As part of the process of sustainability, Governance is an important elements. Governance is how a community comes to make decisions about its well-being in its environment, and progressively improves its capacity to do so. The Walk Together Design accepts four equally valid definitions of governance:
The way rules are set and implemented
The process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not)
The mechanisms by which citizens and groups define their interests and interact with institutions of authority and with each other
Consistent management, cohesive policies, guidance, processes and decision-rights for a given area of responsibility
Which of these definitions is selected will be part of the Walk Together Design work.
The Perceived Vacuum of Authority
As traditional Indigenous forms of community governance have broken down, attempts have been made by State and Federal Governments to replace them with non-Indigenous structures. These attempts to replace traditional authority and structures with notions of authority and structure imported from western cultures has not been particularly successful if sustainability is a criterion. For example, some service providers create governance bodies (Boards and Councils) to provide community input into decision making for the operation of their service.
While this is a legitimate form of governance (see point 4 above) it is not sustainable, according to the definition of sustainability. The authority of single service Boards and Councils is limited by rules that apply to the government departments that have created them. None of them have authority relative to the whole community. It is usually not clear whether the long-term plan is to use these Boards and Councils as a step in the transition to community governance, or whether they are part of a structure to be entrenched as part of a fragmented community decision making process. Mostly, the different service boards and councils operate separately from each other, and often, from the community.
Service Providers filling the Vacuum
It doesn’t take long for a new service provider in a community to become aware of the authority vacuum, and find the resources of the service are insufficient to respond to symptoms like alcoholism, crime, and so on.
A natural and sensible tendency is to try to do something about the cause, rather than the effect. However, if the cause is defined as the vacuum of community authority, then service providers don’t have the authority to fill it. The only option available to them is to attempt to influence their Indigneous Boards and Councils to legitimize the changes dictated by the policies of their department, and they do this in competition with other departments whose priorities also lie within their own policies, determined from outside. The result is that Indigenous people often feel a great deal of pressure for change, which may not be understood or welcomed. They tend to feel powerless in the face of this pressure, and distance themselves from it.
What else could fill the Vacuum?
Traditional authority and structures have not entirely broken down, even in highly urbanised communities. For example, in some places, functions that were formerly performed by elders are now being performed by others. In broad terms, however, we can say with some confidence that the healthy parts of each community have almost certainly retained some elements of traditional authority, and structures to support it. Many communities have also adapted to some new ways from outside, as people must do when they have no choice in the matter.
The choice each community has, therefore, is to decide which of its traditional ways of doing things need to be strengthened and maintained, which are no longer useful, and what new ways are important for now and in the future. This is a crucial function of community governance. Without it, choices will be difficult and haphazard, possibly accompanied by increasing levels of anger, violence, and on-going dysfunction.
The Walk Together Design affirms the right of each community to determine the form of community governance that it wishes to have. In accordance with the first principle, the community needs to initiate the journey, and bring other stakeholders along with it.