Best Practice in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Research

If you are intending to conduct a research project with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or communities, the design of your project must respect and take into account the values, and cultural protocols of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

When the views and cultural, values, beliefs and practices of researchers and participants differ there is potential for miscommunication, misunderstanding and breach of cultural protocols leading to disrespect, mistrust, inaccurate interpretation of data and negative research outcomes. For this reason it is strongly recommended that researchers include on their research team an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person to assist in the research process and ensure positive outcomes for all stakeholders.

You could include an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person as a:

  • Principal, Co or Associate Investigator;
  • Co or Associate Supervisor (if an honours or post graduate student);
  • Cultural broker;
  • Cultural mentor; or seek advice from a
  • Reference Group.

You should decide what guidance and support you need for your project in the planning stage of the study. When planning the study you must ensure that the roles and responsibilities of the members of the research team are defined, for example, ensure that:

  • clearly defined responsibilities and level of involvement of all parties is documented and signed off by all parties;
  • the Principal Investigator, Cultural Broker, Mentor or Reference group are consulted about relevant world views, cultural values and beliefs and protocols in the development of the research proposal and ethics application;
  • there is appropriate payment and/or workload recognition and acknowledgement in reports, presentations and publications of those involved in the project;
  • regular meetings are scheduled and kept, notes are documented by the researcher and clarified by the cultural broker/mentor/reference group.

Note: If the Cultural Broker or Mentor is playing a leadership role in the project then that person should be named as a Co-Investigator on the project. If you are assisted by people who, for example, recruit participants, negotiate and draft research agreements, analyse data, write reports for you, collect data on your behalf from participants in the study, i.e. conduct interviews, focus groups etc, and act as a language interpreters then these people should be employed on the project and paid as research assistants or project officers rather than listed as cultural brokers or mentors.