A forum in Melbourne tomorrow hosted by Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research, the Lowitja Institute, will showcase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research translation in action.
She previews the event, which will consider how research evidence can drive policy and practice reform, below.
Marie McInerney writes:
How do you do knowledge translation that works? It’s a question for all researchers.
But it’s particularly urgent in the case of, for example, Torres Strait Islander communities who are faced with the impending impacts of climate change, where rising sea levels are a real threat to survival.
People living in these communities need to not only be armed with the latest research, they must lead it, and be involved in translating this work into solutions.
This is a principle at the heart of three innovative knowledge translation projects to be showcased Tuesday at a forum by the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s national institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research.
The @LowitjaInstitut supports Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander-led research & knowledge translation (KT) that makes a difference. Join us for a #KTthatworks forum in Melbourne on 2 April https://t.co/0z5dnRbqDI pic.twitter.com/UraQCbFllk
— Lowitja Institute (@LowitjaInstitut) March 12, 2019
One of these is Meriba buay – ngalpan wakaythoemamay (We come together to share our thinking), which evaluated a community of practice for Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing, looking at community capability and the social determinants of health.
The research was led by Torres Strait Islander researchers including Dr Sanchia Shibasaki, who is from Thursday Island.
The Lowitja Institute defines knowledge translation “as a series of interactions that connect research evidence to changes in policy and practice”.
These interactions are fostered from the initial formulation of a project concept through the implementation process to delivery of findings, Shibasaki told Croakey ahead of the symposium.
“We are the only known research organisation in Australia that commissions knowledge translation (work) on top of research funding,” she said.
It’s a process, the Lowitja Institute says, that begins with developing the research questions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations, as well as non-Indigenous researchers, and is taken through ways that “minimise power dynamics and privilege Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives”.
Each research project funded by the Lowitja Institute includes additional funding to implement a Knowledge Translation Plan that looks beyond traditional approaches to sharing research with policy makers or affected communities.
Steps that such plans cover are outlined below:
It’s an approach that is unique to the Lowitja Institute, as discussed by Dr Megan Williams, a UTS scholar of Wiradjuri descent and a Croakey contributing editor, in coverage of an earlier Lowitja Institute knowledge translation event last year in Canberra.
The Lowitja Institute’s Knowledge Translation planning process begins before a project is fully funded or implemented. No other mainstream funding body requires, expects or stimulates this.
Where words meet action
Knowledge translation has been at the heart of the Lowitja Institute’s work since its inception, with the challenge and responsibility put clearly by its namesake Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG at its launch in 2010:
There will be a match between words and action. I want the Institute to achieve real, tangible and immediate outcomes, not rarefied research that will never be applied.
And that meant, among other things, that the point of research must always be questioned, she said:
Whose interests does it serve? Who will benefit? Who is asking the research questions?
Her words are especially pertinent following last week’s historic announcement of the Closing the Gap Partnership Agreement between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and the Federal Government, states and territories.
This agreement represents the first time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak bodies will have an equal say in the design, refresh, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Closing the Gap framework.
The Lowitja Institute is one of 40 members of the Coalition of National Aboriginal Peak Bodies that achieved the “hard fought” partnership, amid grave concerns that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices were being shut out of the Closing the Gap refresh process.
The Joint Council on Closing the Gap met for the first time last week in Brisbane.
Its first communique said the partnership commitment “recognises that shared decision making with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples…in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Closing the Gap framework is essential to closing the gap in life outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. ”
It’s also an implicit recognition of what happens when that shared decision making is not there, and there are top-down approaches to funding, policy making and research that not only don’t work but potentially cause more harm, as Williams wrote last year.
The Government’s official report card tabled earlier this year found that the gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people was, in 2019, widening rather than closing.
Our choice, our voice
Last month the Lowitja Institute published the annual response to the Closing the Gap report on behalf of the Close the Gap campaign.
In the past, the Campaign has provided a ‘Shadow Report’, but this year it took a different approach, highlighting urgent priority themes for addressing the health gap. They are:
- targeted, needs-based primary health care
- a responsive health care system, and
- good housing for good health
Lowitja Institute Acting CEO Janine Mohamed told the launch that the report includes some key perspectives:
…an idea of success defined by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, an idea of health and wellbeing defined by us, a rejection of the negative stereotyping we’re often labelled with, and a call on policy makers to value the creativity, ingenuity and leadership of our people.
As with Tuesday’s forum, the report highlights stories that illustrate success from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives, including of community-led research.
The stories profiled in this report demonstrate that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are involved in the design of the services they need, we are far more likely to achieve success. These stories illustrate that ‘our choice and our voice’ are vital if we are to make gains and start to close the gap.
The Lowitja Institute’s Knowledge Translation forum is part of a commitment by the institute to “practice what we preach”, Shibasaki said.
It will be attended by a range of policy and community representatives, to build on the knowledge translation impact of the selected projects, and to make the case for greater investment and accountability in knowledge translation by funders and researchers.
Wonderful to welcome some of our deadly @LowitjaInstitut alumni into the office today! #WeAreIndigenous #Leadership #IndigenousResearch @JanineMilera @drcbond @NACCHOAustralia @HealthInfoNet @croakeyblog #KTThatWorks pic.twitter.com/v2PWDH7i9m
— Lowitja Institute (@LowitjaInstitut) April 1, 2019
The project presentations will be:
- Ike Fisher (IUIH) & Dr Yvette Roe (Mater Research – University of Queensland) – Tell My Story: Hearing from the Dads in the Indigenous Birthing in an Urban Setting (IBUS) Study
- Dr Sanchia Shibasaki (S4SC), Dr Felecia Watkin Lui & Ms Lynda Ah Mat (James Cook University) – Meriba buay – ngalpan wakaythoemamay (We come together to share our thinking): Evaluating a community of practice for Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing
- Dr Vicki Saunders & Dr Bianca Beetson, (Griffith University) – Listening to Country: Exploring the value of acoustic ecology with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison.
Croakey readers may be interested to read reports from two other major knowledge translation events co-hosted or hosted by the Lowitja Institute in recent years:
- Community priorities into policy: a conversation with researchers, policy makers, and stakeholders from across the health sector about research projects driven by the priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
- 6th Annual NHMRC Symposium on Research Translation, co-hosted by the Lowitja Institute