Engaging Aboriginal People in Research: Taking a Decolonizing Gaze

  • Emma WebsterEmail author
  • Craig Johnson
  • Monica Johnson
  • Bernie Kemp
  • Valerie Smith
  • Billie Townsend
Living reference work entry


A criticism of some research involving Aboriginal people is that it is not equitable in its design or application, further disadvantaging the poor and marginalized. In Australia, much research has been done on Aboriginal people, but Aboriginal people themselves have benefited little, adding to distrust between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people over many years. Is it possible to take “scientific” research practices and transform them into research that can be done with a community rather than on a community? How can research findings benefit Aboriginal people? This chapter shares our study of Aboriginal people’s stories of diabetes care. It is a collaborative story told by four Aboriginal Health Workers and two non-Aboriginal researchers which focuses on methodology rather than findings. We share aspects of our research which we propose values Aboriginal people and invites participation and reciprocity at design, data collection, and research translation stages. We discuss tensions which occur between the “scientific way” and the “culturally appropriate way” and describe how we resolved this. Imposing research designs and practices on Aboriginal people and communities without consideration that each community is unique has the potential to cause further harm and disempowerment. Valuing an Aboriginal way of knowing influenced all aspects of our study design and procedures. We would like to inspire others to challenge methodological norms to develop research methods with their community to allow the unique voice of their community to be heard and for this to facilitate pragmatic change leading to meaningful improvements in health.


Aboriginal people Australia Participatory research Community engagement Social participation Qualitative research 


  1. Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council Ethics Committee. AH&MRC guidelines for research into aboriginal health: key principles. 2013. Accessed 6 Nov 2016.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2011 Census QuickStats. Dubbo LGA (C). 2011. Retrieved from Accessed 6 Nov 2016.
  3. Australian Indigenous Health Infonet. Feltman (2010). 2015. Accessed 6 Nov 2016.
  4. Birks M, Mills J. Grounded theory: a practical guide. 2nd ed. London: Sage; 2015.Google Scholar
  5. Bowen S. The relationship between engaged scholarship, knowledge translation and participatory research. In: Higginbottom G, Liamputtong P, editors. Participatory qualitative research methodologies in health. London: Sage; 2015. p. 183–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Crotty M. The foundations of social research: meaning and perspective in the research process. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin Australia; 1998.Google Scholar
  7. Gray MA, Oprescu FI. Role of non-indigenous researchers in indigenous health research in Australia: a review of the literature. Aust Health Rev. 2015;40(4):459–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Higginbottom G, Liamputtong P, editors. Participatory qualitative research methodologies in health. London: Sage; 2015.Google Scholar
  9. Jackson CL, Greenhalgh T. Co-creation: a new approach to optimizing research impact? Med J Aust. 2015;203(7):283–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kendall E, Sunderland N, Barnett L, Nalder G, Matthews C. Beyond the rhetoric of participatory research in indigenous communities: advances in Australia over the last decade. Qual Health Res. 2011;21(12):1719–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. NSW Department of Health. NSW integrated care strategy. 2015. Accessed 6 Nov 2016.
  12. NSW Government Office of Environment & Heritage. Living on Aboriginal reserves and stations: research resources for Aboriginal heritage. 2012. Accessed 6 Nov 2016.
  13. Prior D. Decolonizing research: a shift toward reconciliation. Nurs Inq. 2007;14(2):162–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Reaney M, Eichorst B, Gorman P. From acorns to oak trees: the development and theoretical underpinnings of diabetes conversation map education tools. Diabetes Spectr. 2012;25(2):111–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Reaney M, Gil Zorzo E, Golay A, Hermanns N, Cleall S, Petzinger U, Koivisto V. Impact of conversation map education tools versus regular care on diabetes-related knowledge of people with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, controlled study. Diabetes Spectr. 2013;26(4):236–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Sherwood J. Colonization- It’s bad for your health: the context of Aboriginal health. Contemp Nurse. 2013;46(1):28–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Tsey K, Lawson K, Kinchin I, Bainbridge R, McCalman J, Watkin F, et al. Evaluating research impact: the development of a research for impact tool. Front Public Health. 2016;4:Article 160. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2016.00160.
  18. Webster E, Johnson C, Kemp B, Smith V, Johnson M, Townsend B. Theory that explains an Aboriginal perspective of learning to understand and manage diabetes. Aust N Z J Public Health. 2017;41:27–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Wong P, Liamputtong P, Rawson H. Grounded theory in health research. In: Liamputtong P, editor. Research methods in health: foundations for evidence-based practice. 3rd ed. Melbourne: Oxford University Press; 2017. p. 138–56.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Crown Copyright 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emma Webster
    • 1
    Email author
  • Craig Johnson
    • 2
  • Monica Johnson
    • 3
  • Bernie Kemp
    • 4
  • Valerie Smith
    • 5
  • Billie Townsend
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Rural Health, Sydney Medical SchoolUniversity of SydneyDubboAustralia
  2. 2.Dubbo Diabetes UnitDubboAustralia
  3. 3.Marathon HealthDubboAustralia
  4. 4.Dubbo Regional Aboriginal Health ServiceDubboAustralia
  5. 5.Formerly with Dubbo Regional Aboriginal Health ServiceDubboAustralia

Personalised recommendations