Reconciliation Action Plans are about taking good intent and turning it into action.
The Black Lives Matter protests that have erupted across the globe have caused a lot of Australians to rethink the issues affecting Indigenous communities.
The health, wealth and employment gaps between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the population are well known, but the protests created new urgency to do something about them.
In July, the Australian government unveiled new Close the Gap targets including reducing Indigenous incarceration rates.
For organisations that feel the urgency act there is one obvious solution – a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
In 2006, Reconciliation Australia introduced RAPs as a way for organisations to include strategic reconciliation initiatives as part of their business plans. The aim of a RAP is to create meaningful opportunities for your organisation to actively support and recognise Indigenous Australians. Like many initiatives, reconciliation is a process that will evolve as you and your organisation begin to take action.
“It’s a way to capture practical actions that will drive an organisation’s contribution to reconciliation, both within the organisation and externally,” says Reconciliation NSW co-chair Cecilia Anthony.
RAPs are broken down into four maturity levels that reflect where organisations are in their reconciliation journey. They are: Reflect, Innovate, Stretch and Elevate. Each has a corresponding RAP type organisations can pursue. For example, the Innovate level is for organisations that already understand where they can improve on Indigenous issues and have begun taking action to actively address them.
The first step for all organisations is to determine its maturity level. “Contact the RAP team at Reconciliation Australia and find out which level you will start at,” says Anthony. “The RAP team will send you a template that will outline what you need to do. There are some basic compulsory actions required by Reconciliation Australia such as celebrating national Reconciliation Day and increasing knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. After that, it’s about the changes you can make.”
Because a lot of organisations will start at the Reflect stage, this guide will outline the pillars you need to establish to start your reconciliation journey.
This is where it all begins.
“Do your research first, before you start. You can find a lot of information about what the process is and why you should do it, on the Reconciliation Australia website, but you can also find all of the organisations that have RAPs,” says Anthony.
“That way you can have a look at what other people do and what other organisations within your industry are doing to get an idea of how your RAP can help.”
It can help to look into why RAPs are so important as well as the current issues facing Indigenous people. Reports such as Close the Gap can provide context to your RAP and might help you with the next step.
Part of a successful RAP is establishing support for reconciliation initiatives across the entire organisation. In most cases this needs to start at the top.
“Most often I find that if people are presented with the facts, they pretty quickly get on board with wanting to be part of the reconciliation movement,” says Anthony.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are three per cent of the population. They can’t do the heavy lifting in terms of change and infrastructure change, societal change, or changing attitudes.
“RAPs are a way of stepping in and making meaningful change.”
Over 1,000 organisations have formalised RAPs, and their implementation has had a real impact on improving employee understanding of Indigenous issues, the Reconciliation Australia 2018 RAP Impact report found. This can have a flow-on effect. It makes employees more engaged with their community and they often choose to donate to, or volunteer with, Indigenous organisations as a result.
A RAP also solidifies your organisation’s commitment to creating a culturally safe work environment, which expands your recruiting pool by making your workplace a more attractive employer to Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander employees.
Establish a working group
The next step is to form a working group that will oversee the entire RAP process. This group will need to be made up of various representatives from all sectors of your organisation.
The group is in charge of planning and implementing the RAP, so it will need to consist of members who have some actual power to make changes in the organisation, and members who understand it from a policy and culture perspective.
Lastly, for the RAP to be really successful, you’ll want involvement from members who work with customers or clients, so that people outside your organisation understand you are trying to make a difference.
Importantly, the group must have Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander members. If your workplace does not currently employ any, or those you do employ don’t choose to be in the working group, then you’ll need to seek outside help.
“You do need that First Nation’s lens and experience in the RAP development. Not just because it’s the appropriate thing to do, but also because it brings a wealth of knowledge and experience that your staff aren’t necessarily going to have.”
Scope and plan
Anthony says this next step can take a while, and organisations should be patient.
“It’s a scoping and then framing process; its design is really well-structured. The Reflect RAP process allows the organisation to have a long think about what should be done in their next stage. It’s important to consider how you’re going to reach out to the communities your organisation impacts.”
This could be a confronting process as it involves acknowledging where your organisation has failed. However, it is key to knowing where you can improve.
The final step is submitting your application to Reconciliation Australia. This means your RAP can be formalised, and Reconciliation Australia can start to oversee the implementation of your RAP, and act as a referee.
Reconciliation Australia will keep your organisation in check to ensure you are meeting the goals set out within the approved time frame. While this might seem daunting, Reconciliation Australia is just as interested in helping you meet your goals as you are.
Once you’ve met your Reflect RAP targets, Reconciliation Australia will invite your organisation to move to the next stage.
It’s important to remember progress through the RAP stages isn’t always linear. Some organisations stay on a particular stage for longer than the suggested duration due to things such as budget cuts or the economic climate. Others go backwards if they’re not meeting their targets, or if they take an action that undermines the RAP.
The most important thing to remember is that a RAP is a great way to make a difference within your workplace.
“I strongly encourage people to have a look at the program. Find out what it is and how their organisation could contribute,” says Anthony.
“It’s a great program and it can make a real difference to this country.”
You can find more information about Reconciliation Action Plans on the Reconciliation Australia website.
A version of this article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of HRM Magazine.
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