NACCHO resources library: Conducting research with Aboriginal people and communities: Research Brief 2013


Past critiques of the social sciences focused primarily on the identity of the researcher and his or her relationship with the ‘subject’ Indigenous person, but over time more sophisticated and practical approaches have emerged related to participant-focused methodologies and design.

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More specifically, past research involving Indigenous people has been criticised as inherently biased and disempowering (Henry et al 2004; Davey and Day 2008; Kidman 2007; Sherwood 2010).

Recent responses that seek to improve all forms of research practice involving Indigenous people in Australia and internationally, include funding for Indigenous-specific research institutes, dedicated funding for Indigenous academics and research networks, and ethical guidelines.

Some of the most interesting and substantial Indigenous-led or informed research that has emerged in the past 20 years has often related to health, although such innovative approaches remain under-developed in the criminological domain.

Today, Indigenous researchers argue the focus should be on working with Indigenous people who hold the knowledge and expertise of their circumstances past and present, and on positive change (Smith 1999; Sherwood 2010).

This brief provides an overview of innovative and exemplary research approaches and practice undertaken with and by Indigenous communities that is relevant to crime and justice research.

A number of critical questions guided this brief, including:

  1. What have been the research topics and methods undertaken in Australia in recent years on justice issues and Indigenous people?
  2. What constitutes good practice in criminological research and evaluation?
  3. What are some of the key considerations when conducting research with Indigenous people and communities?
  4. What should constitute good practice and what are examples?
  5. What are the main practical challenges associated with such practice?

The brief is divided into four sections, covering research practice and context, ethical frameworks and review processes, practical constraints and challenges, and promising practice.

Where appropriate, examples are drawn from other countries, most notably New Zealand and Canada.

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