The participation of Indigenous people in national Indigenous health policy processes
AuthorLOCK, MARK JOHN
AffiliationFaculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences, Dept. of Public Health
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsLock, M. J. (2008). The participation of Indigenous people in national Indigenous health policy processes. PhD thesis, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences, Dept. of Public Health, The University of Melbourne.
Access StatusOpen Access
Deposited with permission of the author. © 2008 Dr. Mark John Lock
It is acknowledged that part of the failure to improve Indigenous health is due to the lack of participation of Indigenous people in national policy and decision making processes. In this three part study I investigated the nature of Indigenous people’s participation in national Indigenous health policy processes. I combined quantitative and qualitative methods through the perspective of policy networks. The first part of the study was directed at the prominence of informal networks in the evolution of Indigenous affairs policy. I aimed to determine and describe the structural location of Indigenous people in an informal network of influential people. I administered a network survey questionnaire during the period 2003/04. In a snowball nomination process influential people nominated a total of 227 influential people. Of these, 173 people received surveys of which 44 people returned surveys, a return rate of 25 per cent. I analysed the data to detect the existence of network groups; measure the degree of group interconnectivity; measure the characteristics of bonds between influential people; and I used demographic information to characterise the network and its groups. I found a stable pattern of relationships in the three features of the informal network: the whole network was diverse, and the Indigenous people were integrated and embedded in the network. It would not have existed without Indigenous people due to a combination of their greater number, their distribution throughout the network groups, and the interconnections between the groups. I argued that the findings showed that Indigenous people were fundamental in this informal network of influential people. The second part of the study was directed at the role of national health committees in engaging with advice about Indigenous health. I aimed to describe the structural location of Indigenous people in national health committees. Using internet sites I identified 121 national health committees at the end of 2003, and obtained information from 77 committees or 64 per cent of all committees. I calculated the proportion of members who were Indigenous within each committee; the proportion of committees which were Indigenous health committees; and constructed a visual representation of the formal reporting relationship between all the committees and Cabinet. I then determined the importance of each committee in terms of a committee network using eigenvector centrality scores. Finally, I identified the linking people between the informal network and the national health committees. I found that in a traditional hierarchical view that Indigenous people and Indigenous health committees were small in number and distant from Cabinet. In contrast a network view assumes that the importance of a committee depends on the combination of the number of interlocks, comembership, and betweenness with other committees. In this network view, Indigenous health committees were similarly located to other committees. A small number of elite knowledge brokers linked the informal networks and the national health committees. I argued that the findings showed a formal systemic deficiency in the strategic location of Indigenous people. The third part of the study was directed at the significance of inter-personal bonds between influential people in influencing policy processes. I aimed to describe the interpersonal relationships between influential people through a semi-structured interview. The interview questions were designed to elicit responses in the broad context of knowledge and influence in national Indigenous health policy processes. From a list of 47 potential interviewees I obtained 34 interviews (a response rate of 72 per cent), transcribed 32 interviews and coded them thematically. I found that underlying the episodic meetings of national health committees was the constant activities of informal networking. The influential non-Indigenous people had to pass some rules of entry in order to engage in and utilise informal processes. The interviewees demonstrated a value of connectedness in interpersonal relationships through agreement with principles such as social models of health. However, advice about Indigenous health issues may need to be continually rediscovered as it remains anchored to local contexts in a macro context where advice faces pathways that are confusing and convoluted. I argued that the findings indicated a meta-level vacuum in conceptualising the relationship between the concepts of participation and advice in national Indigenous health policy processes. The findings from the three parts indicated three characteristics of an ongoing meta-process (informal network), absence of a meta-perspective (national health committees), and a meta-concept of participation (interviews). I suggest that they form a meta-frame of participation. In this frame the energy dispersed in the many efforts at improving Indigenous peoples‟ participation are unfocussed because of multiple and uncoordinated policy origins. Therefore I concluded that the nature of participation of Indigenous people in national Indigenous health policy processes is one of unfocussed energy.
KeywordsAboriginal Australians; health; medical policy
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