Chapter Three: Working with diverse communities


What is diverse community?

Community empowerment and effective, ongoing collaboration and engagement is essential for successful place-based approaches. However, there are many different communities in Australia. So, when working with a place-based initiative, it’s important to consider diverse community needs and their cultures while working with them.

Diverse, inclusive and liveable communities create the social and physical environments which support people to thrive. Being able to safely identify with culture and/or identity is empowering for individuals, families and communities. Valuing and respecting diversity means people accept differences amongst individuals and groups, which fosters wellbeing and is part of the social capital of a community.

This chapter provides guidance around working with diverse communities including:

  • First Nations communities
  • culturally and linguistically diverse communities
  • people with disability
  • people of different ages
  • LGBTIQ+ communities.

This chapter also highlights the importance of understanding intersectionality – appreciating that many factors combine to form an individual’s identity and experience, and that different aspects of a person’s identity can expose that person to overlapping forms of discrimination and marginalisation. This includes gender, class, ethnicity and cultural background, religion, disability and sexual orientation.

Why is it important?

Communities are not homogenous, and individuals within communities may experience overlapping and interdependent forms of discrimination, vulnerability and disadvantage (Victorian Government, 2021). Engaging and collaborating with diverse communities will also help to ensure that the full spectrum of a community’s strengths, skills, perspectives and talents can contribute to the success of a place-based initiative.

Working with diverse communities and population groups

Groups within a community can experience place differently, so try to recognise and find ways to work with less prominent or marginalised groups. A one-size-fits-all approach to collaboration and engagement can unintentionally discriminate against parts of the community, limiting valuable contributions. Using engagement methods that are responsive to people’s needs helps make it possible for different community members to fully participate in place-based approaches.

The Victorian Government’s How-to guide for public engagement is a great resource to help plan engagement.

Working with First Nations communities

The key starting point to working with First Nations communities is to work in a way that enables self-determination as outlined in the Victorian Government’s Self-Determination Reform Framework.

It states that future government action to advance Aboriginal self-determination will be driven by 11 guiding principles:

  • human rights
  • partnership
  • investment
  • cultural integrity
  • decision making
  • equity
  • commitment
  • empowerment
  • accountability
  • Aboriginal expertise
  • cultural safety.

The Victorian Government has also identified four self-determination enablers which it must act on to make self-determination a reality:

  • prioritise culture
  • address trauma and support healing
  • address racism and promote cultural safety
  • transfer power and resources to communities.

Self-determination goes beyond engagement and consultation, to Aboriginal ownership, decision-making and control over the issues that affect their lives.

The Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework self-determination continuum provides a powerful representation of working in place with Aboriginal communities to advance self-determination ranging from informing community through to transferring decision-making control.

When working with an Aboriginal community, ensure that the methods of engaging are agreed on by the community before engagement commences.

You should also be mindful of the wider context of collaboration and the process of trust building in progress. Treaty in Victoria is a significant component of this broader context.

Cultural safety is also vitally important when working with Aboriginal communities. Cultural safety is about shared respect, knowledge and understanding, empowering people and enabling them to contribute and feel safe to be themselves. (Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, 2010)

It is important to acknowledge and be respectful of the deep experience and knowledge of Aboriginal peoples, their diverse communities and cultures.

Things to consider when working with Aboriginal communities

Be aware of attitudes to and previous experiences of consultation

Aboriginal communities may view consultation negatively, as they may have been asked to participate in numerous consultation processes, have experienced poor consultation, or might be doubtful about how their opinions will be respected. They may be concerned there is no avenue for genuine change.

Seek a range of views

A place-based initiative will benefit from working with a range of different Aboriginal organisations, communities, cultural and language groups and respected individuals. Involve Aboriginal peoples from the very outset of your initiative and use informal communication channels where appropriate.

Develop trust and rapport with the community

Develop positive relationships with elders, local Aboriginal role models, peak organisations and their senior management and build trust – take sufficient time and resources to communicate how the advice/ information given by Aboriginal communities will be used and how you will report back on outcomes. Choose appropriate catering and venues and consider transport needs for elders in the Aboriginal community with whom you are working.

Communicate carefully and respectfully on sensitive issues

Be mindful when working with Aboriginal people around difficult issues that may have touched their lives, and of their spiritual and cultural beliefs, including protocols around ‘men’s business’ and ‘women’s business’. Use the right words and forms of address and ensure that all relevant information is accurate and clearly presented. Refer to the Victorian Public Sector Commission Aboriginal Cultural Capability Toolkit for more information.

Where to start

Start with key local groups, networks and organisations such as:

  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs)
  • Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups (LAECGs)
  • Aboriginal Engagement Networks
  • Local Aboriginal Engagement teams in your department
  • Local Aboriginal Governance engagement structures
  • The Aboriginal Children and Young People’s Alliance
  • Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO)
  • Aborigines Advancement League
  • Aboriginal cooperatives providing health and community services.

