Dr amanda wise & dr jan ali commonwealth of Australia 2008

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Research Objectives

With a primary focus on those Local Government Areas (LGAs) with high numbers of Muslim-Australians, provide a national audit of best practice local government and community-based ‘grassroots’ initiatives which;

  1. Foster better relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim-Australians at the local level.

  2. Build trust and engagement between diverse Muslim communities.

The aim of the research was to:

  • Identify those initiatives which are most effective.

  • Understand what has allowed such forms of dialogue and engagement to emerge structurally or at the community level; and what councils and community groups can do to create or facilitate the structural conditions that foster such activities

  • make recommendations which build on information gained through interviews and consultations with members of local Muslim communities and local Council authorities.

To this end, the research involved the following tasks:

  • Identifying both formal and informal forms of successful inter- and intra- community engagement.

  • Providing in-depth analysis of nine (9) case studies selected from initiatives identified in the audit as particularly successful.

  • Research into international best practice in local initiatives targeted at Muslim communities, particularly those that facilitate positive engagement with non- Muslim communities

  • Consulting a variety of Muslim and non-Muslim-Australians—both ‘everyday’ people and community representatives—on their ideas for new initiatives and their experiences of those initiatives already implemented

The research focused on Australian initiatives instigated by local councils or local community organisations aimed at:

  • Building positive relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim-Australians and between diverse Muslims themselves.

  • Successfully engaging Muslim-Australians with local government

  • Examples: Organised intercultural sport days; a program of cross-cultural home visits between Muslim and non-Muslims; or a neighbourhood celebration of Eid ul-Fitr where the organisers actively seek to invite and include non-Muslims in the celebrations.

The research investigated examples of informal, organic, inter-cultural engagement between Muslim and non-Muslim-Australians.

  • These are forms of community activity not formally initiated by councils such as a community activity informally organised by local residents, or positive forms of everyday exchange. The conditions of possibility and the characteristics of such informal engagements were identified.

The research project was designed by Dr Amanda Wise of the Centre for Research on Social Inclusion at Macquarie University, and conducted with the assistance of Dr Jan Ali, and Ms. Rebecca Coates, and Dr Gillian Vogl. Mr Bernard Leckning and Mr Sudheesh Bhasi contributed to sections of the final report, while Ms Banu Senay and Dr Rochelle Spencer assisted with the editing process.


Sample - Summary


  • 20 Interviews with local government community workers in each of the LGAs in the top twenty council areas, with the exception of Stirling in WA.

  • 20 community initiative organisers

  • 35 Individuals involved in selected initiatives via focus group discussion.

  • 10 Interviews with Muslim-Australian Non-Participants

    • Syrian, Palestinian, Lebanese, Fiji-Indian, Afghani, African, Pakistani.

  • Interviews with 18 individuals (in 3 Focus groups) of Anglo-Celtic extraction, resident in the Sutherland Shire


  • 20 Questionnaires were sent to the top twenty LGAs. Response rate of 13

  • 65 Questionnaires sent to case study locations. Response rate of 33.

The research methodology for the study comprised a mix of web-based reviews, a survey, stakeholder interviews, and case studies of selected initiatives. Specifically:

An audit process of local initiatives

An audit was undertaken of local initiatives in Australia aimed at building positive relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim-Australians. The audit involved:

  • Analysis of existing research data obtained from the ‘Building Neighbourhood Harmony’ Living in Harmony partnership to identify councils who have undertaken relevant initiatives directed towards Muslim-Australian communities in their jurisdiction;

  • Web-based review of grass-roots and local government initiatives in Australia;

  • Visited each of the top 20 councils (as identified in the 2006 Census) to interview key staff to assess the number, quality and type of initiatives undertaken there;

  • Online survey of top 20 councils which asked them to list all harmony initiatives targeted at Muslim-Australians their council has convened in the last five years. The survey also sought their views on what the most effective programs are, and the barriers to implementing them, and;

  • Meetings, email and telephone contacts with a range of representatives and community leaders in Muslim-Australian communities to gather information on and seek views about initiatives of which they have knowledge or have been a part of.

International web-based review of best practice.

A web-based review of local initiatives was conducted in Australia and overseas, particularly in the UK, Western Europe and Canada to identify best practice. Selected initiatives were followed up through email contact and telephone interviews with organisers.

Case Studies

Nine (9) Australian initiatives were selected as case studies. Case studies were identified to achieve a representative spread of initiatives and target groups. The aim of the case studies was to provide in-depth, qualitative insight into participant experiences; to assess the impact in terms of the stated aims of the initiative, especially in terms of achieving attitudinal change; to explore the characteristics of the participants, and explicitly identify the range of contributing factors to the success (or otherwise) of each initiative under examination so as to facilitate possible future replication or further development.

Questionnaire: Participants in selected case studies were asked to complete a questionnaire providing basic demographic data and their evaluation of the initiative.

Focus group discussions: The research team conducted nine (9) focus group discussions with Muslim-Australian and non-Muslim-Australian participants of selected initiatives.

  • Nine (9) focus groups were conducted with participants across nine (9) case study initiatives. These included both Muslim-Australian and non-Muslim-Australian participants who were asked about their experiences, perceptions and views of the initiative they were involved with.

  • Council and Community Groups: Seventeen (17) interviews were conducted with council staff and representatives of community organisations involved with selected initiatives. Their views were sought on the effectiveness of the initiatives, sustainability, special successes and barriers to community participation.

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