I am privileged to be at the helm of the Lowitja Institute and be a part of the evolution of the organisation. We have 15 years of Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) experience as our foundation and the exciting prospect of emerging as an independent Institute in July 2014. We have the foundations, now we have to build the organisation.
It is challenging and energising for the Board and staff of the Lowitja Institute to be involved in a process that in some ways is like starting with a blank canvas. We certainly have the great achievements of the CRCs to support and inform our progress, while also having the opportunity to be innovative and create an organisation that will have maximum long-term impact on the health of our nation’s First Peoples.
The big picture that will drive and guide all our efforts is ‘Our Vision’ – ‘To achieve equity in health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’.
To ensure that we are always working towards achieving ‘Our ‘Vision’ we have developed ‘Our Dreaming’. It articulates who we are, what we will do and how we will do it.
As the National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research with a sole focus on the health and wellbeing of Australia’s First peoples, we will:
- Ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a strong voice in all activities
- Bring together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, health services, governments, researchers and policy makers to enable high-quality, collaborative health research that makes a difference
- Continue to develop world-leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health researchers
- Build on our record as national leaders in knowledge exchange and the translation of research findings into evidence-based practice and policy
- Work at the community, regional and national levels to improve health outcomes and set the research agenda
- Work with our extensive networks to be the pre-eminent source of evidence and expertise in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research.
We are also currently working through the ‘Our Pathways’ roadmap to success:
- Research – our unique approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research
- Partnerships – the organisations and people who will be part of our journey
- People – our team that will drive our achievements
- Sustainability – leadership, accountability and independence.
Over the past two years we have developed and reviewed our strategic plans – this is a dynamic process, as we continue to innovate and determine how we can best achieve ‘Our Vision’. Our core will remain commissioning and funding research, while we stretch beyond those boundaries to increase the impact of our work and do so as fast as possible.
An example of us finding innovative ways to increase our impact was recently enacted in Darwin. The Lowitja Institute hosted three Roundtable discussions to identify research questions targeted towards better health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The three Roundtables explored Nutrition, Telehealth, and Environmental Health and Housing research for the Northern Territory. Each prioritised research questions to be further developed. The collaborative process involved researchers and the end-users of research, such as Aboriginal organisations, government and non-government organisations.
The approach we utilised is known as the Facilitated Development Approach, a process created by our predecessor CRCs. It ensures that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and organisations have a strong voice throughout the research process, from setting the agenda, formulating the questions, participating in the research and, most importantly, translating research knowledge into evidence-based practice and policy.
This is the first time the model has been used specifically to inform external grant applications rather than our own funded research. It is one way that we can increase our impact and ensures that any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research that is being done has strong participation from the beneficiaries of the research.
Face to the future
Providing leadership nationally and internationally in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research is very much our role. Two current activities, Horizon Planning and Congress Lowitja, clearly demonstrate this leadership.
Pulling all the players together (especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities) and setting the health research agenda is one way we play this part. Horizon Planning is a process that uses scenarios to assist us in envisioning the future and determining the research needs of that future, as well as the building blocks that we will need to put in place to ensure we meet the needs of that future. The project will take into consideration, through a literature review, what we have achieved in the past 15–20 years and what are the current achievements. A number of workshops will consider the information, data trends and ‘imaginings’ to get a sense of what the future might look like. Ultimately, the information will inform a research planning session that will provide our future agenda. The workshop schedule is currently being developed and we will have some sessions during Congress Lowitja 2012 in November.
Congress Lowitja 2012 is shaping up to be a great event – and not to be missed by anyone involved in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. We have a line-up of internationally renowned Indigenous speakers, who will take us through the Congress theme of ‘Knowledge Exchange and Translation into Practice’. Our Chair, Strategic Thought Leadership, Professor Ian Anderson, will set the scene by providing the Lowitja Institute perspective. Professor Malcolm King will then enlighten us to the Canadian viewpoint as Canada has been very much at the forefront in this arena. Aboriginal doctor and researcher Dr Alex Brown will present how it really happens on the ground. Many of the sessions are designed for active participation, providing an opportunity to truly exchange knowledge, concepts and ideas.
The theme of Congress Lowitja 2012 is particularly fitting, as we move to the final two years of hosting the CRC for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health. In the time remaining to us we will be completing the research component of projects and moving to take the findings into practice. It closes the loop and ensures that our work makes a real difference to the health outcomes of Australia’s First Peoples.
In May, we underwent our mid-term review with the Commonwealth Government. An intensive two-day process that brought many of our partners together, it resulted in an excellent report from the Commonwealth and some valuable recommendations to assist us into moving the Institute towards independence.
The current model of the Lowitja Institute has us striving to meet and exceed expectations with our CRC projects, while creating and developing an independent Institute that is unique in its approach to working towards equity in health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- Congress Lowitja 2012
- Northern Territory Roundtables
- Facilitated Development Approach
- Our research ahead of targets, midtern review shows, Wangka Pulka, August 2012