Yanha-yalinya: Cultural responsiveness assessment tool for services and programs

Yulang Starburst Reports

July 2023

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This is a tool to assess the cultural responsiveness of services and programs.

Cultural responsiveness has many meanings, but we consider it here to be the capacity of a service or program to respectfully use Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ knowledges, values and actions – ways of knowing, being, and doing – when designing, delivering and evaluating services and programs to be used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

We have developed a tool that organisations can use to assess their own cultural responsiveness, or that can be used by an outsider who is given access to policies, procedures and interviews. It focuses on services and programs, not the interactions of staff with clients or members of the public.

This tool is based on the holistic definition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, on the health and human rights of Indigenous peoples, on cultural safety legislation and supporting documents, and on a range of literature and research about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities achieving wellbeing (see appendix).

The tool is also framed by multi-level empowerment theory, and a socio-ecological model of health and its determinants, which acknowledge that equity and wellbeing require actions at individual, family, community, service and system levels. This tool focuses on service and system levels, with actions at these levels providing individuals and their families and communities with best conditions for cultural safety and wellbeing.

In the health sector, Indigenous Allied Health Australia says in its cultural responsiveness framework (2015, p. 8) that:

It is the responsibility of health service providers to demonstrate culturally responsive leadership, and build governance structures and environments that ensure health professionals are encouraged, expected and able to respond to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples effectively.

This tool divides cultural responsiveness concepts into themes, each with sub-themes:

  1. Self-determination
  2. Cultural safety
  3. Service development
  4. Health and wellbeing

The overall questions to be asked are: “What is the presence or absence of the sub-theme, to what extent, and what is the evidence?”

This tool does not check for service or program outcomes or impact, nor effectiveness, however, makes the assumption that establishing quality services and programs can lead to their effectiveness, and outcomes and impacts.

The tool is designed for people of any culture to use because it does not interpret information from a cultural perspective, but checks for extent and evidence of presence or absence.

The tool can be used simply as a checklist, or as a scorecard.


Ask each question individually, and use a scale as follows:

  • 0 – no evidence
  • 1 – some evidence
  • 2 – clear evidence.

The person doing the rating is tasked with matching the text in the research item/s to the themes and sub-themes in the lists.

If used as a scorecard, scores are applied to each theme and sub-theme, then summed.

The person doing the scoring needs discernment and to become conscious of bias. Keep critical self-reflection notes about rationale for scoring, thoughts, and points for discussion with colleagues.



We regard the percentages to equate as follows:

  • 0-25% – not at all culturally responsive
  • 26-50% – minimal cultural responsiveness
  • 51-75% – moderate level of cultural responsiveness
  • 76-100% – high level of cultural responsiveness.

Appendix: Development of the tool

This checklist was developed from a thematic analysis of key documents and resources about rights, principles and protocols of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other Indigenous peoples. These represent diverse perspectives, sustained engagement with ethical research practice and practical information to inform assessment of effectiveness.

Resources reviewed were:

Through a process of coding these documents with keywords arising from their core concepts, a long list of themes was identified. These signified expectations of research from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies’ and researchers’ perspectives, remembering that all research with and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is connected to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Keywords were then condensed into a shorter list of themes representing minimum expectations about which all research on issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families must be based and be reported to then consider effectiveness.

These themes were categorised further into the checklist’s core themes.

Recommended citation

Williams, M., & Ragg, M. (2023). Yanha-yalinya: Cultural responsiveness checking tool for services and programs. Yulang Indigenous Evaluation. https://yulang.com.au/starburst-indigenous- evaluations/yanha-yalinya/


Megan Williams Megan Williams PhD is Wiradjuri through her father’s family and has more than 20 …
Mark Ragg Mark Ragg MBBS BA is a non-Indigenous man with long and varied experience in …

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