Few studies with Indigenous communities around the world evaluate the consent process for research. Lack of informed consent impacts research findings and is unethical. The Picture Talk Project was invited by Australian Aboriginal leaders of the Fitzroy Valley to explore the community engagement and consent process for research with Aboriginal communities.
Aboriginal leaders and academic researchers formed a leadership team. Community Navigators were employed for language and cultural guidance. Publications detailing the consent process with Indigenous populations were reviewed. Australian Aboriginal leaders (n=20) were interviewed and community members (n=26) participated in focus groups (n=6) yarning about community engagement and the consent process for research. Themes were defined through qualitative analysis. Aboriginal artists were commissioned to paint themes.
Key themes from interviews:
1. Research – finding knowledge
Research needs to benefit the community
2. Being respectful of Aboriginal people, working on country and being flexible with time
3. Working together with good communication
4. Reciprocity – two-way learning
5. Reaching consent
The community needs to be consulted and approval sought at each stage.
Key themes from focus groups:
1. Reputation and trust is essential
2. The Community Navigator is key
3. Pictures give the words meaning – milli milli versus pictures
4. Achieving consensus in circles
5. Signing for consent
6. Research is needed in the Valley
The painting captured the artists’ impression of the current state of research. Research findings were used to advocate for change in research guidelines.
When conducting research with remote Aboriginal communities of Australia, researchers should:
• form respectful partnerships
• address community priorities
• use interpreters and pictures when seeking consent
• have flexible timelines
• share authorship for publications
• report results back to the community