourage community ownership and management of sport and physical recreation activities, including through skills development.

Under the ISP, a number of state government departments of sport and recreation, national and state based sporting stakeholders and business partners deliver targeted sporting opportunities to and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in urban, rural and remote settings.

Stakeholders believe the ASC has provided an effective brokering role, under the ISP, which has enabled them to better coordinate sport delivery and capacity building opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The broad involvement of all levels of government in the ISP is also a general measure of its overall effectiveness.

In addition, five Commonwealth agencies are involved in delivering sport to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout Australia. There are ten state and territory departments that directly implement sporting activities in Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander communities. Sixteen national sports organisations assist the state and territory departments to deliver a variety of sports activities and programs. There is a number of unspecified state sporting associations also acting as partners. An area for development is achieving a more predictable and sustained input from peak state sporting bodies.

Several commercial organisations in Western Australia provide financial and human resources for the implementation of the ISP in that jurisdiction. These relationships are valuable and give the ISP significant profile and support, as well as offering an across-sector alliance.

The ISP involves a myriad of working relationships with countless sporting organisations and clubs who work with the ISP partners to promote sport and sporting activities. Most important in this regard is the presence of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities themselves who are engaged with and benefit from the ISP.

In addition, the ISP creates valuable sporting pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, particularly in the more sustainable mainstream sporting environment. At the base of these pathways is the experience of the community-based sport and physical activity programs that invariably lead to connections and engagement with sporting clubs and competitions. These networks have the potential to build greater opportunity for participants, athletes and teams to advance higher and to take the varied pathways that sport can offer.

The Elite Indigenous Travel and Accommodation Assistance Program (EITAAP) provides financial support to sub-elite Indigenous sportspeople to advance in their chosen sport at the national and international levels. This assistance is a practical means to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the mainstream sporting system. Feedback from recipients clearly indicates that without the support of EITAAP very few individual could afford the high costs of representing their State/Territory or Australia, particularly those from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Greater development of sporting pathways for athletes and officials under the ISP will assist in providing better quality sporting programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The ISP’s capacity to bring federal and state governments together to deal with sport for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples brings a whole-of-government approach to delivering sport outcomes.

There are a number of other government departments at Commonwealth and state and territory levels that are involved in using sport to achieve broader public policy outcomes. Departments of Education, Justice and Health use sport as the means to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander communities and at the same time deliver their particular policy agendas. The value of sport as a tool for achieving broader policy outcomes is clearly recognised. Yet the net result of this is that little is done to uphold the inherent value of sport itself other than as the tool to engage with the community and to deliver broader policy initiatives.

Whilst sport is the vehicle of community engagement for many federal, state and territory government programs, the majority of the ISP’s partners and stakeholders have the advancement of sport for its own sake as their primary objective. This is an important distinction to make. Upholding the value of sport in its own right underpins the ISP. Sport is an important outcome in itself.

Stakeholders recognise and celebrate the many benefits that are brought to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities from sport’s presence in broader policy initiatives. Yet they are concerned that the inherent value of sport is reduced when other policy initiatives regularly use sport as the means to achieve other ends.

A broader awareness of the inherent value of sport and the ISP as a means to deliver sporting objectives must be reinforced for the future.

Sport has the capacity to bond people (build relationships) and to bridge people (build external relationships). Sport assists in the development of personal and interpersonal skills that contribute to better relationships, personal and interpersonal skills development, and sense of health, wellness and wellbeing.

The benefits of sport in health related matters is widely recognised and documented. Sport has the potential to reduce the presence and effect of chronic disease. It can reduce the impact of some addictive behaviour. Sport assists in cognitive development and learning, and fosters good physical development

Research indicates that sport has the capacity to reduce the prevalence in anti-social behaviour.

For others in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, sport is less to do with physical activity and more of an avenue to gain skill and confidence through the experiences and opportunities provided by volunteering and officiating.

The ASC is considered an extremely important and unifying partner in the ISP.

There is an expectation from the program’s stakeholders and partners for the ASC to leverage its position as the Australian Government’s primary sports agency and to be greater advocate for the value of sport in society. A greater advocacy role will require the ASC to continue to take a more prominent role in directing and supporting the ISP.

As the ISP is primarily a sports’ initiative, the brokering position held by the ASC will need to reinforce the message of sports’ inherent importance and value amongst many other competing policy messages and imperatives.

A significant risk for the ISP is that its fundamental focus as a sport’s program can be lost amongst other national policy agendas. It is important that the ASC understand the broader capacity of the ISP to support and complement broader government policy. Maintaining the integrity of sport is an important quality that must be further articulated.

