Laying the foundations of community engagement in Aboriginal health research: establishing a community reference group and terms of reference in a novel research field

Penny O’Brien, Ryan Prehn, Naz Rind, Ivan Lin, Peter F.M. Choong, Dawn Bessarab, Juli Coffin, Toni Mason, Michelle M. Dowsey, Samantha Bunzli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: Community engagement or community involvement in Aboriginal health research is a process that involves partnering, collaborating and involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people or potential research participants to empower them to have a say in how research with Aboriginal communities is conducted. In the context of Aboriginal health, this is particularly important so that researchers can respond to the priorities of the community under study and conduct research in a way that is respectful of Aboriginal cultural values and beliefs. One approach to incorporating the principals of community engagement and to ensure cultural oversight and guidance to projects is to engage a community reference group. The aim of this study was to describe the process of establishing an Aboriginal community reference group and terms of reference. The community reference group was established to guide the research activities of a newly formed research collaboration aiming to to develop osteoarthritis care that meets the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. Methods: Adopting a Participatory Action Research approach, this two-phase study was conducted in Victoria, Australia. In phase one, semi-structured research yarns (a cultural form of conversation used as a data gathering tool) were conducted collaboratively by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal co-investigators to explore Aboriginal health stakeholder perspectives on establishing a community reference group and terms of reference. In phase two, recommendations in phase one were identified to invite members to participate in the community reference group and to ratify the terms of reference through a focus group. Data were analyzed using a framework analysis approach. Results: Thirteen people (eight female, four male) participated in phase one. Participants represented diverse professional backgrounds including physiotherapy, nursing, general practice, health services management, hospital liaison, cultural safety education, health research and the arts. Three themes were identified in phase one; Recruitment and Representation (trust and relationships, in-house call-outs, broad-spectrum expertise and Aboriginal majority); Purpose (community engagement, research steering, knowledge dissemination and advocacy) and; Function and Logistics (frequency and format of meetings, size of group, roles and responsibilities, authority, communication and dissemination). In phase two, six Aboriginal people were invited to become members of the community reference group who recommended changes which were incorporated into the seven domains of the terms of reference. Conclusion: The findings of this study are captured in a 10-step framework which describes practical strategies for establishing a community reference group and terms of reference in Aboriginal health research.
Original languageEnglish
Article number40
JournalResearch Involvement and Engagement
Volume8
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

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