Culturally and linguistically diverse

Inclusive service delivery for CALD clients


The Queensland Government introduced the Multicultural Queensland Policy in 1998.

Two young women are arm in arm, smiling on a beach.

Queensland introduced the Multicultural Recognition Act 2016. The Act:

  • promotes Queensland as a united, harmonious and inclusive community and will foster opportunities for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to participate in all aspects of life in our prosperous state
  • acknowledges that a diverse, dynamic and cohesive society will deliver important benefits for all Queenslanders, including the community, government and business sectors
  • recognises our diverse cultural heritage and aims to ensure that government services are responsive to the needs of our multicultural communities.

For more information on this policy and its application see the Multicultural Affairs Queensland website.

‘Our story, our future’ is the Queensland Government’s Multicultural Policy promoting inclusive, harmonious and united Queensland. Find out more about the policy and action plan here.

The Multicultural Recognition Act 2016 requires all government agencies to report publicly on their actions in the plan and provide a summary of their progress every year. This allows the community to track how the government is achieving positive change, and provides a picture of where they need to make changes to investment or services.

Barriers to participation

People face all sorts of barriers when they need assistance from a community service. In particular many people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds face attitudinal, cultural and linguistic barriers. Some barriers include:

Promotional issues

  • Unable to access information about the organisation (e.g. access to particular media or contact points, language difficulties)
  • Inappropriate promotional activities (e.g. gender issues, use of alcohol
  • Inappropriate images (e.g. Aboriginal sensitivities about deceased persons being portrayed or named)

Communication issues

  • Being unable to effectively communicate with staff without depending on interpreters, family or friends.
  • Feeling uncomfortable communicating in limited English
  • Literacy problems (e.g. documents only in English, unable to read in ones own language)
  • Differences in meaning for common words
  • Cultural misconceptions and stereotypes

Structural issues

  • Lack an understanding within the organisation of cultural differences
  • Staff all drawn from the same ethno-social group
  • Decision-making systems that pre-suppose a particular ethno-social background
  • Timing of meetings and activities
  • Inappropriate service delivery (e.g. using non-accredited interpreters for formal purposes)

Trust issues

  • A bad personal experience with organisations of authority in the country of origin (e.g. cultural oppression or genocide of minority groups)
  • A fear of community service providers (e.g. Aboriginal experience under Australia’s Assimilation Policy)
  • Concern about confidentiality (e.g. sharing personal information with other agencies and government departments)
  • Lack of sensitivity and respect for difference

To remove these barriers and ensure that your organisation is accessible across cultural boundaries you need to develop a cultural inclusion strategy that addresses every aspect of your organisation.

Cultural inclusion strategy

Identify cultures

The first step in developing a cultural inclusion strategy is to identify the cultures that make up your community of interest. You will need to develop a separate set of protocols for each ethno-cultural group. As well as cultural differences, the degree of local coordination and resourcing in the different ethnic communities will shape each set of protocols. For example, the presence of an Indigenous agency offering similar services might mean you will offer a referral or complementary service for their community members rather than create a direct service as you might for another cultural group without such a service.

It is important to remember that ethnic origin is only a part of the nature of a culture. Aboriginal communities, for example, are very diverse. People of the same religion but from different regions or countries usually interpret their religious obligations differently. Likewise people from the same country but of different religious beliefs may have significantly different cultural patterns. Therefore, to develop a successful cultural inclusion strategy, consultation is key.


The form of your consultation meetings will vary depending on the culture in question. However the first step is to arrange an introduction to the acknowledged community leaders. To do this you need to make contact with a local cultural group, explain your purpose and ask for them to arrange an introduction. Multicultural Affairs Queensland can provide advice about the standing of particular organisations. When meeting with community leaders, show respect by involving your Chairperson or President as well as your most senior staff.

Meeting with identified community leaders is important and it may also be necessary to link with some of the key community networks through focus group consultations with grassroots members and multicultural service providers.

  • Ask for support and advice on the agenda and decision-making process and, if appropriate, seek their permission and participation.
  • Remember to use the social marketing approach in which the question is not ‘how do we get people to join our organisation or use our service?’ but rather ‘how do we develop our organisation and services to meet the perceptions and needs of the people?’
  • Use a facilitator with the relevant cultural experience and community respect.
  • Hold the meeting at a place that the people frequent rather than in your own premises.
  • Take formal minutes of the meeting, printing them in both languages if appropriate, and ensure everyone receives a copy.

Implement the recommendations or, if that is not possible, inform people of the reason. Invite participants to evaluate the consultation process using some of the methods mentioned in Chapter 5. Finally, remember that consultation is an on-going process and build regular consultation meetings into the organisation’s annual work program.

