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Community consultation | Community, Language, Project, Communities, Consultants, Consultation, Indigenous, Consultant | FATSILC, Fed. Aboriginal Torres Strait Island Languages and Culture
Community consultation PDF Print E-mail
Increasingly, Indigenous people are emerging from within
communities and are researching and teaching their languages
and acting as a ‘connector’ between the linguist and the
community. These people have a very important role to play
on behalf of their communities. While communities consider
non-Indigenous consultants to be important supporters and
collaborators in language work, there is nothing more important
and powerful than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
working on their own languages.
Increasingly, Indigenous people are emerging from within communities and are researching and teaching their languages and acting as a ‘connector’ between the linguist and the community. These people have a very important role to play on behalf of their communities. While communities consider non-Indigenous consultants to be important supporters and collaborators in language work, there is nothing more important and powerful than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working on their own languages.
Respect PDF Print E-mail

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are the custodians of their cultural and linguistic heritage. The lived experience Indigenous people have of their languages should be valued and respected as highly as the technical knowledge which consultants bring to a project. Communities’ custodianship of their languages must be considered to be as important as the knowledge and expertise of the consultant(s).

The nature of consultation PDF Print E-mail

Consultation should be collaborative, on-going and two-way, between communities and their consultants, involving the sharing of information. The community, the school, the linguist, the ICT specialist each need to state and negotiate their aims in a very open way. People need to be clear about their goals, agendas, plans and intentions when being involved in a language project and their expectations for the project outcomes.

One of the main purposes of consultation is to develop mutual respect and a healthy partnership that will help resolve possible contentious issues before work begins on a language project. Effective initial and ongoing consultation and collaboration as equal partners can prevent difficulties from arising during the course of a project.

Whether a project is suggested by a consultant or the community, will affect the nature of consultation. If the project is being proposed by a consultant, he/she will need to be prepared to give people time to consider all the details before making a decision. Often people may not speak up during a meeting. The consultant will need to allow time for the word to spread, for people to answer in their own time, and for people to give honest feedback, in informal settings after the meetings.

Listening PDF Print E-mail

Really good consultation is based on genuine listening, with genuine opportunities for community people to give feedback and to put forward their ideas, eg at regular, face-to-face meetings, both formal and informal.

When to consult PDF Print E-mail

Consultation should be on-going and involve constant checking and feedback at regular intervals throughout the project. Consultation is critical not only at the beginning but also at every stage of a language project.

Who to Consult PDF Print E-mail

In some communities, difficulties in identifying the appropriate language informants will not arise. There will be a clear agreement about who are the community authorities on language issues. However, it is also the case that in some other communities it may be a little more difficult for a consultant to be clear about the most appropriate people to consult and work with as language informants. Consultants who have not worked with a particular community before and who wish to establish initial contact with a community should go to any of the recognised and established community organisations in the region or local area. Some parts of Australia have established community organisations and structures which are dedicated to language and/or culture. 4 More specifically, some communities will have an established language centre committee, regional language management committee or local area language reference group or steering committee. These types of committees are comprised of Elders, language custodians and language experts. They are representative groups which are in a position to give advice about the most appropriate community members a consultant should contact and work closely with on any given language project.

If the consultant plans to work with a community which has not yet established a language-specific organisation or committee, he/she should approach a range of other local community organisations, individuals and groups. These could include the chairperson of the community council, the Indigenous education assistants on the school staff, Indigenous education consultants in the regional office of the education department, the local Indigenous education advisory group.5 It is important for consultants to get advice and identify a few key individuals who the community agrees can represent their interests, and to establish a working relationship with them.

Within a community, particular people are recognised as being custodians of particular knowledge and cultural information. So consultants need to be aware that the people to be involved in any given language project may differ depending on the content of the materials to be published. Each language project may be a matter for a particular group within the community. Therefore, at any meeting in the early planning stages of a language project, it is necessary to have the relevant representatives from the within the broader community.

4 For example, see those listed in the FATSIL National Indigenous Languages contacts directory at

5 See the list of useful contact organisations at the back of this guide

Reaching Agreement PDF Print E-mail

Opinion about a language project will not necessarily be homogenous within any given community.Consultants need to acknowledge that different people in communities will have different views. One person cannot speak for the whole community. Everyone should have a chance to speak. A community will not have one position – it is possible that the community might arrive at one position but only after a long discussion.

Sometimes there is not full agreement in a community about the details of a language project or publication. A consultant can feel unsure about how to proceed, and may also get conflicting messages from different members of the community. In situations such as this, some advise that it is better not to go ahead with the project at all, that doing so will only cause damage in the long term. It may be better to redesign the whole project or to wait for a more appropriate time in the future to propose the project again. On the other hand, others advise that outcomes for language projects should be put ahead of community disagreements and that it is better to produce something rather than do nothing for Language. In these situations it is a good idea to appeal to people’s belief that language work is a powerful way to unify the community.

Ultimately, the decision to proceed or not, must be made within and between community members.

Interpreters PDF Print E-mail

Project plans and budgets need to factor in realistic timeframes for proper consultation and the costs of interpreting and translating where necessary. In order to truly engage communities in meaningful discussion about the plans for a language project, consultants need to engage the services of interpreters, especially in situations where English is not the first language of the community and even in some cases where people also regularly use English. Indigenous people are too often under pressure to try to decode English when it is not their first language. Interpreting is a process that ensures that both parties understand and are participating equally and facilitates the outcomes of a project.