Principles, Ethics and Rights
Opportunities awarded in the Australian creative sector do not currently reflect the diversity of the Australian community.
Implementing equitable application and selection processes for grants, prizes, residencies, commissions, memberships, employment, board positions and other opportunities is critical to addressing inequities in the sector and removing barriers to inclusion.
The degree of support and flexibility that can be offered to applicants will depend on the resources of the organisation, however publicly funded programs, in particular, have a responsibility to implement equitable application and selection processes.
Supporting Selection Teams
One of the most critical steps in making selection processes more equitable is increasing the diversity of the decision-making panel. But it’s also important to support the panel. It’s not easy or automatic to make equitable decisions. Selection panels need training, support and clear guidelines. Unconscious patterns and power dynamics in the selection process must be consciously discussed and taken into account.
Diversity of Applicants
Often arts organisations find they have not received many applications from artists from marginalised groups. It is wrong however to assume low application numbers mean that there are not many diverse artists ‘out there’. This is inaccurate and it’s important to dig deeper into the underlying causes for low application numbers.
Sometimes the organisation has not connected into diverse networks to advertise the opportunity. It is however becoming easier to reach diverse audiences via social media, and organisations should therefore routinely reach out to diverse networks to share opportunities.
More often, the failure to attract diverse applications can be traced to barriers to inclusion in the application and selection processes. These barriers should be identified and actions should be taken to mitigate them.
Often pathways into the creative sector are not via application processes at all, but rather via informal networks of internship, mentoring and volunteering. This bypasses the application process altogether and is a highly inequitable system that avoids transparency and accountability.
Australian federal legislation prohibits discrimination based on protected attributes including age, disability, race, sex, intersex status, gender identity and sexual orientation in areas of public life, including education and employment, see Gender Equity and Racial Equity and Representation.
In addition, each state and territory has anti-discrimination legislation that covers other areas, for example the provision of goods, services and facilities, administration of programs and awards and application forms.
Recommended Application Processes
Allocate Resources for Equity
When planning application and selection processes, allocate staff, budget and other resources required to implement equity measures.
Consider Two-stage Approach
For larger commissions consider employing a two-stage approach, and remunerate artists financially for their time to prepare pitch documents, attend meetings, engage creative teams in the process, or any re-scoping that is requested.
Consult with Under-represented Groups
If you determine that in the past you have lacked applications from a particular group, consult with members of that group about your application and selection processes, including which questions, requirements or processes create barriers.
Consultation options include online surveys of past recipients and applicants, or engaging advisors from the under-represented group to provide feedback on your application process. It is good practice to pay for consultation.
Advertise Opportunities to Diverse Networks
Access networks of diverse artists and seek their help with promoting opportunities. Connect into specialist networks, such as First Nations networks, pride networks, Diversity Arts Australia, Accessible Arts Australia and Regional Arts Australia, as well as state-based and local organisations, to reach diverse applicants.
It is good practice to include an inclusion statement and contact person in your call-out.
‘First Nations people, d/Deaf and Disabled people, and people of different genders, sexualities and cultural backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Applications in flexible formats or languages will be accommodated wherever possible. If you have accessibility requirements, please contact us here’.
Historically, if you have lacked applications from a specific under-represented group you can develop targeted opportunities for that group, or solicit nominations from peak bodies and send invitations to apply directly to artists from under-represented communities.
Use Accessible Application Forms
Application information and forms should use clear and accessible language.
Selection and application processes should be made transparent by detailing:
key objectives of the program
areas of priority, such as First Nations or regional communities
expected outcomes from the artist, such as the completion of new work, presentation of an exhibition or facilitation of workshops
responsibilities of the artist, and whether the opportunity is suited to independent artists or companies
funding models and involvement of subsidiary organisations, including what will be provided to the artist free of charge and what expenses an artist would need to cover themselves
any fee payable on submission of the application
history or background of the program
equity training undertaken by selection panel
previous successful applicants and projects
accepted formats of application
any terms and conditions that an applicant may be agreeing to by submitting an application, for example, copyright stipulations. Terms and conditions must be clear and easy to access, see also Awards, Prizes and Competitions
It is good practice to provide information and program guidelines in a variety of formats - such as plain English, audio and video formats. Depending on your target group you might translate materials, or hold in-person information sessions.
Many online application platforms such as smartygrants, Eventotron and other online portals are inaccessible and difficult for many experienced professional artists to use. This may be due to poor internet access, and barriers for people with psychological, cognitive and neurodiverse access needs. They are also time consuming for artists who are time-poor and reliant on multiple jobs in addition to practice. For this reason good practice should invite potential applicants to seek assistance or request alternative submission formats.
Application forms should not request irrelevant information. For example, an arts grant would not usually be assessed on level of educational attainment, so applicants should not be asked about their levels of education.
If an application portal is used, the questions should be available to view separately.
Any changes to application deadlines or project timelines should be clearly communicated to applicants or commissioned artists. If application deadlines are extended, artists who have made a submission should be offered the opportunity to revise their application.
Allow Flexible Application Formats
It is good practice to allow flexible application options. This might include allowing a short video statement or interview rather than a written application, a hard copy application rather than an online application, or allowing applications in languages other than English.
