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Learning from action (management of Aboriginal health services)

Project summary

This project used an action learning and research approach to develop understanding of management practices in Aboriginal Health Services; to share and build knowledge and skills; and to develop a research agenda. The study focused on the real-life experiences of problems and challenges faced by managers in 12 Aboriginal Health Services. The program used a combination of three methods;

(1) learning set method,
(2) more traditional teaching and
(3) action research.

All three methods were integrated into a program of four 2-to 3-day meetings. The stories of management struggle and strategies shared in the learning sets were analysed to generate findings about the development needs of managers and the management challenges facing the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector. Some participants elected to enrol as postgraduate management students and received academic credit for their participation.

Project outcomes

Thirteen managers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services in Queensland met with the project team four times during 2005 for 2–3 day workshops. Each workshop involved a formal seminar, a ‘learning set’ meeting, data collection and discussion of the research. All participants agreed to keep their discussions confi dential, so that there was a safe environment for sharing and learning.

Participants could also enrol in a postgraduate subject at La Trobe University and have the workshops count as classes. Three people enrolled, undertook written work related to the problems they discussed at meetings and received academic credit. Everyone who participated in the workshops also received a certifi cate from La Trobe University and the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC), the peak body for community-controlled health services in Queensland.

A workshop report was launch in 2007.

Main messages

  • The Aboriginal health sector needs supportive infrastructure (including appropriately designed training and education curricula) for good management and governance practice that is appropriate to the range of size, resources, geography and location of the organisations.
  • The design of Health Services Management training and education curricula need to reflect the real life experiences, challenges and issues of managers in this context and address the broader range of issues confronting managers in the Aboriginal health sector.
  • Effective partnerships between educational institutions and the Aboriginal health sector are fundamental to developing supportive educational infrastructure.

Summary of projected outcomes

The primary objectives of the Learning from Action project are to deliver:

  1. A report summarising the accumulated observations, reflections, deliberations and learnings of the project.
  2. A structured program of learning and reflection delivered to 12 practising Aboriginal healthcare managers.
  3. A proposal for a broad program of research and development in governance and management in Aboriginal healthcare.
  4. An established network of individuals and organisations who will be well placed to participate in further research, development, trialling and evaluation of models, methods and tools for effective governance and management.
  • Judith Dwyer, Cindy Shannon & Shirley Godwin 2007, Learning from Action: Management of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, CRCAH, Darwin.
  • Judith Dwyer, Cindy Shannon & Shirley Godwin 2007, Learning from Action: Management of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Summary Report, CRCAH, Darwin.
Related resources
Created: 03 May 2012 - Updated: 16 July 2013