Tropical Savannas CRC > Research > CRC Research 2001-2008 > Indigenous > Improving cross-cultural engagement

Improving Cross-cultural Relations

Leader: Dr Allan Arnott, Charles Darwin University, Darwin

Full Title: Improving cross-cultural engagement: developing a staff development package for non Indigenous, natural and cultural management agency staff
Project 4.4.1

Summary | Rationale | Objectives | Outputs | Approach and methods | More information |


This project seeks to improve cross-cultural engagements between natural and cultural resource management (NCRM) agencies and Indigenous communities, land owners and managers by learning from experience and engaging stakeholders in an exploration of best practice. It seeks to identify what knowledge, skills and understandings are required for effective, mutually rewarding and respectful interactions, collaborations and partnerships. From this investigation and consultation the project will derive principles to inform practice and generate and trial a package of staff development activities to improve capacity. The project particularly targets professional staff in Natural and Cultural Resource Management (NCRM) organisations.


In the NCRM field there are many examples of productive, mutually respectful and beneficial relationships between NCRM agencies and organisations and indigenous communities, land owners and managers. Regrettably, despite considerable, often expensive cross-cultural training, many relationships exhibit frustration, confusion, misunderstanding and at times hostility. The results are well known - goodwill erodes, knowledge exchange is impaired, resources (human, cultural and financial) are wasted and Indigenous aspirations are thwarted. On a broader scale, the NCRM agenda of sustaining biologically diverse systems and healthy landscapes in the tropical savannas that promote social, economic and ecological sustainability and well-being is diminished. This project adopts the rationale that: by critically examining previous experience; systematic consideration of stakeholder views about what works and why; and, attention to non Indigenous staff development in NRCM the capability and productivity of people can be enhanced and developed.


  • To document and assess cultural engagement projects and strategies including staff development actions in other NCRM agencies in Australia.
  • To develop principles to guide effective cross cultural engagement between agencies and Indigenous interests.
  • To develop a package of professional development activities for non Indigenous agency staff to promote and develop effective cross cultural engagement. This package will form the central component of a 10 credit point unit (level 3-5)
  • To articulate a staff development package with formal NCRM education and training at higher education and VET levels.


NCRM Government and other agency staff, Indigenous communities, land owners and managers are key stakeholders in the tropical savannas. This project will improve understanding and contribute to capacity building regarding cross-cultural engagements between these key stakeholders. This capacity building includes knowledge exchange and communication, negotiation, problem framing and problem solving, cultural awareness and respect, framing and implementing collaborations and partnerships, and resolving conflicts.

The project will, by contributing to the professional development of staff in NCRM agencies improve the effectiveness of NCRM agencies and organisations in delivering services to Indigenous stakeholders. Effectiveness here means NCRM services that assist Indigenous communities and individuals realize their NCRM aspirations, maximise cost-benefit outcomes and promote sustainable integrated management of the tropical savannas.


  • A discussion paper of approximately 7000 words which examines best practice and guiding principles in cross cultural engagement. The paper draws on stakeholder views and current examples of best practice from the field of Indigenous natural and cultural views on best practice and guiding principles in cross cultural engagement.
  • A further reading guide which overviews concepts and themes associated with rethinking the practice or NCRM in Indigenous contexts
  • A ‘practice focused’ trial staff development package and evaluation process to develop and extend cross cultural engagement skills for NRM agency staff
  • A revised package after trialling and evaluation
  • An explanation of negotiated arrangements for recognition of the staff development package in formal NRM courses.

Approach and methods

This is a collaborative project of the TS–CRC and the Centre for Learning Research at CDU. It employs a combination of standard social science methods utilising survey, document review, interview and workshop. A Project Steering Group (PSG) consisting of Dr Allan Arnott, Mr Joe Morrison, Ms Ruth Wallace and Mr Greg Wearne will advise the research team throughout the project. Methods and techniques are:

  1. Web-based and email/telephone survey and document analysis.
  2. Information for the review of current CCE initiatives and strategies in NCRM and other relevant agencies will be undertaken by web based research, email and telephone contact.
  3. Consultation with key stakeholders will be undertaken using semi structured interviews with key personnel in NCRM agencies and Indigenous organisations and communities. This expert list of informants shall be developed through advice from the PSG, TS–CRC Indigenous Advisory Groups, TS–CRC Theme leaders and the NLC, ‘Caring for Country’ unit.
  4. Workshop of key informants shall be used to extend and refine data, assist with the identification and specification of guiding principles and the development of the staff development package of activities.
  5. Advice from CDU staff with expertise in workplace based learning, flexible delivery and the design of flexible learning materials and resources shall be sought as necessary.
  6. Evaluation cycle based on the Kirkpatrick model for evaluating training programs and courses.