The Indigenous Voice Co-design Process
Case study: The Indigenous Voice Co-design Process
For the past two years, a key focus for the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) has been supporting an innovative process to co-design an Indigenous Voice, a mechanism that would allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide advice and input on matters that are important to improve their lives.
Stage one of the process, spanning October 2019 to October 2020, saw 52 Australians from across the country come together in three co-design groups to develop proposals for an Indigenous Voice at the local, regional and national levels. The majority of the co-design members were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“We have set about this task through a process of genuine co-design. We have done this with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from around the country, and other Australians, at the table with the Australian Government. … Each co-design member in this process has brought their own varied expertise, advice and experiences to the table. Together, we have contested ideas and challenged ourselves to consider what might work best.”
Professor Dr Marcia Langton AO and Professor Tom Calma AO, Senior Advisory Group Co-chairs, Indigenous Voice Co-design Process Interim Report
A key feature of the co-design process was its collaborative approach. The Local & Regional Co-design Group and National Co-design Group developed the detail of their respective proposals, with the Senior Advisory Group providing overarching guidance and feedback. This provided a peer-review system and ensured a two-way flow of information and advice.
The NIAA played both a supportive and power-sharing role in the process. The Agency provided tailored secretariat and policy support to each co-design group, as well as two NIAA senior officials serving as co-chairs for the Local & Regional Co-design Group and the National Co-design Group. The senior officials worked in partnership with the non-government co-chairs, bringing their experiences working within government to the table, and providing important insights to assist in developing robust and practical proposals.
The NIAA also led meetings of a Senior Officials Group made up of state and territory government officials and the Australian Local Government Association, ensuring this key stakeholder group could provide input from each jurisdiction’s perspective and be kept informed of progress.
Successful participatory elements of the process included:
- Agenda and meeting papers being drafted by the NIAA secretariat according to each co-design group’s agreed policy principles and previous input, guided by the co-chairs. These papers were provided to co-design members ahead of each meeting.
- A combination of group discussions, one-on-one pre and post-meeting discussions, and individual written contributions allowed members’ diverse views and perspectives to be discussed and deliberated.
- In between full meetings of each co-design group, several smaller working groups met to consider particular topics in further detail.
Another important element was the flexibility both co-design group members and the NIAA showed in responding to external changes such as the COVID-19 pandemic, adapting quickly to virtual meetings and new ways of interacting and collaborating.
Through stage one, the NIAA provided secretariat and logistical support for more than 70 formal meetings, working group meetings, member briefings and design discussions. The meetings culminated in the delivery of an Interim Report to Government in October 2020 outlining proposals for an Indigenous Voice comprised of Local & Regional Voices and a National Voice.
The co-design process that led to the Interim Report was successful because the NIAA prioritised relationships with and between the co-design members. The Agency took a step back and gave the experts and people with lived experience the time and space to come together and lead a process to develop, test and refine the proposals. This in turn built all participants’ capacity to understand the challenges and opportunities for an Indigenous Voice.