Many d/Deaf artists have written English as a second language and rely on bilingual allies to edit and prepare their submissions. Providing d/Deaf artists with an option to submit applications as Auslan videos and be able to check the translated transcript afterwards, would address these barriers.
Many d/Deaf, Disabled, regional and low socio-economic status artists have poor internet access so completing an application through a live portal can be a barrier. Allowing flexible application formats and support can address these barriers.
It is good practice to provide training for staff in specific accessibility requirements and supports. This relieves the responsibility for applicants to detail their accessibility requirements, in addition to meeting the selection criteria.
Offer Application Support
It is good practice to:
designate staff and budget for application support, for example, to answer questions
assess requests for extending deadlines in extenuating circumstances
publish answers to frequently asked questions and update with any information or answers provided to individual applicants
consider providing application support such as information sessions, webinars, workshops in community spaces and application mentoring
provide support through conference calls, one-on-one consultations and Auslan interpreted services
provide examples of successful applications from previous rounds
Recommended Selection Processes
The long-established mechanism of arm’s length peer review is globally recognised as the best practice process of assessment. One of the great benefits of peer-reviewed assessment processes is the shared responsibility for the process’ integrity and ethical conduct of panel members.
The following good practice guidelines relate to peer review assessment panels:
where possible, all applications should be discussed in assessment meetings to ensure a watertight and fair assessment process
the selection panel should not award opportunities to projects that compromise ethical standards, for example, paying participants low or unreasonable fees and wages
Diversity of Selection Panel
Record, monitor and evaluate the demographics of the selection panel to ensure you have a diverse panel. Take active steps to address under-representation, such as inviting nominations from specific groups.
It is good practice to include a First Nations representative on any selection panel, and decision-makers with lived experience should always be involved in decisions on related opportunities. For example, First Nations judges should award First Nations art prizes, and d/Deaf or Disabled panelists should award grants for d/Deaf or Disabled artists.
Peer assessment panels should also include diverse artform representation, for example a visual arts panel cannot be made up entirely of painters.
Decision-makers should be paid for their participation. Fair compensation recognises the commitment of time and expertise required, and increases opportunities for marginalised groups to participate on the selection panel.
Training of Decision Makers
Any representation goals of the program should be made clear to the selection panel. For example the program may aim for population parity in gender, or cultural and linguistic diversity.
Decision-makers should be provided with training and support in areas such as equity, unconscious bias, conflicts of interest and microaggressions. Training should include developing skills in recognising, interrupting and redirecting bias in the panel room.
Power imbalances on the panel should be discussed and acknowledged. Varying levels of appreciation and understanding of diverse aesthetics, cultural traditions and artistic practices should be discussed. Panellists should give each other explicit permission to challenge assumptions and to respectfully hold each other accountable. A shared agreement may be developed to capture this.
A safe and constructive space should be created in the panel room for honest discussion around equity issues; ‘cancel culture’ should be avoided. Make it okay to explore equity issues in open and inclusive discussion, and acknowledge that it is unfamiliar territory for some people.
Assessment criteria and scoring processes should be clearly articulated to applicants.
It is also good practice to document clear definitions of artistic merit, ‘excellence’ and expectations around decision-making processes and make these available to applicants.
Names of decision-makers are often made available to applicants in the interests of accountability and transparency. However, there may be concerns around panel members being compromised by nepotism or placed in uncomfortable situations in their working environments or community, due to their role on the panel. If disclosing the identity of the panel is not appropriate, consider articulating the lived experience and expertise of decision-makers, as well as the criteria for their selection.
Any disruption or delay to assessment processes should be communicated to applicants.
Feedback for unsuccessful applicants is critically important in their professional development. Wherever possible it is good practice to provide specific feedback to applicants.
An alternative is to provide information on why the successful applicants were selected, for example via posting an interview or recorded discussion from the decision making panel.
Evaluation and Monitoring
Collecting and analysing demographic data about applicants is the best way to evaluate the equity of your application and selection processes. The diversity of the selection panel should also be monitored and evaluated, for example by using a tool such as the Victorian Government's Diversity Matrix.
For ongoing programs, you can monitor diversity over time to gauge whether you are increasing the diversity of your applicants and panelists, or if there are ongoing gaps.
It is also good practice to track the demographics of applicants as they progress through the selection process, for example comparing the diversity of all applicants to the diversity of the shortlist and the selected recipients. This is an excellent way to pinpoint barriers and biases in the decision-making process.
You can add demographic questions to the end of your application forms, though be aware of the Australian Government's Australian Privacy Principles which regulate the collection and use of personal information. Demographic questions should be optional and you should be clear on why you are collecting demographic data and how you will use it.
For example, you can include a statement like:
‘We value diversity, inclusion and accessibility in our application processes. For this reason, we request (optional) demographic information about our applicants to help us assess whether we are reaching our diversity goals’.
You can also ask applicants for suggestions on how you can make your application processes more accessible and inclusive.
Responsibilities of Applicants
Applicants have a responsibility to respect the privacy of the selection panel. It is not appropriate to contact panellists, tag them in social media or seek to influence their decision-making outside of the application process.