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The changing face of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research

Historically, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have been deeply suspicious of research and researchers. This distrust grew out of conventional research processes that treated them as passive subjects rather than active participants of research, and all too often failed to translate findings into meaningful changes in health policy or practice.

The way in which research was conducted began to shift in the 1980s and 1990s, when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations demanded they be involved in:

  • identifying priorities for research
  • participating actively in its conduct
  • ensuring that its results were translated into policy and practice.

This shift coincided with a growing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers bringing their own perspectives and skills to the research task. It has also led to major research institutions across the world, such as Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council, developing ethical guidelines around how Indigenous health research is carried out.

For the Lowitja Institute, it is important to keep building genuine partnerships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations and researchers, which need to be founded on the priorities and needs that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities themselves identify.

The key questions remain – what are they trying to do and how can research help them to achieve their goals? This requires collaborative strategic goal setting rather than basing research priority setting solely on conventional competitive grants processes where researchers identify the research needs, and then, in effect, ask the community for permission to carry out the research.

Much has changed in the last 20 years but many communities are still often disappointed with the way in which they are consulted in health research projects.

The EthicsHub aims to guide and inform researchers and communities in best practice ethical approaches to health research so that all research is appropriate, relevant and useful to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, organisations and communities.

Created: 18 March 2015 - Updated: 03 December 2015