The objective of this study was to consider ‘What policies, processes and practices would increase the relevance of mainstream agencies to Indigenous and culturally diverse communities?’. The study sought to increase the understanding of what constitutes effective cross-cultural practice in mainstream organisations, with a view to influencing increased access by Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse people to these services.

The study was designed to promote a more critical reflection of current cross-cultural practice by mainstream agencies and workers, in order to identify the strengths and weaknesses of current approaches and to develop strategies and provide new knowledge and awareness that will influence improved training and skill of workers.

Cross-cultural training and the provision of ‘working with interpreters’ workshops have been standard strategies undertaken by local agencies in the Shepparton area in Victoria, to improve their staffs’ capacity to work with clients from cultures different from their own. Evidence and experience suggests that having processes such as those described above is necessary but not sufficient.

Main messages

  • Effective cross-cultural practice incorporates four elements:
    • i) awareness and knowledge of other cultures,
    • ii) an awareness of how our own culture influences our perceptions and practice (critical reflective practice),
    • iii) skill development in appropriate culturally safe responses in relation to another culture, and
    • (iv) a commitment to social justice and anti-racist practice.
  • Approaches to cultural competency education and training need to include racial identity development; a component of training that can be undertaken in participants own cultural group.
  • Approaches to cultural competency education and training need to incorporate a stronger emphasis on the critical reflective practice element; including how to respond according to the results of that critical reflection.

Key findings

  • There was strong interest amongst practitioners in developing effective skills in cultural competency.
  • Cross-cultural relationships on their own, without effective skills in cultural competence, are not enough.
  • Cultural competency is not just about learning about other cultures, it includes capacity to critically reflect (look) at ourselves, our own culture, history, privilege and training and how that influences our practice, ‘what happens between us’.
  • Insufficient or inadequate critical reflective practice in cross-cultural interactions results in reduced capacity to recognise unintentional (and intentional) racism.
  • While workers had undertaken cross cultural training, it was evident that people weren’t ‘looking’ (critically reflecting) on themselves in terms of their own culture and how this may influence their practice in cross-cultural interactions.
  • The scope of current cross-cultural training has not adequately addressed how to critically reflect on ourselves (critical reflective practice) and what happens between parties in relation to cross-cultural interactions.
  • One-off cross cultural training does not address the implementation of/or incorporation of what has been learned in training or how to respond differently in cross cultural practice after engaging in critical reflective practice.
  • Cross-cultural training rarely considers systemic, structural pressures which impact upon the lives of minority cultural group members.
  • Cross-cultural policies are an important element in creating a supportive environment for cross-cultural practice and cultural competency.


  • Recommendations to mainstream organisations about how to improve their cross-cultural practice to better service Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse clients.
  • Strengthened collaboration and networking of local agencies through research activity.
  • Contributed to teaching of the University of Melbourne’s School of Rural Health and to social determinants in Aboriginal Health research agenda.

Five mainstream health/welfare/community organisations and the University of Melbourne were involved in this project. Four organisations were not-for-profit community based organisations and the fifth was a large Commonwealth government organisation. The four not-for-profit organisations varied in size including a large organisations which provided a number of services and to a small specialist service.

Project methods included a desk review of cross-cultural policies, individual in-depth interviews with agency CEOs and staff and focus group discussions. A thematic analysis of participating organisations cross cultural policies or related policy was also undertaken. Outcomes of the study were taken to the local Indigenous and CALD communities for feedback regarding their relevance, this feedback helped shape final research recommendations.

The project started in 2004 and was completed in December 2007.

Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land across Australia and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.