Conducting culturally appropriate research with indigenous communities requires an equal partnership and the building of trust, writes Raelene Ward.
As an indigenous nurse research fellow at the University of Southern Queensland my primary role is to undertake research with, for and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities. This position is the first of its kind in Queensland and solely funded by Queensland Health.
In 2007, whilst co-ordinating a national research project on indigenous suicide and while undertaking my master’s I was exposed to the NHMRC guidelines for conducting research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities.
This document became a living document for me, imperative in allowing me to work towards a career as a researcher, while continuing relationships with indigenous people and their communities.
When proposing to conduct research with people and their respective communities, there are several key areas to keep in mind when engaging, consulting, planning, visiting and providing feedback to participants. Researching the community is the most important step, getting to know its history, dynamics and identifying any prior consultations within the community. This first step encourages communities and researchers to engage and consult with each other prior to planning, as well as being a part of the research journey from the beginning and well after the research ceases.
Identifying stakeholders, decision-makers and indigenous community members allows relationships to build amongst researchers, services and organisations who have experience in working with communities. The identification of existing relationships within the community encourages discussion about visits including the purpose and objectives, the proposed role of the community and language issues. It is also important to identify what the strengths and weaknesses are for that community and to look at local resources, needs and limitations.
It is important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to know their rights in order to participate in research. This includes commissioning research that meets our priority needs - to say “no” up-front, to say “yes”, to discuss differences, to request more time to talk about the proposal, to expect that our cultural values are respected and to have an input into the research agenda.
Other priorities include checking the researcher’s track record, to negotiate a formal research agreement, and the right to delay or stop the research.
People have a right and responsibility to be involved in all aspects of research in our communities and our organisations. These guidelines will assist us to work out whether any research is relevant, ethical, and appropriate by identifying our most important shared values and listing our rights to participate in all stages.
It also provides a checklist of the steps community members may follow to keep the research on track. Research partnerships need to be developed from the very beginning. This could mean developing relationships and rapport with organisations or communities before even considering undertaking research. The eight steps of the research journey will assist people who are involved in negotiations about research, to ensure that the research is relevant to communities and organisations’ needs and aspirations.
Raelene Ward is an Indigenous Nurse Research Fellow at the Centre for Rural and Remote Area Health at USQ. She was born in Cunnamulla, a small rural and remote community 800km West of Toowoomba and is a descendant of the Kunja and Kooma people with traditional ties across South West Queensland.Do you have an idea for a story?
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