The Interplay Wellbeing Framework: Building the evidence on pathways to wellbeing with community indicators from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote Australia

Tuesday, 21 March 2017
Associate Prof Sheree Cairney
Tammy Abbott
Byron Wilson
Rosalie Schultz
Dr Eva Mcrae-Williams
Jessica Yamaguchi

Associate Professor Sheree Cairney, Dr Eva Mcrae-Williams
‘Bringing together stories and numbers’ with the Interplay Wellbeing Framework for remote Aboriginal communities

Wellbeing has been difficult to understand, measure and strengthen in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Part of the challenge has been genuinely engaging community members and incorporating their values and priorities into policy. Aboriginal knowledge is passed down through stories, and governments mainly speak the language of numbers, so through the Interplay Project a coordinated approach was developed merging Aboriginal knowledge and western science — by bringing together stories and numbers.

Over four years, our team of researchers, community members and government representatives collaborated to design and implement a holistic Interplay Wellbeing Framework. This framework integrates Aboriginal priorities of culture, empowerment and community, with the government priorities of education, employment and health into a holistic wellbeing model.

The Interplay Project’s quantitative data shows the strength of connections between different domains. This qualitative data provides deeper insight into how these statistical interrelationships play out in peoples’ lives. Findings are represented together in a tailored interactive data visualisation tool that includes 30+ short video documentaries. Importantly this provides a holistic and inclusive approach, to understand how different components work together as part of an interconnected system. 

Tammy Abbott
The ‘Shared Space’ approach to working collaboratively between Aboriginal communities, government and scientists on the Interplay Project - through working with local Aboriginal community researchers

Aboriginal people are the knowledge holders of their country and the history that belongs to it. Therefore it becomes essential they are included and provided ownership of research that is undertaken in their space. Participatory action research (PAR) is about working with local people rather than on them. It is an important methodology in this space to ensure that local people are recognised and can contribute to research on their own country. The processes of PAR allows for the thinking and the doing to take place as a collective rather than an outsider breezing in and learning about a particular topic and breezing out with all the knowledge.

The Interplay project is a national research project on wellbeing in remote Aboriginal communities. We collected data from four different remote communities across Australia to find out the important aspects of wellbeing through individual lives and the communities they live or belong in.

To build PAR into the Interplay project, we developed and applied a ‘shared space’ approach to working collaboratively between the three core partner groups of: remote Aboriginal communities, government and science. This meant that each component of the research including developing aims, design, implementation, interpretation, knowledge translation and communication tools - was conducted in the conceptual ‘shared space’ between these three partner groups. 

This allowed Aboriginal communities to be involved in influencing the design of the research to best meet their local needs and ultimately to allow for meaningful use of the findings in their communities, whether it be to inform their planning, raise health and wellbeing awareness or to influence and develop their community driven agendas. Importantly it ensured the research methods and dissemination of findings were meaningful to both policy makers and those Aboriginal communities involved in the research. 

As part of the shared space approach, 42 local Aboriginal community researchers were recruited, trained and employed on the project to contribute to the design, data collection and interpretation. The key to the success of this approach lay in the depth of knowledge sharing between the groups – afforded through substantial time and discussion effort. This paper will describe this process in detail.
Consulting with communities and listening to what works for them ensures that a full understanding is reached. This can be very powerful for those at the grass root level. Overall, it is about working together and involving the team to collectively produce and take ownership of the findings. Others take notice and embrace this process, which is an empowering moment for all, especially community. 

Byron Wilson
The importance of culture, empowerment and Aboriginal literacy to Improve education and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote Australia

A gap exists in formal measures of education outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in remote Australia, when compared with other Australians. There are existing assumptions that formal education outcomes are linked to the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples. Furthermore, poor educational outcomes are coupled with poor attendance, low relevance of school curricular for actual employment options in remote communities and weak relationships between schools, teachers and parents and communities. 

This research is designed to challenge the assumptions that education is best measured using formal education indicators and that a more accurate and useful evaluation of remote education would be provided through the measurement of indicators informed by Aboriginal community based researchers. Community-based indicators were collected from a cohort of 842 Aboriginal people aged 15–34 years who were recruited from four remote communities. Participants completed individual surveys about wellbeing that were designed and administered by Aboriginal community researchers. 

This research shows that strengthening culture and empowerment are key requirements to improve education outcomes.

Rosalie Schultz
Developing meaningful measures of Indigenous health and wellbeing: The Interplay Wellbeing Framework

Standard measures of health, education and employment suggest that Indigenous Australians are disadvantaged compared with other Australians. 

Contact with Indigenous communities in remote areas reveals vibrant, assertive and determined people. Many report high levels of wellbeing, few limitations due to ill health, and few barriers to accessing health care services. 

This conundrum draws attention to Indigenous communities being seen and measured through non-Indigenous eyes. According to non-Indigenous measures, Indigenous people and communities are perceived as being in need of remediation, closing the gap. Standard measures of health and wellbeing may not adequately reflect Indigenous people’s perceptions of health and wellbeing. Indigenous people have consistently emphasised the importance of the health of their communities and country for their health and wellbeing. 

The Interplay Project was established to develop measures of the interrelationships between health, wellbeing, and social determinants: education and employment, culture, community and empowerment. 

Policy recommendations of the Interplay Project include enhancing education and employment opportunities to meet the needs of Indigenous people. This could improve the health of people, communities and country. Indigenous people’s perspectives provide opportunities for more effective and patient-centred health services for Indigenous people. Service integration could enhance Indigenous health, education and employment. 

Ms Jessica Yamaguchi
The Interplay Wellbeing Framework: Building the evidence on pathways to wellbeing with community indicators from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote Australia

Policy Implications of the Interplay Project to support wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote Australia

A key research question of the Interplay Project is ‘How can policy and practice be better informed by this knowledge to maximise desired health and wellbeing outcomes?’ With the aim of increasing research impact and policy uptake, the Interplay Project has produced a variety of outputs including the interactive Interplay Wellbeing Framework. The Interplay Wellbeing Framework represents findings using a data visualistaion tool providing statistics together with 30+ short video documentaries. 

Findings suggest policies can be better informed by understanding Indigenous worldviews of wellbeing and meaningful measures of wellbeing that capture Indigenous values. Findings highlight that wellbeing is holistic and therefore solutions need to be considered at the ‘whole of system’ level, whilst avoiding the top-town ‘one size fits all’ policy approach. Importantly policies need flexibility to be tailored to local circumstances. 

Furthermore, policies can be better informed to meet objectives, such as those under the Commonwealth Governments Closing the Gap, if there is a focus on strengthening and embedding culture, empowerment and sense of community into the design and delivery of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policies and programs.