Engaging Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities

Place-based approaches must carefully consider the cultural and linguistic diversity of their set location. Some initiatives may focus on working with particular groups within an area on a locally identified challenge, and other initiatives may seek to consider the needs of diverse groups as part of a whole-of-community approach. It is critical to clearly define the target cohort of the place-based initiative to effectively engage Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) community members.

Things to consider when working with CALD communities

A key element to effectively engage with CALD communities is to define the local populations’ language needs and preferences. For example, some communities may need or prefer the use of bicultural workers. Bicultural/transcultural workers can be particularly helpful in building trust with communities when needed.

Other communities may require an accredited interpreter and/or translated materials, both can help to make your resources and services more accessible.

You may also consider engaging trusted community leaders or community organisations to facilitate communications and engagement with CALD communities.

Cultural safety is also an important consideration and ensuring people feel comfortable and safe to engage with your services.

Where to start

A wide variety of community organisations and key agencies have strong connections with CALD communities, including:

There are also many multicultural community organisations that represent specific communities. The Department of Health and Humans Service Language Services Policy has good information about planning and providing language services.

Engaging people with disability

Disability can take a range of forms, being ‘any condition that restricts a person’s mental, sensory or mobility functions and could be caused by accident, trauma, genetics, or disease’ (Australian Network on Disability, 2018). There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to engaging with people with disability, and to foster an inclusive space for people with disability you will need to understand and tailor your approach to the people you are working with.

Things to consider when working with people with disability

It is important to understand that disability can be ‘permanent or temporary’ and is something that an individual can be born with, or they can acquire over the course of their life. In addition, disability can be visible, such as a physical impairment or blindness, or it can be invisible, such as deafness or a mental health condition.

Another important distinction is that not all people with disability are a part of a community. Partnering with people with disability and increasing collaboration in program design and delivery is vital to increase inclusion and support more informed decision making and investment. This approach is sometimes referred to as co-design, and is one of six systemic reforms outlined in the Victorian State Disability Plan.

Some broad measures that place-based approaches can implement to support people with disability include:

  • using clear and appropriate language
  • using inclusive language
  • asking people if they require any reasonable adjustments to fully participate or engage
  • ensuring promotional, educational and other materials are available in accessible formats
  • engaging with a disability-led organisation to help design comms and engagement
  • using venues that are fully accessible and close to public transport
  • providing Auslan interpreters where needed
  • providing closed captions where needed

Where to start

These resources are a starting point for engaging with people with disability:

Engaging with different age groups across the community

Think about the different age groups in the community, including young people and older people, and how best to engage with them. For older people, present information in formats that everyone can access (not exclusively in digital formats), select suitable venues and even reach out to retirement homes and nursing homes to increase participation. For young people, use a diverse range of platforms and methods. Refer to the Victorian Youth Strategy for more detailed information on engaging with young people.

Engaging with LGBTIQ+ communities

There has been increased awareness of LGBTIQ+ communities in recent years, however people from these communities continue to face discrimination. Being LGBTIQ+ is often only one layer of an individual’s identity, so it’s important to recognise that those who identify as LGBTIQ+ come from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences. Many people who identify as LGBTIQ+ also live with other forms of discrimination and inequality. Living with more than one form of inequality is referred to as ‘intersectionality’.

Things to consider when working with LGBTIQ+ communities

When engaging with LGBTIQ+ communities, consider the following:

  • use clear and inclusive language, and familiarise yourself with the LGBTIQ+ Inclusive Language Guide (see below)
  • ensure your promotional and other materials use appropriate and inclusive language
  • understand intersectionality and the overlapping layers of disadvantage that LGBTIQ+ people can face
  • design, develop and refer to infrastructure in a way that is inclusive of LGBTIQ+ communities (for example, gender-neutral toilets and change rooms).

Where to start

These resources may help you understand more about LGBTIQ+ communities and how you can support them:

Key considerations

Be inclusive

Inclusivity is central to community engagement on all initiatives, including place-based approaches, and should be considered through all stages from planning to evaluation. This includes:

  • being culturally responsive and aware
  • planning how to make engagement opportunities accessible to everyone
  • allocating extra resources and time to those who need it.

Develop a language services policy and guidelines

Consider translating resources to other languages or using interpreters in meetings or community consultation sessions, otherwise target audiences may not have opportunities to fully engage with the initiative. Translation or interpreters can also help prevent misunderstandings on sometimes sensitive community issues. The Department of Health and Human Services provides helpful resources on language services policy and accompanying guidelines.

