Wellbeing has been difficult to understand, measure and strengthen for Aboriginal people in remote Australia. 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 we developed a coordinated approach merging Aboriginal knowledge with Western science–by bringing together stories and numbers. Over four years, we applied a ‘shared space’ model whereby Aboriginal communities, government and scientists collaborated to design and implement a holistic Interplay Wellbeing Framework for remote communities in Australia. The framework integrates Aboriginal priorities of culture, empowerment and community with government priorities including education, employment and health, in a holistic model of wellbeing.
Aboriginal community researchers from four different remote communities across the Northern Territory and Western Australia collaborated to design a survey and focus group model that they applied to collect 842 individual surveys (quantitative data) and conduct 20 focus groups (qualitative data) in their communities. Analyses consistently showed that building from identity and cultural strengths underlie healthy wellbeing, and people and communities need empowering opportunities within their own culture.
The framework provides empirical evidence of the strongest pathways, highlighting focal areas for investment to improve wellbeing. Importantly, the partnership approach ensures that it merges community and government priorities. For example, the data showed objective evidence that learning about culture in school and learning literacy in one’s own language can improve English literacy and numeracy and therefore education outcomes. This suggests that policy focus in these areas would address both community and government priorities.
The Interplay Wellbeing Framework and its assessment tools are validated culturally and scientifically and a data visualisation tool has been developed to represent data against the framework in a way that is accessible to communities and government. The next steps are to apply this model in more culturally diverse communities (including in urban settings), and as a ‘whole of system’ evaluative and predictive tool.