At the Primary Health Care Research Conference in Brisbane this week, the Lowitja Institute released a new publication, Researching Indigenous Health: A Practical Guide for Researchers, written by Alison Laycock with support from Diane Walker, Nea Harrison and Jenny Brands.

The guide is a companion volume to Supporting Indigenous Researchers: A Practical Guide for Supervisors (2009). Both publications were developed in response to requests to the Institute for resources and advice about how to conduct health research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Below, two of the authors answer some questions from Croakey about the guide.


Explaining the guide

Alison Laycock and Diane Walker write:

WHY – why is a guide like this needed?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is a pressing social justice issue for Australia. The Australian Government and leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health organisations have committed to an agenda to achieve health equity over a generation. Fundamental to the process of addressing health and social disadvantage is the production and exchange of knowledge – the work of research.

Therefore, we need to encourage new generations of researchers – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and non-Indigenous researchers – to have the confidence and ability to engage in this challenging and rewarding work.

We need education and training efforts to be supported by practical resources that set out the issues, values and priorities that impact on research in Indigenous settings, and the steps for planning robust, culturally acceptable research that can really make a difference to people’s health and wellbeing.
WHAT – are some of the key messages that you want to get across in the guide?

Involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the research process from beginning to end is important for the uptake of research. Good research in Indigenous settings comes from bringing together different cultural perspectives and different ways of thinking, learning, knowing and doing.

At the forefront of good research, which is going to make a difference and help ‘close the gap’, should be proper community consultation, using methods that benefit not only the researcher but also the research participants.

WHAT – difference might the guide make?

This guide has stories and advice from researchers and other research stakeholders, such as community representatives and health services. Stories explain, for example, how researchers may approach a community to seek support for research, how to engage participants and the users of research in the design and management of research projects, and how to ensure that research finding reach the right audiences and can be used for change after the project. It is a hands-on guide that includes step-by-step processes, tips and checklists. It uses plain words and many voices to explain what research principles, values and processes look like in reality and practice.

WHO – would you like to see using the guide?

  • Emerging and experienced researchers looking for ways to improve their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research practice.
  • Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers
  • Teaching and research institutions.

WHO – are the authors of the guide?

Alison Laycock is an experienced writer of public health and training resources, specialising in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. Alison has been supported in writing this publication by Diane Walker, Nea Harrison and Jenny Brands who were all employed by the CRC for Aboriginal Health, have been involved in the work of the Lowitja Institute and understand the key principles of the Institute. By combining their experience – which includes developing processes for improved research practice, implementing research capacity building activities as well as implementing education and training programs – ‘we have taken the time needed to collaborate, to listen and learn, to build working partnerships that bring together different perspectives and types of expertise, to privilege Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices in the publication and to thoroughly review and adjust the content. As a result we have a guide that represents the generosity of many people, and is real and practical.’

The writing of the guide has been true to its messages about the benefits of relationship building and collaboration. Together with its companion volume Supporting Indigenous Researchers: A Practical Guide for Supervisors (2009), it has been written over several years, involving an enormous number of contributors and reviewers and a range of engagement processes.

Researching Indigenous Health: A Practical Guide for Researchers is in three parts:

Part A: ‘Indigenous health research in context’ – about factors that make health research in Indigenous settings different to non-Indigenous health research.

Part B: ‘Doing research that makes difference’ – focuses on relationships, knowledge exchange and capacity building.

Part C: ‘Designing and managing a successful research project’ – guides readers through processes needed to plan, conduct the research project so that research outcomes have a practical use and benefit.

A related web resource has been created with more case stories, resource links and information for researchers (

(The image below was updated on 21 July)