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The importance of Aboriginal Protocols in promoting educational futures

Getting an Early Start to Aspirations: Understanding how to promote educational futures in early childhood’ (GAESTA)

Written by Nyssa Murray and Valerie Harwood, Early Start Research Institute, University of Wollongong. Funded by the Australian Research Council Future Fellowship Scheme.

The GAESTA project is inclusive of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and is seeking to understand how to promote educational futures in early childhood. The overarching aim is to understand how children and their families who have experienced educational disadvantages imagine and aspire to educational futures. The project is using social marketing a strategy effectively used in health and adapting the principles to promote educational futures.

Social marketing is a process that works with the priority audience to understand the problem and the barriers and that, in consultation, develops appropriate ways to encourage change. This technique is most often used in the health sector. Importantly, the social marketing approach is ‘adaptable’, and in this feature for the NCSEHE, we would like to outline how, through our learning with Aboriginal Protocols, we have been able to build a successful approach to consultative research and social marketing campaign development.

Fourteen months of consultative research has taken place across New South Wales that included discussions with Aboriginal Elders and community leaders. In addition, parents, caregivers, family members, child-care educators, playgroup facilitators, as well as government and non-government bodies have been consulted.

Aboriginal protocols are central to informing and guiding our approach in this research project. As outlined in the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS, 2011) Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies, it is vital that “research with and about Indigenous peoples must be founded on a process of meaningful engagement and reciprocity between the researchers and Indigenous people.” We recognise the importance of learning from local Aboriginal Elders and of building relationships, establishing respect and conducting research in ways that ensure their rights to maintain intellectual property. Below we outline three of the protocols used in our research:

Building relationships
Building relationships involved establishing who should be consulted and requesting permission from the appropriate Elders and community leaders. For example, several meetings took place to learn the local Aboriginal people’s ways and culture before discussing the research project. Sharing the project design, benefits and outcomes helped create ‘buy in’ and build strong connections so that the project could be discussed and the subject of feedback and change from the stakeholders. These strong connections have also increased the participation that is needed for disseminating the social marketing campaign in the community. Overall, building a strong relationship further created the opportunity to establish respect in a two-way process.

Establishing respect
Through our efforts to build relationships, we were able to interact with stakeholders in a way that we could be assessed, and ascertain whether we acted in a way that was in accordance with respect for protocols. It was crucial that as researchers we earned the respect of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal stakeholders. Respect has supported us to connect with a wider network than we had anticipated and this has greatly improved the design and dissemination of our social marketing campaign.

The rights to maintain Intellectual property
Intellectual property is a major element that cemented our relationship and respect with the local Aboriginal people and contributed to our success with our consultative research approach. A formal legally binding collaboration agreement was created between the university and the local Elders. This allowed the local Aboriginal people to have ownership, control in decision making, act as advisors, and participate in the research outcomes. We conducted and still continue to hold meetings with local Aboriginal Elders and Leaders, Aboriginal Educational Consultative Group (AECG), and community members.

Notably, we have recognised the significance of implementing protocols in our work with stakeholders (both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) to guide our behaviour and interactions. We acknowledge 14 months is not a long time to build relationships and establish the necessary respect with Aboriginal communities. As such, we still continue our consultation to ensure that all benefits are shared, that we achieve better project outcomes, and strengthen working relationships. We also see this approach as improving our capacity for research dissemination.

Lastly, it is essential to state that our work takes a strength-based approach. Learning from the efforts of many of our colleagues and Aboriginal communities, this approach looks to the strengths of Aboriginal people, Aboriginal Cultures and Aboriginal Communities and at the same time, seeks to actively critique any deficit approaches.

Aboriginal protocols used for consultation in research are vital for meaningful engagement with Aboriginal people. We would also like to note that embedding Aboriginal protocols into our project is not only for interactions with Aboriginal people; it has provided a basis for non-Aboriginal people to see us as respectful researchers.

More information on Nyssa and Valerie’s project will be available here on the NCSEHE website later this year.

Posted 4 May 2016 Posted in General, Indigenous, Regional, rural and remote