Stated principles in government policy documents serve as a set of values outlining how governments intend to work. As such, health planning principles should be reflected in health policy across the cycle of planning, implementation and evaluation. Such principles should be reflected in the process of governments commissioning and funding evaluation, and in the work of those commissioned to do evaluation on behalf of governments.
The researchers reviewed health planning policy documents to identify principles Australian State and Territory and National governments stated as being important to the work they do within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health contexts. Evaluation tenders and reports relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health policy, programs and service for the period 1-Jan-2007 to 1-Jan-2017 were retrieved and assessed as to whether they embedded principles governments state as important.
In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health planning policy contexts, Australian governments outline shared responsibility, cultural competence, engagement, partnership, capacity building, equity, a holistic concept of health, accountability, and evidence-based as fundamental principles that will underpin the work they will do.
Despite strong rhetoric placing importance on the above-mentioned principles, these were not consistently embedded in tenders released by government commissioners, nor in reports largely commissioned by governments. Principles most widely incorporated in documents were those corresponding to Closing the Gap - accountability, evidence-based and equity. Principles of holistic concept of health, capacity building, cultural competence and partnership do not appear well applied in evaluation practice.
Notwithstanding the tensions and criticism of current practice that sees dominant governments policing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations and defining what principles should inform health policy and evaluation practice, this paper reveals shortcomings in current evaluation practice. Firstly, this paper reveals a lack of transparency about current practice, with only 2% of tenders and 25% of reports in the public domain. Secondly, this paper reveals that governments do not ‘walk the talk’, particularly when it comes to principles relating to Aboriginal participation in health.