A new era for Aboriginal health research in SA

In the SAHMRI building on North Terrace, on Kaurna land, on September 2, three senior university representatives and the Chairman of SAHMRI signed up to a commitment to do Aboriginal health research the “right way”.

In the SAHMRI building on North Terrace, on Kaurna land, on September 2, three senior university representatives and the Chairman of SAHMRI signed up to a commitment to do Aboriginal health research the “right way”. The South Australian Aboriginal Health Research Accord represents a significant leap forward in the conduct of research in South Australia. Driven by the demands and expectations of the local Aboriginal communities as to how they want research conducted, the public commitment by researchers to ensure Aboriginal health research follows the principles of the Accord has been welcomed by two of SA’s peak Aboriginal groups – the Council of Aboriginal Elders and the Aboriginal Health Council. In her speech at the signing, Janice Rigney of the Council of Aboriginal Elders, said, “Over the years many of us have been involved in and experienced the outcomes of research, which at times has not benefited us or our communities. This document will allow the community to understand what they can expect when researchers want to work with us. But it will also allow us to make sure that the research is undertaken in an appropriate manner, and gives us a voice if we feel the principles are not being followed.” In my role as Deputy Director of SAHMRI and Program Leader of Aboriginal Research, I take my responsibility to provide research leadership at SAHMRI and in my field very seriously. Supporting others to do their best, to improve on their past performance and to have the capacity to embrace challenges in the future is a key focus for my team. We believe the Accord will be a compelling roadmap for all researchers, not only in South Australia, but nationally. The Accord gives the power back to the Aboriginal community to set the agenda in research in their communities. It is now up to the universities and researchers to think carefully about the principles and how they can best implement them in future research. We will support them as much as possible to be able to do that. Our vision for the future is that Aboriginal health research will no longer be conducted on priorities of researchers, but on the priority issues of the community. The biggest change in thinking for many researchers will likely be the way they manage data and share the intellectual property created through research. The Accord states that data ownership should sit with the community and that intellectual property often vests with the community. There are significant shifts in the processes required as a result of the Accord. Researchers will need to plan well in advance many of the engagements they need to have with the Aboriginal community to discuss aspects of research they have not previously included. The Accord will mean before any research is done negotiations will need to be undertaken on: • How Aboriginal people and their organisations will be involved throughout the research process • What the research partnership arrangements will be and how they will operate • How the knowledge and wisdom of the community will be used and respected • What communication processes will be used and how they will be adapted to the cultural needs of the community • What tangible benefits will be delivered to the community in the short and long term • How intellectual property will be managed and shared with the community • How biological and other information is to be sensitively protected once collected • How the research results will influence policy and/or practice throughout the process of the research Most researchers in South Australia will embrace the Accord principles, but may need support to implement them effectively. Each of the signatories will need to assist in the process of equipping their researchers with the skills to do justice to the principles of the Accord. Professor Alex Brown, Deputy Director, Aboriginal Research Program Leader: South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) sahmri.com  

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