A national strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sport would allow for the development of a much broader focus and arrangement of sport for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Such a strategy would be inclusive of all levels of government. It would engage and negotiate with those federal, state and territory government departments that at present use sport in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to achieve their individual policy objectives (health, education, justice).

There is great operational diversity across state and territory jurisdictions in relation to the ISP whilst maintaining a coordinated national approach. Diversity across the program is necessary to achieve its outcomes. The opportunity for the program to be implemented in a more focused manner whilst retaining true flexibility across the states and territories is seen by stakeholders as an important and necessary inclusion in any future program . The development of a national strategy should not interfere with the existing diverse nature and operation of the program.

The purpose of such a strategy would be to design a model for the delivery of sport for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that is more unified and focused, promoting greater efficiency and effectiveness.

The ISP actively contributes to a number of broader national policy initiatives. These include:

  • placing citizens at the centre of government activity
  • reinforcing the Council of Australian Government (COAG) structure to create connected and efficient government
  • using the whole-of-government approach for service delivery
  • delivering programs with efficiency and effectiveness
  • improving health outcomes for Indigenous people (Closing the gap).

The many ISP stakeholders involved in the evaluation believe the program is a useful tool to retract the significant social, economic and health disadvantage endured by so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Major government partners involved in the ISP, namely the ASC and the state departments of sport and recreation rely on the presence and skill of the Indigenous Sport Development Officers (ISDOs) to ensure the program attains it objectives.

The work, skill and passion of the ISDOs are recognised contributors to the program’s success. The twenty-eight ISDOs are attributed to building extremely good working relationships with ISP stakeholders and partners in order to deliver the various sporting activities. This is especially significant because the ISDOs also build the working relationships with the various Indigenous communities that benefit from the ISP.

The building of strong relationships by ISDOs with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is an important ingredient for the program’s overall success.

In order to attract suitable applicants for ISDO positions and to retain current skilled personnel there is a need to implement a range of practical strategies and incentives geared to ensuring the ISP has the best people positioned as ISDOs.

Strategies and incentives designed to attract and retain ISDOs would include:

  • increasing the numbers of officers especially in the states and territories that cover large geographic areas (Western Australia, South Australia and Northern Territory)
  • providing greater frequency of and more targeted training and professional development opportunities
  • developing succession plans
  • providing greater support for ISDOs operating in remote areas.

If presence of trust and strongly built connections between partners, ISDOs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is a significant reason for the program’s success, proper support and development of ISDOs is a critical ingredient to the ISP’s continued success.

Present day Commonwealth sport programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are fragmented and at times compete with each other. There is very little overall orchestration to enable greater cooperation and focus. This is especially true in the way the ISP is funded through its relationship with DoHA.

Stakeholders generally view the current funding model as inefficient and ineffective. The model is viewed as contributing to competition between programs and duplication of programs.

The ASC must engage DoHA to negotiate greater access to financial resources and develop a more streamlined funding arrangement. Another desired improvement is the negotiation of longer funding timeframes to create greater certainty and stability for the state and territory departments, peak sporting bodies and ISDO’s.

The ASC is a strong advocate for and partner in the ISP. This is recognised amongst partners and stakeholders of the program. Though this is the case, outside the program, advocacy for and promotion of the ISP is believed to be lacking and requiring greater development.

To this end, a significant future strategy to offer greater promotion of the program is the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sport Advisory Body. This body’s role would be to promote and accelerate at the highest levels matters associated with sport for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Such a body would provide policy advice, support, advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and elite sport, as well as national promotion of sport for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Further to this initiative is the need to foster the presence and engagement of eminent Indigenous Australians from all spheres of public life who are recognised spokespeople for sport for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The individuals will take the role of influential advocates for and patrons of Indigenous sport and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The ISP provides a range of culturally appropriate sporting and physical activity opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Greater emphasis also needs to be directed towards sporting and physical activity opportunities for women, girls, adults and elders, especially in those communities that are isolated and remote.

Access to the program for people with disabilities also requires greater prominence and resources.

An area of the program to be redeveloped to achieve better outcomes is that of evaluating and reporting. The development of more reliable and valid reporting mechanisms that reflect the true scope of the program’s achievements is a high priority modification. The true effectiveness of the program is not readily captured under the current evaluation and reporting mechanisms. A broader emphasis on measuring and describing program inputs, participation levels and broader achieved outcomes is a more useful improvement to be introduced.

Overall the ISP is seen as an extremely worthwhile and well-administered program that engages a broad range of government and non-government stakeholders. The people who work in it are professional and dedicated.

The presence of the ISP and what it offers brings a broad range of positive outcomes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their communities.

August 2009

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