Tag Archives: indigenous communities

Lowitja Institute

Reaching out to our Indigenous family across the world

The purpose of the Lowitja Institute Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health CRC is to value the health and wellbeing of Australia’s First Peoples. As members of a global Indigenous family, we extend that purpose to our brothers and sisters across the world.

With that in mind, two 2016 activities were key achievements: a collaboration with The Lancet – published in April by the prestigious medical journal under the title ‘Indigenous and Tribal peoples’ health (The Lancet–Lowitja Institute Global Collaboration): a population study’ – and our first international Indigenous health and wellbeing conference.

The collaboration established a clear picture of Indigenous and
Tribal health relative to benchmark populations. It included data on 28 Indigenous populations from 23 countries covering approximately half the world’s 300 million Indigenous people.

What was critical – and unique to this study – was the participation of 65 contributors who were able to identify, at country level, the best-quality data available. Contributors came from all the major global regions: Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Pacific and Arctic Circle.

These regions of the world were also represented in our November conference when, underpinned by a strong cultural and scientific framework, more than 700 delegates met to celebrate, share and strengthen Indigenous knowledges.

Over three days, the program included keynote addresses by national and international experts, sessions arranged around the themes of identity, knowledge and strength, and a conference statement asserting that Indigenous peoples across the world have the right to self-determination, which, in turn underpins the right to health.

Through this work, the Lowitja Institute CRC supports networks of knowledge and collaboration, engages with the 2030 Sustainability Goals to which Australia is a signatory, and connects us to the
wider international community.

collaborative relationships

The art of collaborative relationships

When we speak of innovation we increasingly couple it with collaboration. Collaboration is regularly promoted as a positive attribute and a productive means to an end.

In my own research, I promote collaboration as a mechanism for including more women in scientific teams in male-dominated fields, and as a mechanism to sustain research when individuals are juggling the competing demands of life and family.

In this context, at one end of the spectrum we might be speaking of the collaboration that characterises teamwork within an organisation, while at the other end of the spectrum we might be speaking of international scientific collaboration that draws geographically dispersed networks together.

My research over the past decade on women in the academy and women in science has heightened my interest in the art of collaboration and how it might encapsulate ‘the way we do things around here’ – our organisational culture.

I am particularly interested in the way in which men are sponsored and socialised into strategic relationships, particularly with business and industry – an opportunity not readily available to most women.

Yet we know little about the social processes that sit behind the scientific production of knowledge, and most of our recognition and reward systems focus on the outstanding individual.

The myth of individual creative genius is a myth that my colleagues who work with remote Indigenous communities – just like those in large international scientific research teams – know is culturally and historically specific.

Those who are privileged to work with Indigenous communities know that collaboration based on deep respect of different ‘ways of seeing,’ encoded in art, language and religion and formulated over extremely long periods of time, is central to sustaining collaborative relationships. Longevity of relationship is particularly highly valued, and the time taken to build respectful collaborative relationships and trust is a critical part of this sustained engagement.

They also know that while knowledgeable individuals are involved, the knowledge is collectively owned and accessible only through well-established protocols.

The art of collaboration is far more than a set of pragmatic, instrumental practices. With a degree of candour, I should state that I am not always a great collaborative partner. I put this down to my academic identity being formed in the discipline of anthropology where the ‘rite de passage’ was years of field research alone in a remote village.

This prepares the aspiring researcher for collaboration from a position of heightened ignorance but not necessarily with academic peers with a common knowledge base. I also evidence deficiencies in two attributes essential to collaboration: time and discomfort with failure.

Innovation demands the time to build teams, network, establish cross-sectoral collaborative relationships, generate and test ideas, fail, learn and start again, and to translate research findings and disseminate these to a range of audiences. It also requires the time for reflection and exercise of the imagination.

Collaboration at its best generates this time and, at its best, offers a safe space to fail.

Professor Sharon Bell

Honorary Professor College of Arts and Social Sciences, ANU

Board Member, Ninti One

Read next: Heather Catchpole: Collaboration at a higher scale

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