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Looking back at HEPPP: Whole-of-Community Engagement Initiative

This case study was first published in March 2016, profiling a successful HEPPP funded initiative providing access and equality of opportunity for disadvantaged students.

The Whole-of-Community Engagement (WCE) program continues to strengthen pathways into higher education to support the aspiration and expectation of six remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory and has contributed to the furthering of long-term community aspirations and goals.

An update on the ongoing success of this progressive program will be featured in an upcoming NCSEHE publication to be released in print and online at the end of 2017.

Partners are committed to valuing and using local Indigenous knowledges to inform all aspects of the program development and implementation

In partnership with local stakeholders, Charles Darwin University has embarked on a HEPPP Whole-of-Community Engagement (WCE) initiative which will work with six remote Indigenous communities across the Northern Territory to build aspiration, expectation and capacity to participate in higher education. This large-scale multi-site participatory action research project involves community engagement leaders, mentor and enrichment officers, and a community teacher’s liaison leader working closely with community-based Indigenous mentors, leaders and organisations to drive innovative bottom-up strategies and solutions built on, and responsive to, Indigenous knowledges.


  • Charles Darwin University (CDU)
    >>Office of the Pro Vice Chancellor – Indigenous Leadership
    >>Office of the Pro Vice Chancellor – Academic
  • Northern Territory Department of Education
  • Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education
  • North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd
  • Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education.

Working in collaboration with the project partners and using their extensive Indigenous networks, the HEPPP–WCE team is working with six remote Indigenous communities to:

  • identify and explore current Indigenous community perspectives (both Western and Indigenous) about higher education
  • identify the facilitators of, and barriers to, contemporary pathways into higher education for remote and very remote Indigenous communities
  • embed and link Indigenous community perspectives and concerns within the development and implementation of existing strategies to building aspiration, expectation and capacity to participate in higher education
  • identify and co-create ongoing opportunities for community, research, academic and public policy leaders to build relationships and evidence translation activities associated with promoting pathways into higher education
  • identify means for making higher education relevant and more culturally and physically accessible to Indigenous students and adult learners.

Activities are currently being developed using a participatory action research approach: all activities are being identified, implemented and led by local Indigenous community members with support from HEPPP–WCE staff. Early signs indicate that this will include involvement from schools, health centres, shires, land management organisations and other local Indigenous organisations. Key participants include:

  • Traditional Owners, Elders and Leaders from each participating community
  • staff and students in remote schools and colleges
  • students in Indigenous ranger groups and/or participating in Learning On Country programs
  • adult learners and community members from the participating remote communities
  • service providers and organisations from a range of sectors working in or through remote Indigenous communities
  • representatives from the key research partners
  • staff and students already engaged in VET and higher education within the Northern Territory
  • policy-makers with an interest in Indigenous pathways into higher education.

The nature and scope of activities will be determined by each participating community, within the scope of the funding available. It is envisaged that activities may include:

  • practical support that will assist school students to aspire for high academic achievement and to further their education
  • site-visits to, or ‘taster’ programs within, CDU
  • participation in on-country training and learning activities
  • mapping job and related education pathways relevant to remote contexts
  • helping people to complete vocational qualifications in their community
  • documenting community views about participation in higher education.

The HEPPP–WCE initiative is in the early stages of establishment. Achievements to date have included the establishment of a steering group, including representatives
from each of the participating communities, and the appointment of all HEPPP–WCE staff, including a program manager, three community engagement leaders, three mentor and enrichment officers and the community teacher’s liaison leader. All positions are research-active roles and will be integral to the implementation of participatory action research methodology.

Ethics approval has been granted to establish the initiative as a large multi-site Indigenous participatory action research project, and site selection and subsequent community-level consultation is well underway, with a view of establishing a joint partnership agreement with each participating community.

It is well-established that genuine and trusting partnerships are key to all successful higher education programs. Some general principles have been adopted to guide HEPPP–WCE partnership development:

  • Partners must be committed to achieving the aim of building aspiration, expectation and capacity for remote Indigenous communities to participate in higher education.
  • Partners must be committed to valuing and using local Indigenous knowledges to inform all aspects of program development and implementation.
  • Wherever possible, key partnership activities should be community-led and driven and build on existing community strengths.
  • Trust, respect and reciprocity are central values to our partnership work.

These have been incorporated into an overarching communication and engagement strategy with input from program partners and other key stakeholders.

The various partnerships that have, and continue to be, established and maintained through HEPPP–WCE are complex. The broad geographical spread of participating communities across the Northern Territory, different first languages, diverse cultural practices and understandings, and contextual challenges unique to each remote Indigenous community, are just some examples of the factors that necessitate careful navigation through HEPPP–WCE partnership development processes. A slow and steady approach has been, and continues to be, required.

A commitment has been made to conduct a Social Network Analysis (SNA) at the commencement and completion of the initiative in each of the participating communities. This will explore the pattern and strength of relations between individuals, groups, institutions and other social collectives involved in HEPPP–WCE. To our knowledge, this type of evaluative approach to working in partnership has not yet been trialled in remote Indigenous contexts at this scale.

The participatory action research process involves stakeholders in the conduct of research and the implementation of action within a ‘plan, act, observe, reflect’ cycle. Therefore, central to the HEPPP–WCE initiative is an iterative process that involves ongoing reflection, subsequent planning and resulting action. The participation of local community members and their contributions/feedback are paramount to the success of HEPPP–WCE. This ongoing reflective process is directly linked to action and change: ultimately the WCE process will drive future activities.

Image depicting four types of partnerships. Intra-university, Inter-sectoral and Social...

This case study is one of a series of 31 presented in our case study publication, Partnerships in Higher Education.

Posted 7 August 2017 Posted in General, Indigenous, Regional, rural and remote