Engaging with remote Indigenous communities in Australia about their higher education aspirations: What have we learned?

About the presentation


Culturally respectful community engagement is considered to be an important professional competency in health promotion work with Indigenous populations. With increased global attention on action on the social determinants of health, there is potential to learn about the different ways community engagement is approached in sectors that sit outside of the health sphere. A current example relates to the implementation of the Whole of Community Engagement (WCE) initiative at Charles Darwin University (CDU). This initiative aims to build a deeper understanding of the aspirations and opportunities of Indigenous learners to promote Indigenous participation and achievement in higher education. Key learnings from implementing the WCE initiative in six remote Indigenous communities across the Northern Territory, Australia will be the focus of this paper.


This is a multi-site participatory action research project involving a combination of interviews, observational techniques, photography, critical reflections and case studies. It involves a combination of Indigenous and non-Indigenous outreach staff working alongside Indigenous community-based staff and organisations. Ethics approval was obtained through the CDU Human Research Ethics Committee. Emerging priority actions are community-identified and community-driven.


Drawing on data collected during the first twelve months of operation, we have demonstrated that different community engagement approaches have been required for each of the six remote Indigenous communities. The differences in approaches have related to local cultural protocols, family’s relationships, use of local languages, political sensitivities, practical considerations, navigating power relationships and cultural authorities (working with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders and stakeholders), and recognising the benefits and limitations of past engagement practices.


Engaging with remote Indigenous communities in Australia in a culturally respectful way requires the flexibility to respond to diversity within and across communities. We have found that acknowledging context and complexity has been a critical factor in adopting community engagement approaches that are meaningful and built on reciprocity and trust.

Presentation from the World Congress on Public Health held in Melbourne in April 2017; and the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education held in Toronto in July 2017.

29 November 2017

Team Member Reflection: Terry Moore

Team Member Reflection: Terry Moore

​I joined the team in April 2016, just in time for the team meeting at Tennant Creek, where it was realised that the team needed someone to analyse the data that was being generated across the different communities.

Charles Darwin UniversityAustralian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & EducationBatchelor InstituteNAILSMANTG

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