Caring for Community: Investigating the contribution of Aboriginal organisations to community wellbeing
University of Wollongong and National Indigenous Research and Knowledges Network
Duration: November 2014 – December 2016
This research examined the vital role of Indigenous community-controlled services and organisations in the health and wellbeing of contemporary Indigenous Australians. The overall aim was to build an evidence base around the contribution of Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) to the social health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people. A key outcome of the project was to develop a model of how an effective, sustainable ACCHO can contribute to transforming lives and regions. The study involved an exploratory mixed methods case study of one Illawarra organisation, the Illawarra Koori Men’s Support Group (IKMSG). It aimed: firstly, to describe the operation of this community-controlled organisation and ascertain how it is sustained over time; and secondly, to examine the impact of the group’s activities on the health and wellbeing of the local Aboriginal community.
What we did
This collaborative research project built on work funded in 2014 by a UOW Global Challenges strategic grant. We commenced by hosting a workshop which identified the need for an ongoing program of collaborative and community-based participatory research between University researchers and Aboriginal community organisations around the theme of ‘Caring for Community’. Drawing on existing data sources we compiled baseline data and produced a snapshot report overviewing the demographics, socioeconomic status and health profile of the local Aboriginal population; we identified strengths of the community, notably the numerous ACCHOs.
In 2015, with further funding from the University of Wollongong’s Global Challenge Program and the National Indigenous Research and Knowledges Network (NIRAKN) we undertook a pilot study of the IKMSG using mixed methods to document and assess the impact of the group’s programs, networks and partnerships. Qualitative data was collected from 21 face to face or phone interviews with local stakeholders and three focus groups with IKMSG participants. Quantitative data was collected through an online survey of 21 regional stakeholders.
We established an Advisory Panel and developed a Memorandum of Understanding between the UOW researchers and the IKMSG which served as a model for research agreements between university researchers and ACCHOs.
The current project developed as a Community Based Participatory Action research initiative with three main foci:
- Research centred on understanding the impact of Aboriginal organisations within regional context.
- Community engagement activities have supported capacity building through our UOW team members working with the IKMSG Board and members on governance and strategy, and the development of a marketing strategy.
- Communication and messaging activities have assisted the organisation to more effectively communicate with its client and the community and increased the impact of the research team through IT and social media.
Over the past three years the Caring for Community collaboration has engaged with a broad range of Indigenous groups and individuals in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions with positive outcomes emerging. The results of the pilot study will be presented at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies National Conference in March 2017.
A Social Network Analysis has mapped the relationships between the key organisations which support Aboriginal health and wellbeing within the Illawarra. Qualitative data provide evidence for the importance of IKMSG programs for Aboriginal men and their families and its value within the local Aboriginal community.