Researching in Indigenous Australian contexts: The role of cultural competency

Year: 2016

Author: Gower, Graeme

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Researching in Indigenous Australian contexts: The role of cultural competencyThe landscape of Indigenous research in Australia is changing in response to poor research practices by non-Indigenous researchers in the past. While some of the issues and concerns regarding past practices have been addressed through the development and on-going revision of ethical guidelines (e.g., NHMRC, 2003, NHMRC, 2007, AIATSIS, 2012), a number of ethical issues may still arise, despite careful planning and the best intentions of researchers. The NHMRC has also acknowledged that despite available ethical research guidelines, inappropriate practices may still occur as a consequence of intentional or unintentional actions by researchers (NHMRC, 2007). In order to minimise inappropriate research practices and to also achieve a greater understanding of the research guidelines and their application throughout the entire research process, this paper strongly advocates for the inclusion of cultural competency training for all researchers who engage in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research. The term, ‘cultural competency’ has received much attention in health, nursing, psychology and education literature. In more recent times, the importance of cultural competency in research is also beginning to emerge in the literature with the identified need for researchers to have a greater understanding of their study participants, particularly those from specific populations or diverse backgrounds. The literature reveals numerous terms that have been used to define cultural competence and some of these include: awareness, responsiveness, security, safety and sensitivity. More important however, is the application of this understanding across the entire research process including: research design, conduct, interpretation of results and participation in the study (Dudgeon et al., 2009, Harvard Catalyst, 2009, Universities Australia, 2011). Cultural competence in Indigenous research has been identified in the literature as a critical component in assisting researchers to become more’ culturally responsive’ and ‘culturally sensitive’ in all aspects of research (Dudgeon et al., 2009, Universities Australia, 2011). Also of critical importance is the establishment of effective communication and interaction between researchers and study participants. In order to achieve this, researchers must build strong relationships with participants that is built on trust, respect and empathy (Gower, 2014). The paper will provide a review of the literature relating to cultural competency in Indigenous research; will report on the findings regarding the application of cultural competency in a case study involving Aboriginal participants and, will outline the importance of cultural competency training to increase best practice when researching in Indigenous contexts.