Engagement processes towards sustainable outcomes: consensus building, dialogue, decision-making, dispute management and informed consent

Project status: 

Project description

This project is informed by general observations,  case studies, workshops and training in facilitation approaches to Indigenous consensus building, decision-making, dispute management and dialogue. The projects brings a rare legal, anthropological, facilitation, mediation and dialogue process lens to examine free, prior and informed consent processes in native title and to challenge the ‘business as usual’ modus operandi of ‘big meetings’ which is often the response to the need for Indigenous collective decision-making in a range of sectors across Australia. The project is also informed by alternative engagement approaches in addressing complex problems such as Open Space Technology, deep democracy (the Myrna Lewis method) and Scott Gorringe’s Murri Matters Engoori method. It seeks to identify how decision-making processes might achieve sustainable and self-organising outcomes and incorporate local Indigenous cultural practices.

The project builds on previous Native Title Research Unit work including the Indigenous Facilitation and Mediation Project (2003–2006) and the Mediation, negotiation and facilitation project and work with the Federal Court of Australia and the Right people for Country Program in Victoria.
This project seeks to encourage the further development of a native title facilitation community of practice, see the article in the Native Title Research Unit’s Newsletter following the 2013 Native Title conference in Alice Springs: Native Title Newsletter (December 2013).

Impact statement

Facilitated processes that are aimed at assisting Indigenous people in consensus building, decision-making and dispute management are often poorly designed consultations, consisting of ‘big meetings’ where issues are rarely explored comprehensively. Decisions are often overturned following meetings, the range of voices may not be heard, outcomes are not owned, and many can be harmful.

The project develops a set of questions for native title parties, including indigenous parties to ask themselves about the effectiveness of the engagement processes thay have been involved in and whether they have been aimed at addressing the right to free, prior and informed consent in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 


A number of activities have been completed in this project including:

  • An Open Space workshop facilitated by Brendan McKeague at the National Native Title Conference in Coffs Harbour, 3 June 2014. See proceedings from this workshop: 
  • Research partnership with the Aurora Project: Community engagement practices training workshop with staff of native title representative bodies and members of native title corporations, Adelaide, 17-19 March.
  • Research partnership with the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation: leadership program with Torres Strait Islander youth, Canberra 6-10 March. 
  • Presentations on engagement processes and free, prior and informed consent:
    • Bauman, T 2014, ‘Free prior informed consent and Indigenous consensus building’, PowerPoint presented to Registrars and Mediators, Federal Court of Australia, Melbourne, 18 June.
    • Bauman, T & Duff, N 2014, ‘Participatory processes for PBCs’, PowerPoint presentation for Days 1, 2 &3, 'Participatory processes for PBCs decision making' workshop, the Aurora Project, Trinity College, Crawley, Perth, 18-20 August.
    • Bauman, T & Duff, N 2014, ‘Legal Context of PBC Decision Making’, PowerPoint presentation for day 1, at the 'Participatory Processes for PBCs Decision Making' workshop, the Aurora Project, Trinity College, Crawley, Perth, 18 August.
    • Bauman, T 2014, various training materials contributed to the workshop manual ‘Participatory processes for PBC decision making’, the Aurora Project, Sydney.
    • Bauman, T 2014, ‘Consensus building research at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies’, PowerPoint presentation, Alternative Dispute Resolution Research Forum, as part of the National Mediation Conference 2014, Monash University, 12 September. 
    • Bauman, T 2014, ‘Co-management of protected area partnerships through native title in Australia: free, prior and informed consent and what to look for’, PowerPoint presentation, Pacific History Association 21st Biennial Conference 2014,Taitung, Taiwan, 6 December.
    • Bauman, T 2015, ‘The missing piece of infrastructure: Indigenous dispute management, agreement making and decision-making services’ Occasional Seminar presented at AIATSIS, Canberra 9 June. (Recorded for presentation at the NTSV conference Alternative Dispute Resolution in Indigenous Communities, Melbourne, 27-28 July. 
    • Roundtable on free, prior and informed consent involving lawyers, facilitators, mediators and others involved in native title processes convened at AIATSIS, Canberra, 28 May. 
    • Two part workshop at the Native Title Conference 2015: Toni Bauman, Scott Gorringe, Cath Elderton, Tony Kelly, Tim Wishart & Jim Cyngler, ‘How are we dealing with difference and conflict?’, Port Douglas, 17 June.
    • Publication of bibliographies and related resources on free, prior informed consent, consultation and engagement. 

See also: 



Research team


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Last reviewed: 10 Nov 2015