NACCHO Aboriginal Health Social media: Twitter yarn- Community engagement in an Indigenous health context


The tradition of yarning in sharing Indigenous knowledge is also being used in research and clinical contexts – but the notion of Twitter-based yarning is something new.


Our thanks to Melissa Sweet, Siv Parker and Dr Tim Senior


Siv Parker, an award-winning Aboriginal writer with longstanding experience in the health sector, has been at the forefront of developing tweet-yarns, as was in evidence last week while she was guest tweeting for @WePublicHealth.


“There’s no better way to explain complex health matters than a yarn,” she said.

Below are some of Siv’s tips about effective community engagement and how to run a community meeting, followed by a Twitter yarn which shows how an engaging story can unfold within the limitations of 140 characters.

Siv, who is also a keen blogger, says she treats social media very seriously, after many years of  jobs (including working on the NT Intervention) where she was unable to have a public voice (and you will be able to read more about this when her first book is published later this year).


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Community engagement

‘Community engagement’ in an Indigenous health context….. will be the difference between achieving ‘outcomes’, or not.

  • For some CE is a sausage on a barbie & muffled announcements thru a megaphone. For others it’s a minuted monthly committee mtg.
  • I was asked is there a handbook for every cmty re CE, cultural protocols etc. Tools exist, but it comes down to who are U & why are U here?
  • Can you explain who are you? Why are you there? What do you want? If you can’t how will anyone trust you? Would you trust you, with health?
  • If you are going to a cmty: do your homework. Going to the trouble of flying/driving to a cmty? Research the place you are going to.
  • Listening to grievances takes skill. Tip: Don’t promise to ‘look into an issue’ if there’s no intention of following it up. Common mistake.
  • CE requires groundwork. Research your org’s dealings with the cmty & the cmty in general; and maintain an up-2-date cmty contacts directory.
  • My CE: When I mean ‘no’ I say ‘no’. If I mean ‘yes’ I say ‘yes.’ When I can’t change what happened the last time I say so from the get go.
  • It’s worth searching for submissions from cmtys/orgs to the various Intervention inquiries for suggestions on effective CE from cmty people.
  • Operators don’t really want to hear the ‘negativity’ from the cmty that goes with CE. But think their own lack of trust is legitimate. Hmm?
  • If you work in health & seek effective CE, I suggest you erase the expression ‘gatekeeper’ from your vocabulary/approach. ‘Gatekeepr’ is a gross distortion. It’s largely an insult and wholly inaccurate. It’s used to ‘explain’ failure to get CE.
  • CE is not about outsiders deciding who you want and who you don’t want to talk to. Setting up a meeting of people that you like is not CE.
  • Need to have ‘your’ mind on CE the whole time. If ‘you’ revert back to ‘controlling’ check ‘yourself’.
  • The essential role that advocacy groups, eg @NACCHOAustralia @congressmob play is they already know the cmtys. They’re invaluable resources.
  • #design Layouts for cmty clinics? Consider outdoor seating. If you have shelter for people outside, you are more likely to get them inside.
  • Indg people have not engineered their own disadvantage. When people claim to not have time for CE, they follow a long tradition.
  • Takes up our time needing to repeat ‘Indg people/cmtys are diverse’. That means CE is req’d & not just with a few.
  • When you are Indg there is an expectation that you must represent all Indg people, at all times. I don’t. It’s an unreasonable expectation.
  • Some people tell me of their disappointment in not being able to find an Indg person to talk to ‘when they need one’. That sums it up.
  • On advocacy, there’s a diff btwn CE & knowing the cmty perspective & offering solutions or reporting on a cmty as if it’s a foreign country.
  • Simply put, if you want the ‘Indg cmty perspective” you need to speak to more than 1 person, unless that 1 is engaging the rest of the cmty.

Tips for a successful community meeting (reproduced direct from tweets)

1. Notify the cmty you are coming. Western Sydney, Logan, or Borroloola – notify all the Indg orgs.

On 1. Don’t assume someone will do all the running around for you. It’s your meeting. And say why & who will be attending the mtg.

On 1. You may only go there one time in your life, but why be the dud one? Notify ahead as a courtesy & you may well get a better reception.

2. If you are not comfortable with a mic, for the love of frogs, don’t use one. But don’t call a big mtg either & expect people to lip read.

3. Visual aids. Use them where ever possible. And if you have a report in your hand, bring copies. Don’t refer to ‘mystery book’. It’s rude.

4. Introduce yourself & repeat why you are there. Do you want a decision ‘today’? Are you just providing info? Do you want to plan an event?

On 4. Introduce yourself – to people inside & outside – who you are, where you are from & what you do AND let them know how to contact you.

On 4. If it’s a health related matter, brief e/one who works in health before you arrive. Tap into all of the existing cmty health networks.

On 4. Closing the gap is about all areas of disadvantage. Eg health is related to housing, educn, employment, dogs, drains, ditches etcetc

5. How big is the mtg? Wrong: ‘We don’t need everybody to come.’ Right: ‘The mtg’s to talk about xyz. Who from the cmty should be there?’

6. Now we get to a big issue: catering. Do not cater 8 sandwiches for a mtg of 240 people & ask me to distribute them. You’re on your own.

On 6 in gen’l, catering depends on where you are, how far people travelled, was it suggested, your budget? Or will tea/coffee suffice?

7. Venue. Ask the cmty where they hold mtgs. Myth: Indg people want to be outside at every opportunity. Do not decide the air temp yourself.

8. You’ve been waiting to know about ‘sitting fees’. ? Be straight up; some do, some don’t, deal with it & be prepared to repeat yourself.

When I hear reports that no mtgs have been held (ever) because of a dispute over sitting fees…I say ‘you’re doing it wrong’.

9. Do your research before you arrive. If you are asked Qs you may have to to ‘take them on notice’. But if you say you will respond, do it.

10. Minutes are essential. Get attendees contact details, Don’t assume they have no net access. Don’t assume they have access to a printer.

11. If you say ‘the cmty leaders must be at the mtg’ & you are an ASO4 ask yourself: Are you a ‘leader’? Why are you using that language?

12. Be prepared for cmty phone calls after you leave AND to return for a 2nd mtg. Don’t expect an answer from 1 mtg. Be careful with pics.


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