Cross cultural training

Before you can begin to work with people from another culture it is important to ensure that staff and volunteers learn some fundamental rules that apply in most cross-cultural settings.

This training should be supplemented with information on communications protocols for the relevant cultural group if these are available.

All of these documents address key communication issues such as language, time use, decision-making, and issues of trust specific to each cultural group.

Cross cultural training is a life-long learning process and it is important to provide regular update sessions for staff. This can be achieved by using guest speakers from relevant communities, discussing topical cultural or racial issues, exploring the nature of racism or social isolation, or presenting a report from monitoring an appropriate media site.

A culturally inclusive organisation is one which people from different cultures acknowledge as a part of their own community. Such a sense of ownership can only be developed through the active and visible participation of community members in the organisation at all levels, not just as consumers of a service.

To achieve this you will need a positive recruiting policy for board or committee members, volunteers and staff. The policy will need to include a range of methods of informing people of opportunities to participate. Relationship marketing can be highly effective but it is selective. It is important therefore to have a fair and transparent nomination and selection process for key positions. If appropriate, you might reserve a seat on the board for a member of a particular cultural community in a similar way to reserving a position for a funding body. This will need to be included in your constitution and the wording checked against the Anti-Discrimination Act. Alternatively, you may set up specific reference groups or committees to monitor and develop service delivery practices and participation opportunities that are culturally relevant.

The organisational environment needs to be friendly and welcoming with signs, posters, telephone messages and web pages in appropriate languages. A private waiting room may be necessary when serving some communities. Again, discuss these needs during your consultation meetings.

Community participation

Participating in the cultural life of the community and visibly respecting the culture are critical to gaining access to a community. Attend, participate and support major cultural events by including them in your own promotional activities, having an information booth, or providing sponsorship or volunteers. Likewise, involve your ethnic communities in your own organisation’s activities. Every community organisation should acknowledge the traditional landowners at any significant meeting and community elders and cultural rituals should be included in any public event.

Build and maintain your links with the local ethnic and multicultural community groups. Look for ways in which you can work together. Consider signing Memorandums of Agreement that set out the nature of your agreement and the obligations of each organisation. An alliance with a respected ethnic organisation is an excellent recommendation to their community. For assistance in drafting a Memorandum of Agreement, see the Collaboration section.

Develop multicultural policies

Make sure all your significant documents address multicultural issues. Ensure your written policies include access and equity principles and that these are reflected in your constitution, mission, objectives and strategic plans. Ensure these policies are publicly displayed and that all staff understand what they mean and how to apply them.

A culturally inclusive organisation has a multicultural staffing policy. The first step in attracting, retaining and supporting staff and volunteers from minority cultures is to build your recruitment and employment policies and practises around the equal employment opportunity and the anti-discrimination legislation. The Australian Human Rights Commission has a comprehensive list of legislation (including Queensland) and resources to help you do this.

If a significant part of your client group is drawn from a particular culture, consider a positive employment program. Develop employment strategies that target a percentage of personnel from the relevant cultural community and include these in your employment advertising. Do this for all vacancies, not just positions involved in service delivery to the identified community. Acknowledge and remunerate a second language and cultural knowledge as a valued skill. Include community representatives on interview panels when selecting staff and advertise through culturally specific mediums and networks.

Be mindful of any kinship obligations, taboos or tensions for workers and consider providing external mentoring and support from one of the culturally specific organisations in your network. Ensure that your internal communication systems are appropriate and inclusive and that your grievance mechanisms for industrial disputes identify specific support mechanisms and are fully understood.

Your induction procedure for all members of your organisation should include culturally appropriate information and staff should be trained in cross cultural awareness, multiculturalism, and the use of telephone and on-site interpreter services. Multicultural Affairs Queensland provides limited training in working with interpreters. Where accredited interpreters are not readily available, consult professional authorities such as NAATI (National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters and AUSIT (Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators) to identify appropriate alternatives.

Community engagement

The Queensland Government Language Services Policy states that all Queensland Government agencies should engage professional interpreters whenever necessary so if you receive funding from a government department they may also be able to help you. Another option is to negotiate access to bi-lingual workers in your Memorandums of Agreement with culturally specific organisations. If you choose this option, be sure that the client has a number of interpreters to choose from as issues of confidentiality and kinship may limit choice for some.

