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Lead and influence on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research ethics, protocols and collections

Progress on ensuring we speak authoritatively, articulate national priorities, arbitrate standards and innovate in ethical, impactful evidence based research and collection practices.

In 2020–21 AIATSIS delivered the following initiatives in line with our mission and functions. Our actions focused on reporting against our Corporate Plan.

  • Code of Ethics and ethics clearances
  • Protocols and standards
  • Influence

Feature 9: Code of Ethics and ethics clearances

Refer to TABLE 3: LEAD AND INFLUENCE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER RESEARCH, ETHICS, PROTOCOLS AND COLLECTIONS, Table 3a: Use and influence of Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies and Table 3b: Ethics clearances by external clients through the Research Ethics Committee for statistics on the Code of Ethics and ethics clearances.

Notable achievements include:

  • setting standards for research through publication of the new AIATSIS Code of Ethics
  • implementing the Code of Ethics via online information and training sessions and in person at the AIATSIS Summit
  • increasing the number of reviews for ethical appropriateness of research projects from 16 requests in 2016–17 to 122 in 2020–21.

Setting standards for Indigenous Research: AIATSIS Code of Ethics

Implementation of the Code of Ethics has been hampered by COVID-19 restrictions on travel and gatherings. This has particularly impacted planned training for researchers and human research ethics committees. Nevertheless, AIATSIS has held online information and training sessions to a range of audiences.

The AIATSIS Summit provided an opportunity to introduce a large number of attendees to the Code of Ethics. Two in-person workshops were initially scheduled, with a third added due to overwhelming demand. During the session, participants took a deep dive into the concepts of Indigenous self-determination, informed consent and Indigenous data sovereignty. Feedback was extremely positive, with an average response of 4.46 out of 5 agreeing with the statement ‘I have a better awareness of the AIATSIS Code of Ethics Principles’. One attendee commented, ‘Great session! I would do it again and recommend it to a lot of people in a heartbeat’.

Code of ethics online training

AIATSIS has entered into a partnership with the University of Queensland and the University of Sydney to develop an e-learning course based on the Code of Ethics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research. The partnership has been championed by Pro-Vice Chancellor (Indigenous) Professor Bronwyn Fredericks (UQ) and Deputy Vice Chancellor (Indigenous) Professor Lisa Jackson Pullver (Sydney), both AIATSIS members. The course will be adaptable for students and researchers, as well as ethics committees.

This follows on from a partnership entered into with the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) to develop an online introductory short course for public servants about ethics in the APS and how the Code applies to their work. The APS Ethics Course is due for completion in August 2021.

AIATSIS ethics review services

There is a continued increase in the number of applications for ethical review by the AIATSIS Research Ethics Committee. The Research Ethics Committee provides independent assessment of the ethical appropriateness of research projects. It reviews projects conducted by AIATSIS as well as receiving external applications from researchers, consultants, government agencies and Indigenous organisations. Requests for clearance have increased from 16 in 2016–17 to 122 in 2020–21. This is primarily due to the increase in applications from government and consulting firms conducting research and evaluation that concerns Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Feature 10: Influencing research and practice

Refer to TABLE 3: LEAD AND INFLUENCE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER RESEARCH, ETHICS, PROTOCOLS AND COLLECTIONS and Table 3c: Take up of our collections protocols and standards for statistics on our influence on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research ethics and protocols and collections.

Notable achievements include:

  • supporting Indigenous led and community based research projects through the Indigenous Research Exchange Grants Program
  • building the Knowledge Exchange Platform which provides access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research and data at a local level and provide an evidence base for policy makers to design more effective programs and policies
  • publishing and promoting the results of the 2019 survey of over 200 native title Prescribed Bodies Corporate, the second undertaken by AIATSIS
  • facilitating the production of three more dictionaries in our rich and diverse series

Supporting indigenous led research: indigenous research exchange grants program

The Indigenous Research Exchange Advisory Board met in November 2020 to provide strategic advice on the second funding round of the Indigenous Research Exchange Grants Program. A gap and priority analysis of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research led to the determination of priority areas resulting in five research themes being supported in the second round:

  • Valuing Indigenous knowledge and methods
  • Cultural resurgence and resilience
  • Indigenous governance and prosperity
  • Rethinking engagement with governments
  • Opportunities provided by technological change

The Indigenous Research Exchange has extended the length of its program until 2022 to continue its primary activities.

The Indigenous Research Grants Program has continued to receive unprecedented levels of interest, indicating an abundance of Indigenous-led research projects seeking support. The first round has progressed, with grant recipients taking significant steps forward in the projects, including successful ethics submissions and preliminary project-based activities.

The second round opened on 7 September 2020 and closed on 30 October 2020. There were 92 applications, which was a significant increase from the first round. Following assessment from external independent assessors, 14 projects were recommended for funding, bringing the total amount of supported projects to 28. The program allocated $2.5 million to support the diverse group of projects in round 2. Of these, 9 of the 14 projects are administered by Aboriginal organisations. The second round of projects will build on the evidence base to support Indigenous-led decision-making and creation of better public policy. A third targeted round is being planned for 2021–22 to allocate the remaining grant funds.

