Development and implementation of a shared governance model in a mainstream health unit: a case study of embedding Aboriginal voices in organisational decision making


Kristy Crooks, B Tully, L Allan, K Gillham, D Durrheim, J Wiggers

Australian Health Review, 2021 Dec 23. DOI:

This case study focuses on the development and implementation of a governance structure and processes by a mainstream health unit that valued the principles of Aboriginal self-determination, empowerment and leadership by Aboriginal staff in organisational and service delivery decisions and elevated Aboriginal voices by embedding cultural inclusion in such decision making. Various models of embedding Aboriginal voices in the governance of the unit were developed and implemented over time. Ongoing review and reflection identified limitations and opportunities for improving the embedding of Aboriginal voices in organisational decision making. In 2017, Aboriginal staff and senior management implemented a joint governance model for providing strategic leadership of the unit with the objective of enhancing the delivery of culturally appropriate population health services for the benefit of Aboriginal communities. In its 3 years of operation to date, the model has provided strategic oversight of the organisation, implemented several strategic initiatives, including a cultural assessment process, maintaining and strengthening Aboriginal recruitment, monitoring employment vacancies, establishing a wellbeing leadership group, monitoring budget allocation and developing an Aboriginal data management protocol, and has provided additional professional development opportunities for Aboriginal staff. This case study demonstrates the feasibility, importance and benefits of engaging and embedding Aboriginal voices in the governance of a mainstream health service delivery unit, as well as the need for ongoing reflection and improvement. Further translation of the model to the operational levels of the unit is required. The governance model has the potential to be replicated in a tailored manner in other mainstream health units and organisations delivering services to Aboriginal peoples and communities.

What is known about the topic? Aboriginal people continue to experience the poorest health outcomes of any population group in Australia. Closing the gap in Aboriginal health requires Aboriginal people to be active and equal participants in all levels of decision making. Governance of mainstream health organisations is predominantly positioned in the Western medical positivist paradigm, which fails to embed Aboriginal voices in organisational and service delivery decision making.

What does this paper add? This case study describes the processes taken and the outcomes achieved thus far by a mainstream health service delivery unit developing and implementing a governance model that embedded Aboriginal perspectives in its decision making. It highlights that through commitment and persistence, as well as acknowledging the challenges of working between two worlds, it is possible to reconstruct existing governance models, allowing respectful and meaningful space for Aboriginal people to co-design and co-share the governance of health service delivery. This case study demonstrates the potential of the cultural governance model to be replicated and applied to other mainstream health service delivery units.

What are the implications for practitioners? This case study highlights the need for health services to invest in employing and empowering Aboriginal people to co-develop and co-lead a shared approach to organisational governance through processes that are culturally safe, inclusive and appropriate.

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