An important issue in your consultation is to identify and remove any barriers to access including the way people might perceive your organisation. Find out what information people need in order to be informed and what media systems they access. Established ethnic and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities generally have their own information distribution systems or a prominent organisation may have a newsletter that is widely read.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and many ethnic communities, have an oral tradition and may prefer to receive their information face-to-face in the form of dialogue, stories or theatre. An ethnic radio station such as 4EB or 4AAA could be useful here. In some cases, you may need to prepare separate brochures and leaflets that are culturally specific and use culturally relevant symbols and images. In this case, it is best to have the material proof read by someone in authority and be sure to gain permission and offer payment for any artwork.

Some of the other barriers that may exclude people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds are lack of transport, the need for appropriate childcare, hours of activities,  and so on. These should also be identified in the consultation process and solutions collectively developed.

Social research

The consultation meeting outlined above can also provide you with issues of community concern and suggestions for ways for your organisation to address them. Including people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in the decision-making of the organisation and among staff and volunteers will assist you to interpret those concerns into appropriate services and programs, as will your Memorandums of Agreement with key cultural organisations.

With these structures in place, it is possible to design generic programs that are culturally and linguistically inclusive. Generally, these will be open-ended, adaptable, and flexible, designed to provide a suite of options for clients to mix and match to develop a personal service program suitable to their individual needs. In some instances, it is appropriate to record this in personal service agreements. Protocols for using interpreters will need to be in place and outreach workers and bilingual workers from the relevant communities may also be required.

Sometimes it will be necessary to develop and deliver some ethno-specific programs and this should be done in consultation and through the framework of your Memorandums of Agreement with the relevant cultural organisations if possible. In these programs, participation and community building are likely to be critical activities.

Whatever the program, it is important to recognise that some time may be required to build trust before individuals may be willing to discuss their needs. This may take several interviews. Keep interviews informal and, if possible, have your first meeting in a setting with which people are familiar rather than an unknown office, which can be intimidating. Be sensitive about home visits as these too can be threatening for some people particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Confidentiality and privacy are key issues in all services but particularly in cross-cultural settings. Always ask permission before acting on anyone’s behalf or sharing their information and report back to them when you have done so.

If you use service agreements be sure people understand what constitutes a breach of the agreement and the consequences. Service agreements should also include appropriate and accessible mechanisms for making and responding to complaints about the service. Spend time discussing consumer rights and obligations and check that your consumer rights policy and documents are culturally inclusive.

An important part of your social research is to develop and maintain information about the use of your services by people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. This should be analysed and reported annually in preparation for the annual report and any strategic planning process.

Signing a formal document can be a frightening or non-traditional experience for many cultural groups, including migrants/refugees. In particular, clients who have had negative past experience with government officials from overseas or in Australia may not feel comfortable with this process. If so, this will hinder the development of trustful relationships. If appropriate, develop culturally specific forms or collect the information progressively over a number of interviews rather than risk appearing to interrogate them. If another service is involved, ask the person to give you permission to access the information from that source rather than asking all the questions again.

Evaluating your strategy

Having developed your policies, programs and services it is important that they are regularly reviewed, monitored and evaluated. Some questions to ask in this process might include:


  • What have we done to identify and address the barriers to people from ethnic and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities using our service?
  • How successful have we been?
  • How effective is our data collection in substantiating this?


  • How many and what types of consultation meetings have been held?
  • How many people have participated?
  • What has been achieved as a result?
  • What has been requested at consultation meetings that has not been delivered and why?
  • What is the cost/benefit ratio of consultation meetings?
  • How many people from ethnic and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities participate in our organisation and in what positions?
  • What cultural sensitivity training have we provided or accessed and who attended?
  • What, if any, grievance reports have been brought under our cultural inclusion policy?
  • How may culturally specific organisations have Memorandums of Agreement with us and what do they provide?
  • In what ways have we interacted with the key ethnic and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?


  • How many people from ethnic and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities participate in our organisation and in what positions?
  • What cultural sensitivity training have we provided or accessed and who attended?
  • What, if any, grievance reports have been brought under our cultural inclusion policy?


  • How may culturally specific organisations have Memorandums of Agreement with us and what do they provide?
  • In what ways have we interacted with the key ethnic and Aboriginal and Torres Islander communities?

Service delivery

  • How many people from ethnic and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have used our services and what services have they accessed?
  • Why do they leave?
  • What changes have there been to our service approach, procedures or written policies to improve the quality and relevance of these services?
  • What, if any, complaints have been received that are relevant to our cultural inclusion strategy?

Be sure to consult widely in your evaluation and to make your finding public, particularly to the people you seek to serve. Even negative results are valuable. Your willingness to disclose will build trust and may attract the support you need to achieve your goals of equity and inclusion.

Related Updates

See All
Queensland Women’s Week coming up soon
Grants: Investing in Queensland Women
Nominations closing soon for 2023 Queensland Reconciliation Awards