We will reflect on lessons learnt by the Talking About the Smokes research project. It is a model for how to do a large, national epidemiological research project in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS) sector.
Talking About the Smokes is helping us understand what helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers to quit smoking. It was led by a partnership of researchers and staff and representatives of NACCHO and all its Affiliates. We worked with 34 ACCHSs and the Torres Shire Council to collect baseline data and, a year later, follow-up surveys. We asked questions about smoking, quitting and tobacco control policies and activities, to help understand what helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers to quit smoking and stay quit.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people and community organisations (ACCHSs, NACCHO and its Affiliates) have been involved in all aspects of the project from the original idea to developing the research design and methods, collecting the data, analysing, interpreting and disseminating the results. This level of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and ACCHS sector prolonged engagement in all elements of such a large national epidemiological project is exceptional.
Our partnerships built on our shared vision to provide evidence to better reduce the harm caused by smoking. Project partnerships have built on existing relationships and those developed during the course of the project. These relationships have been supported by negotiated formal research agreements, and funding to NACCHO and ACCHSs to employ project staff and research assistants.
The involvement of the ACCHS sector facilitated local trust by participants—and so better quality data—and will facilitate knowledge exchange and local translation of results. The project fed back detailed local results to each ACCHS (or the Torres Shire Council), usually within three months of data collection. Staff from participating ACCHSs were supported to attend a forum discussing preliminary national results. Results have already been used to improve local activities at ACCHSs and by the national Tackling Indigenous Smoking program.