TRaCK: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge

Science and knowledge that governments, communities, industries for sustainable use of Australia's tropical rivers and estuaries

Indigenous engagement in the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge program: A review of policies, strategies and research activities

TitleIndigenous engagement in the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge program: A review of policies, strategies and research activities
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsJackson, S, Douglas, M, Golson, K, Morrison, J
Date Published06/2013
KeywordsIndigenous engagement principles

The original TRaCK funding proposal acknowledged that Indigenous knowledge is vital to the management of northern Australia and that Indigenous people had rarely been effectively engaged in water resource management research (see also Jackson and O’Leary 2006). Furthermore that research investment had not been at a sufficient scale to fully address the multi-faceted challenges facing the remote north, including rapid Indigenous population growth and limited regional research capacity. The proposal envisaged that the suite of research projects would contribute to a broader national policy framework seeking to develop effective enterprise, governance and employment benefits for remotely based Indigenous
communities. The involvement of NAILSMA (North Australia Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance) as a TRaCK partner was seen by funding bodies and participating research organisations as an asset for the program.

In response to the need to improve on past practice and address the historical legacy of neglect of Indigenous interests in research (Jackson and O’Leary 2006), TRaCK researchers set out to gain a much better understanding of Indigenous values and discussed ways to collaborate with Indigenous communities to ensure their research needs were addressed and that their knowledge contributed to TRaCK research projects. To that end, the TRaCK leadership developed and endorsed an Indigenous Engagement Strategy (IES; see Appendix A). The Strategy was developed at a workshop involving Indigenous participants in 2006. All projects were to report against the Strategy’s objectives in their initial proposals and in subsequent milestone reports to funders. Implementation of the Strategy was given a high priority at all levels of TRaCK governance and constant attention was given to the strategy objectives by the TRaCK leadership throughout its first phase of operation.

In 2010, recognising that TRaCK had achieved a relatively high standard of Indigenous engagement (see Coutts 2011), the authors included a review of that activity in the National Water Commission-funded TRaCK Synthesis Year Project, a one year project designed to draw together results from multiple projects and promote their widespread adoption. TRaCK’s Project Management Committee saw value in a systematic understanding of Indigenous engagement in a large, multi-site, multi-disciplinary integrated program; one that promoted insights and lessons to other researchers and government R&D agencies undertaking or contemplating similar research initiatives. By this time many of the research partners had been successful in attracting funding under the Federal Government’s NERP program and the need to adapt the lessons from TRaCK to the new program with some new members provided further impetus for this review.

This review examines the model of Indigenous engagement applied during TRaCK’s first phase (2006-11) and:

  • identifies key success factors, constraints and areas for improvement;

  • analyses TRaCK’s funding arrangements, protocols (e.g. employment and training), relationships with Indigenous organisations and communities, and research experience; and

  • seeks the views of Indigenous participants in TRaCK research projects.