The role of Aboriginal community controlled primary health care services in developing community capacity in Indigenous communities

Aboriginal Community Controlled Primary Health Care Services (ACCHSs) have been around for more than 20 years in a range of communities and they are seen as being an essential part of the process of delivering culturally appropriate primary health care services to Aboriginal people[1]. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that they do more than just provide high-quality health care. The role that ACCHSs have played in developing a professional skilled workforce of Aboriginal people, leaders within communities and advocates for improving the health status of Aboriginal people have all been recognised as a by-product of the development of ACCHSs.

This project formed part of a PhD thesis and aimed to build knowledge about how community members themselves value the work done by ACCHSs. The project used Indigenous Associate Researchers (ARs) and was a collaborative venture with the community controlled Wuchopperen Health Service (WHS), which is based in Cairns and services communities in Far North Queensland west to Mt Isa.

This research sought answers to the following key questions:

  • What has been the impact of the ACCHS service in your community?
  • What are the mechanisms by which capacity has been developed?
  • What can we learn from the role of the ACCHS in developing community capacity?

The principal researcher worked closely with ARs to develop a training program and associated training resources to meet their needs. The training was held over a period of three days in a two-week period during October 2009. It is important to note that as the training approach is based on a participatory process, the training program evolved to meet the learning needs of the ARs. As ARs indicated a need for further training, training package components were developed to assist with their professional development. To date the training package covered:

  • Understanding the purpose of the research project
  • The role of ARs as part of the research team
  • Understanding how the research project will build knowledge of the important role that the ACCHS plays in building capacity
  • Skills and practice in using the research methodology: the ‘Most Significant Change’ technique
  • Skills in story collection and the ethics associated with the collection of stories
  • The ethics of being a researcher within one’s own community
  • How to review stories on a regular basis

Additional training issues that are in the process of being addressed include:

  • Thematic analysis and coding
  • N-Vivo computer supported analysis techniques
  • Community reporting.

The research was supervised by Dr Susan Quine (University of Sydney) and Dr Kate Senior (Menzies School of Health Research). The project trained eight staff from WHS as Associate Researchers (AR). A number of meetings were held between project staff and the WHS executive to ensure that all parties understood the timeframes, expectations, workload, support needs and potential deliverables that were expected from the project.

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