AIATSIS Indigenous Research Exchange Grants Program by numbers

27 projects funded to date

50+ languages represented

15 Indigenous organisations

$4.9 million funding support provided

6 multi-jurisdiction

Taragara Aboriginal Corporation

University of Technology Sydney (on behalf of Gugu Badhun Nation, Gunditjmara People, Ngarrindjeri Nation, Nyungar Nation, Wiradjuri Nation)

Indigital Pty ltd

Ebony ATSI Institute Ltd

University of New South Wales

Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre

5 -NT

Yolngu Nations Assembly Aboriginal Corporation

Charles Darwin University

Karungkarni Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation

Tangentyere Council Aboriginal Corporation

University of Canberra (on behalf of Yalu Marŋgithinyaraw Aboriginal Corporation, Menzies School of Health, Swinburne University of Technology, Australian Securities and Investments Commission)

5 -WA

Noongar Booadjar Language Cultural Aboriginal Corporation

Warmun Art Centre

Undalup Association

Juluwarlu Group Aboriginal Corporation

ABC Foundation Ltd

4 -NSW

Mogo Local Aboriginal Land Council

Centre for Inclusive Design

UTS Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research (on behalf of AbSec – NSW Child, Family and Community Peak Aboriginal Corporation)

Illawarra Local Aboriginal Council

1 -ACT

The Australian National University

2 -SA

Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia Ltd.

The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute

2 -QLD

Central Queensland Indigenous Development

Institute for Collaborative Race Research

2 -VIC

Victoria University, Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Unit

University of Melbourne

Knowledge Exchange Platform

The Knowledge Exchange Platform (KEP) aims to provide access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander data and information at a local level and provide an evidence base for policymakers to design more effective programs and policies. The build of the platform is being carried out through the AIATSIS Digital Services team and with input from partners and stakeholders of the Indigenous Research Exchange.

Several workshops have been held to provide input and feedback on the KEP concept and key themes that will impact the final product – including data management practices and Indigenous data sovereignty and governance principles. The KEP is being launched in February 2022.

The Indigenous Research Exchange facilitated a community stakeholder workshop on 16 March 2021. Participants included grant recipients from the Research Grants Program and other interested community-controlled organisations. Key issues were discussed including research accessibility, nation-based data and connectivity between Indigenous communities, researchers and government. Feedback is being implemented into the design of the KEP.

The Indigenous Research Exchange has continued to collaborate and network with research institutes, data-driven organisations and other relevant stakeholders to facilitate and promote information sharing and joint initiatives. These include:

  • Maiam nayri Wingara Indigenous Data Sovereignty Collective
  • the Indigenous Data Network
  • the National Indigenous Australians Agency
  • the Australian Research Data Commons
  • the Australian Data Archive.

Survey of prescribed bodies corporate

In 2021, in collaboration with the National Native Title Council and CSIRO, AIATSIS released the results of the 2019 survey of PBCs. This survey aimed to appropriately generate a national-scale dataset to support understanding, inform policy and program development and provide a baseline to identify future change. The survey focused on the activities PBCs are undertaking, the relationships they have built, the challenges and needs they have, their achievements and successes, and their future aspirations. This was the first national survey to engage such a wide range and number of PBCs across Australia, providing a baseline dataset for more regular future surveys. The results of the survey were presented at various fora toward the end of the year. Summaries of results of the survey were published as 'policy snapshots' to communicate the results of the survey to a wide audience.

Fostering Australian languages: AIATSIS dictionaries project

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are more than just systems for communication. They are vehicles of cultural expression and storehouses of ecological knowledge. Similarly, dictionaries are more than just books of words. Dictionaries are reference tools that are crucial for cultural resurgence, including language reawakening and language maintenance. They are repositories of cultural information, such as stories, hand signs, and environmental knowledge. Many dictionaries record the source of words and sentences, creating a link between the present and the past. A dictionary and a grammar are crucial foundation texts for the future development of teaching and learning resources.

The project will result in more than 20 new dictionaries. In 2020-21, AIATSIS facilitated the production of a further three dictionaries:

  • Dhanggati Grammar and Dictionary with Dhanggati Stories. Dhanggati is the language from the Macleay Valley in NSW. The dictionary includes example sentences, English to Dhanggati and topic finder lists, a comprehensive reference grammar and stories in Dhanggati language originally collected in the 1960s.
  • Ngarrindjeri Dictionary Third (Complete) Edition. Ngarrindjeri is a language from southeast of Adelaide. This third edition of the dictionary includes 13 heartfelt and moving forewords from Ngarrindjeri people involved in language work over the past decades. Entries include detailed information on sources, including many Ngarrindjeri Elders.
  • Eastern and Central Arrernte to English Dictionary. Eastern and Central Arrernte is a language to the east of Alice Springs. It is one of 13 Indigenous languages still being learned by children. Each entry includes examples of language in use, including paragraph-length descriptions of uses of traditional plants.

This takes the total number of dictionaries completed under the project to 16. A further 5 dictionaries are still in progress and 2 proposals are in development. The original goal of producing 20 dictionaries is on track to be exceeded.

Refer to Feature 17 for insight into one our donor partners, Lovell-Chen for their reasons for supporting the AIATSIS dictionaries project.