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Review of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research ethics guidelines submission

Personal Details
First Name: 
Sandy (Professor)
Last Name: 
General comments

I am currently a Scholar-in-Residence at UNDA's Nulungu Research Institute in Broome where we held a workshop and later called for written material in response to Keeping Research on Track Document #2. A combined response was later provided to the Fremantle UNDA Office for review and submission via the PVC Research.  My commentary picks up some of the issues raised, while also drawing on my own experience as a professor of anthropology at UWA with long-term research experience and a publishing record in the Kimberley, including on matters relating to health, medicine and ethics.  Indeed, these issues are always present in some form.  My response seems to best fit the General Comments Section, in part because I have some concern with the scope, depth and breadth of the Review.  In particular, that the document seems to assume that non-Aboriginal people will continue to be the researchers, and Indigenous people will continue to be the researched. Such an assumption overlooks the medical and health research work increasingly being undertaken by Indigenous women and men. It also overlooks the need to address matters such as: 1. Protocols required when Indigenous researchers intend to work with local/known communities, and 2. When Indigenous researchers plan to work with Indigenous people outside their own/known community. In circumstances such as these, Indigenous researchers are required to respond to questions on an ethics form ill-suited to their needs.  Unlike most non-Indigenous researchers, Aboriginal and TSI women and men are also regularly required to complete and obtain approval for two formal sets of ethics applications, e.g. NHMRC, and a local organisation, as well as other requirements when the community within which they plan to work is familiar. Perhaps it would be beneficial to ensure that the ethics application is re-designed to accommodate parallel circumstances.  It would also be cogent to review what is meant by 'Low' and 'High' Risk research to ensure that these labels are contextually applied to particular projects, and that one defined as 'Low' risk at its commencement, might in fact result in 'High' risk outcomes, and vice-versa. It is noted that there is room to signal change but a more informed statement about the how, why and when of change could be better integrated. Advice from other submissions is likely to also highlight this point. Categories allowing for a delayed response could possibly assist if the High/Low binary could be better contextualised, including with regard to where, by whom and with the research is being undertaken.  With regard to both general commentary and the Review's expansion of its potential depth into a more grounded ethics policy, I also have concerns about the extent to which Reciprocity (p.14 of Draft, also elsewhere) can be realistically measured.  In many cases, reciprocity is immeasureable and might be culturally and socially in-kind, or non-material on behalf of research participants/collaborators and a researcher as a project progresses.  Perhaps an additional category could allow for ongoing benefits, including those that will result in sustainable social and economic outcomes, both of which contribute to health and healing.  Again, there are concerns with how the categories are listed without attention, at least, to those circumstances and prospective outcomes that a project/researcher might bring, and that participants might seek.  The constant return to the NHMRC statement requirements (p.15 of Draft) also tends to undermine or fail to recognise some of the more complex requirements and local needs that research in the 21st century is well-placed to acknowledge and further, especially in the future field of Indigenous health of which the NHMRC expertise is vital.  Two final comments 1. There is no evidence that the AIATSIS Guide to ethical conduct has been drawn on by the Committee yet it addresses many of the issues overlooked in the Review, and 2. It is unfortunate that the name of the artist and the title of his/her artwork that appears on the front of the Review fails to be acknowledged.  This oversight might be a technical error, but it can also be described as an ethical one.  Thank you for providing the opportunity to briefly respond to the Review of the Draft #2.  I hope the outcome will move some way to enshrining enhanced conduct for Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers, participants and others interested in the significant and intertwined fields of health, medicine and well-being.

Page reviewed: 2 August, 2018