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Using knowledge to care for country: Indigenous-led evaluations of research to adaptively co-manage Kakadu National Park, Australia


Sustainability science research conducted with Indigenous collaborators must be Indigenous-led and achieve impacts that are grounded in local values and priorities, both for ethical reasons and to achieve more robust outcomes. However, there has been limited focus on determining how best to evaluate the way research is used, shared and created to adaptively solve complex sustainable issues facing Indigenous lands. In this paper, we outline a collaborative and adaptive approach for conducting Indigenous-led evaluations of sustainability research and show how this approach was applied to evaluate cross-cultural knowledge co-production practice and impact in Australia’s jointly managed and World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park. As part of an Indigenous-led research project, indicators were co-developed by Indigenous and non-Indigenous research team members to monitor the health of the knowledge-sharing and co-production practices that underpinned the design, management and success of the project’s research activities. The evaluations focused on determining whether research activities were providing negotiated benefits for local Indigenous people; helping to restore and protect agreed values in priority areas; and supporting Indigenous-led collaborative knowledge sharing and research practices. In Kakadu, we show how the Indigenous-led design of the research evaluation empowered the usability and benefits of knowledge which was negotiated, shared and co-created. The approach shows how sustainability science can be evaluated by Indigenous leaders to test if and how research practice and impact is responding to their priorities for their traditional estates.

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The authors would like to acknowledge Bininj and Mungguy Traditional Owners of Kakadu National Park, our Bininj/Mungguy co-researchers, Kakadu National Park, Microsoft, CSIRO, the University of Western Australia and Charles Darwin University for supporting this research. The project received funding from the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub and support from CSIRO’s Responsible Innovation Future Science Program (RI FSP). This research received human ethics clearance from CSIRO (050/18) and Charles Darwin University (H18055).

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Correspondence to Cathy J. Robinson.

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Handled by Kirsten Maclean, CSIRO, Australia.

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Robinson, C.J., Macdonald, J.M., Douglas, M. et al. Using knowledge to care for country: Indigenous-led evaluations of research to adaptively co-manage Kakadu National Park, Australia. Sustain Sci 17, 377–390 (2022).

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  • Indigenous-led research
  • Evaluation
  • Knowledge co-production