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Cultural Competencies - in or out?

When people come into culturally mixed group situations there is sometimes an awkwardness that they don’t seem to have the skill to deal with. 

Some have commented "I thought I had the knowledge and skill for the job but I find it tricky to handle the ambiguity that goes with culturally different ways of doing things."

Organisation benefit when cultural competencies named
The recent trend to develop cultural competencies for staff has raised the question as to whether a cultural competency can stand on its own or should it be integrated within other tasks, for example, managing team meetings in a culturally competent way?

The Manukau City Council in the late 1990s addressed this question by developing a standalone competency called a Treaty of Waitangi competency. This was because it was realised that to integrate that thinking into an already existing monocultural system would place staff engagement, at that point, beyond the reach of most staff.

The strategy therefore was to develop the standalone competency and provide education support and challenge for staff to use it and then to integrate it systematically within all organisational competencies and at the same time embed the thinking within the systems of the Council operation.

An example of a standalone statement of cultural competency from a Treaty perspective is as follows:

Treaty of Waitangi
A person demonstrating this competency recognises the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi (its preamble and articles) by developing and implementing work practices that are consistent with the Crown’s Treaty obligations.

Level one indicators
  • Demonstrates recognition of the two Treaty Partners
  • Demonstrates basic knowledge of the Treaty of Waitangi and tikanga Māori
  • Recognises own deficiencies and acts to improve knowledge
  • Demonstrates acceptance of tikanga Māori in working relationships

Level two indicators
  • Demonstrates understanding of the Treaty in the relationship with the two Treaty partners
  • Analyses work issues from a tikanga Pākehā and tikanga Māori perspective
  • Tikanga Māori is demonstrated in their business practices
  • Encourages and supports active participation in Treaty partnership development

Level three indicators
  • The Treaty of Waitangi and tikanga Māori are visible in the policy/service delivery and strategic/business planning processes used on the job
  • Has ability to manage changes in processes and systems from a Treaty perspective Council-wide
  • Supports others in the process of developing change from a Treaty perspective
  • Identifies and ensures that equitable practices are endorsed

Unacceptable behaviours under this competency
  • Does not demonstrate an understanding of Treaty issues or tikanga Māori
  • Actively avoids incorporating tikanga Māori into business practices
  • Finds it difficult to accept or recognise the two Treaty partners
  • Makes incorrect assumptions about Treaty of Waitangi issues

The integrated version followed and covered all organisational competencies.

Staff at the Manukau City Council found cultural competencies and their eventual integration:
  • gave a helpful framework around which they could think about the cultural values informing their current ways of working
  • raised the question of the need for management leadership and example to model the message
  • pointed to the need for some overarching framework in order to provide guidance to organisational change so that there was consistency from one part of the organisation to another

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