AHRA Builds Indigenous Capability in Health Research

An AHRA national network is having a major impact on the capacity and capability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to undertake health research.

The National Indigenous Research(er) Capacity Building Network (IRNet) is supporting and growing the next generation of Indigenous researchers working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

Leaders in Indigenous health and medical research from across Australia came together for IRNet’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research Showcase in October 2022. Nearly 500 attendees and further 500 people online watched insightful presentations, engaged in lively discussions, and enjoyed a range of networking opportunities under the theme Our Voice – Our Research – Our Future.

Organising committee member and Associate Director for Aboriginal Programs at the Menzies School of Health Research, Heather D’Antoine, described the attendance as “fantastic.”

“We were kind of expecting to see a really good turnout, but it brought forward people I know, people I don’t know, and you can feel the energy in the room.”

University of Melbourne Professor and invited speaker Professor Sandra Eades AO said that the size and success of the conference inspired optimism for the future of Indigenous health research.

“There are a lot of people who have trained over the last ten-to-15 years and are now really leaders,” she said. “And so, I think probably the next ten-to-15 years will look a lot different – there’s critical mass, there’s the ability to come together at scale and have those conversations with each other.”

The three-day event dedicated its opening day to showcasing and mentoring Indigenous researchers who are early in their careers.

PhD Candidate at the University of Sydney, Simone Sheriff, said it was nice to be in a room with people who have shared experiences. “It just felt so comfortable to be around people, all of whom know what you’re going through when trying to do research for our communities,” she said.

“The next ten-to-15 years will look a lot different – there’s critical mass,
there’s the ability to come together at scale…”

A highlight of the conference was the launch of Our Collaborations in Health Research (OCHRe), a culturally secure and inclusive network of Indigenous researchers funded by a $10 million grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

One of OCHRe’s leaders, Professor of Indigenous Health Research at the University of Queensland, Gail Garvey, told the IRNet Showcase that the ground-breaking program would be a First Nations-led network that “prioritises consensus, inclusion, and our values and ways of working.”

“Having a grant where over 90 of us mob came together to put in a single application is quite significant in itself,” she said. “It tells us the story that we are ready to come together, we are ready to collaborate to make a difference in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and research.”

Australian National University Professor, Alex Brown, who led the establishment of the IRNet, was also one of the architects of the OCHRe grant application to the NHMRC.

“Support from the IRNet steering committee and the IRNet members across Australia was instrumental in the success of the grant application,” he said. “We were able to gain the support of senior Indigenous researchers for a shared leadership model for OCHRe – one that is collaborative, culturally appropriate and includes shared decision-making mechanisms.”

IRNet is leading one of the four pillars of OCHRe, focused on the development of research capability. The pillar aims to deliver a program that celebrates, nurtures and enhances the capabilities of Indigenous peoples at the interface of science and Indigenous knowledge systems.

A priority is developing a critical mass of Indigenous researchers at all levels and enhancing their visibility, and by doing so assist them to become leaders within research, knowledge translation and policy.

Through IRNET, AHRA’s Research Translation Centres will continue to have the opportunity to be involved and contribute their research translation expertise. Both OCHRe and the IRNet Showcase are contributing towards achieving IRNet’s capacity and capability building goals. These include training and support to develop skills in knowledge translation and exchange, as well as practical experience in the implementation of research evidence in the real-world context of health services and communities.

University of Sydney and Sydney Health Partners representative, Associate Professor Michelle Dickson, said it’s all about building and nurturing relationships. “It’s about looking for opportunities for people,” she said, “but probably more than that it’s about creating opportunities for people to step through those doors.”

AHRA builds Indigenous capability in health research
AHRA Members and Project Partners:
University of Sydney
Sydney Health Partners
Health Translation SA
Maridulu Budyari Gumal SPHERE
Members of AHRA

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