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Connected, Creative and Cultural Communities: Developing an Integrated Approach to Policy and Evaluation for Remote Australian Indigenous Media and Communications

Featherstone, Daniel (2015) Connected, Creative and Cultural Communities: Developing an Integrated Approach to Policy and Evaluation for Remote Australian Indigenous Media and Communications. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This research project seeks to develop appropriate policy and evaluation frameworks to support the development of the remote Indigenous media and communications sector and build digital inclusion and capacity within remote Australian Indigenous communities.

This project reviews existing policy and theory pertaining to Indigenous media and communications and identifies and assesses the applicability and limitations for the contemporary remote Indigenous Australian context. Some key policy aspects have remained the same since the 1990s. These include: cultural and linguistic maintenance, self-representation, community access, rights and justice, and employment opportunities. However, in the context of significant technological and socio-political change, there are a range of contemporary issues yet to be effectively incorporated into policy, including: digital convergence; digital inclusion; organisational and industry development; and sustainability.

There is a growing divide between and within remote communities in terms of digital inclusion; access to appropriate information and services. Despite billions of dollars being spent on ‘closing the gap’ for Indigenous Australians, and numerous reviews over recent decades, the potential role of Indigenous media and communications in remote Indigenous communities remains largely unrecognised and under-utilised. At a time when the debate is re-emerging about the viability of remote Indigenous communities, the effectiveness of media and communications services and connectivity will increasingly become key determinants for community sustainability, effective service delivery, community capacity building, cultural maintenance and individual capability.

The research included a review of literature in the fields of Communications, Media Anthropology, Community Development and Development Communications. Summaries of issues were then prepared. Relevant past and current government policies in Indigenous affairs and Indigenous broadcasting and communications were also reviewed and key issues summarised, along with an historic overview of the development of remote Indigenous media and communications in Australia and potential future directions and challenges. This led to the preparation of a draft set of Policy and Evaluation frameworks to be reviewed using a series of case studies.

Using an Ethnographic Action Research methodology, the author undertook research over a nine year period while working as Manager at Ngaanyatjarra Media, the remote Indigenous media organisation for 15 remote communities in the Western Desert region of eastern WA. He worked closely with Yarnangu (Central/Western Desert Aboriginal people) media workers and communities, building on the existing BRACS network and cultural maintenance agenda to establish a range of innovative and integrated media and communications programs in the region. Six Ngaanyatjarra Media case studies were used to assess and revise the draft Policy and Evaluation frameworks.

While the unique context and ‘communicative ecology’ of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands differs from other parts of remote Australia, the evaluation outcomes suggest that the integrated approach to media and communications delivery can have broader application. The research found that a bottom-up approach to program development that considers the social, cultural, political and technological context promotes community ownership and participation and delivers locally relevant solutions and outcomes. In contrast, top-down initiated programs had significantly lower participation and outcomes. It proposes a consultative approach to program development that incorporates community strategic planning and locally specific delivery strategies. It also proposes an evaluation model that includes three sets of performance indicators: those specified by the funding agencies (typically Government); indicators considered relevant by the local delivery agencies (e.g. media organisations); and those that meet the needs of Indigenous community recipients to understand and evaluate the impact of the program.

A further key finding is the need for a ‘contingent’ approach to application of both the Policy and Evaluation frameworks; that is, selection and prioritisation of particular potential aspects to match the specific policy or evaluation need. The thesis provides justification for this approach and indicates how it may be developed.

This thesis seeks to contribute to the existing body of knowledge in this field by documenting the growth of a little known remote Indigenous media organisation situated in the Ngaanyatjarra region of WA during a time of technological, political and social change within Australia. It brings together a deep understanding of community and cultural values and determinants as well as a solid knowledge of relevant government policy and programs. It helps fill a gap in field research and observation of remote Indigenous media activities in Australia since the 1990s. While aimed at the Australian context, the findings of this research may also have relevance for the international communications development sector.

The project’s objective was to develop appropriate Remote Indigenous Media and Communications Policy and Evaluation frameworks for use within the contemporary technological, social and political context. The proposed integrated delivery approach involves the use of existing and new media and communications activities that engage and empower remote Indigenous people and help build connected, creative and cultural communities.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Media, Communication and Culture
Supervisor(s): Turk, Andrew and Broderick, Mick
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