Design for diversity

The Department of Health Designing for Diversity framework and suite of resources provide excellent guidance on how to embed diversity considerations in all aspects of policy and service design. It encourages you to consider intersectionality and place, and how a policy or service may impact different groups of people over the life course.

It includes the following resources:

  • Principles – four key principles that underpin diversity responsive service design: access and equity, inclusiveness, responsiveness, empowerment and self-determination.
  • Key elements – practical examples of implementing diversity responsive design, recommended for use with the rapid review resource.
  • Rapid review – a tool that uses a sequence of questions to help recognise diversity considerations, identify strengths and areas requiring more attention on an initiative – to be used alongside the key elements resource.
  • Minimum data set guide – outlines a leading practice approach to collect information relating to cultural and linguistic diversity, gender, Aboriginality, disability, and LGBTIQ+ identification.
  • Key documents summary – a list of key national and state resources relating to culturally and linguistically diverse communities, gender, Aboriginal communities, disability, and people from LGBTIQ+ communities.

Case study: Kaiela Institute (Victoria)


The Kaiela Institute is a leading First Nations think tank, based in Shepparton, Victoria. Since 2017, the Kaiela Institute has focused on addressing systemic and structural barriers that hinder First Nations employment opportunities. The Kaiela Institute has achieved sustained success by partnering with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal businesses in Shepparton, including the Rumbalara Football Netball Club (Rumbalara) and the Greater Shepparton City Council (Council) to lift the number of Aboriginal people in the local workforce.

DJSIR and Kaiela Institute’s Partnership

The Algabonyah Business Development Unit (ABDU) at the Kaiela Institute is the lead entity in which place-based approaches are driven. Since 2017, the Kaiela Institute has been funded through the Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Region’s (DJSIR) Community Revitalisation program. Reimaging the relationship between government and community organisations, particularly those operating in the First Nations space requires careful and considered approaches. DJPR’s work with the Kaiela Institute supports its right to self-determination and agency to achieve positive outcomes for community. However, as government operates primarily as a funder, it poses difficulties to truly share power between partners. To overcome this, DJSIR collaboratively works to build trust in relationships with local people and organisations, by respecting community-led approaches.


The Kaiela Institute, as an organisation drives implementation and strategic direction of Aboriginal-led approaches in the region. Government acts as an enabler by resourcing and promoting their work.

The Kaiela Institute has a focus on overcoming barriers experienced by potential Aboriginal entrepreneurs while building a menu of supports in the areas of skills and network building, research and strategic planning.

Two key examples that demonstrate the success of ABDU’s work are:

  1. Greater Shepparton City Council (Council) lifted their Aboriginal employment target from 2% to 5% elevating staffing numbers to 19 by 2020. Community Revitalisation funding enabled Kaiela to facilitate and promote culturally safe environments in partnership with key local employers, such as Council. This work is critical in overcoming structural barriers to employment for First Nations people in the region by addressing racial prejudices and entrenched disadvantage.
  2. By mid-2020, Kaiela Institute, in partnership with Rumbalara Football Netball Club, assisted 81 of 188 employment program participants into employment of greater than 26 weeks, with 51 of those 81 going on to secure meaningful employment outcomes.


The Kaiela Institute works with all levels of government, the community, individuals and business. Critically, the Kaiela Institute has secured the support of more than 20 organisations to champion the implementation of the Goulburn Murray Regional Prosperity and Productivity Plan (the Plan) from a variety of sectors. The ‘Plan Champions’ include universities (Melbourne and La Trobe), utilities (Goulburn Valley Water), agriculture and food production (AgBioEn and SPC), First Nations controlled organisations (Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative, Kaiela Arts), not-for profits (Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project), as well as variety of small, medium and large businesses. Plan Champions actively influence change by promoting the vision and intent of the Plan, whilst working closely with the ABDU to develop an Aboriginal Participation Action Plan.

Achieving sustained success relies on the development of comprehensive governance structures that capture a diverse range of voices and experiences. The Goulburn Murray Regional Prosperity and Productivity Plan Implementation Committee is an example of this in operation.

A shift to enabling systemic change: The Goulburn Murray Regional Prosperity and Productivity Plan

The Goulburn Murray Regional Prosperity and Productivity Plan (the Plan) is a bold and courageous, whole-of-region approach to building shared prosperity and reaching First Nations parity in the region.

It brings innovative thinking to empower communities by addressing social challenges that will deliver a significant economic return to the wider regional economy. Through Yorta Yorta and First Nations’ economic inclusion and the achievement of parity, the Plan will bring an additional $150m gross regional product (GRP) per annum.

In its implementation, the Plan will foster, promote and amplify the positive cultural and economic contribution that Yorta Yorta and First Nations people can and do make to the Goulburn Murray region.


Additional tools and resources


Strategic Plans