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Reflections on Researching and Developing Indigenous Livelihoods on Country - Discussion Paper

Smyth, Dermot and Whitehead, Peter J. (2012). Reflections on Researching and Developing Indigenous Livelihoods on Country - Discussion Paper<br />. Darwin, NT: Charles Darwin University.

Document type: Research Report
Citation counts: Google Scholar Search Google Scholar

Author Smyth, Dermot
Whitehead, Peter J.
Title of Report Reflections on Researching and Developing Indigenous Livelihoods on Country - Discussion Paper
Publication Date 2012
ISBN 978-1-921576-73-7   (check CDU catalogue open catalogue search in new window)
Publisher Charles Darwin University
Place of Publication Darwin, NT
Total Pages 39
Field of Research 300800 Environmental Sciences
Abstract Executive Summary

This brief review of Indigenous livelihoods research and development was commissioned by the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA), as part of the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK) research program. The review, based largely on the experience and reflections of the authors, aims to enhance the design and delivery of future livelihoods research and development projects. Specifically, the review examines:

• the challenges of livelihoods research;
• the roles of participatory and action research methods;
• the obligations of researchers deploying such methods;
• the approaches to ensuring that all participants are clear about all
  obligations and expectations; and
• the differences between livelihoods research and livelihoods development
  and the ways both can be delivered by good design and clarity about

The review focuses on Indigenous livelihoods related to Indigenous people’s relationship with country, including enterprises that involve land and sea management, cultural resource management, quarantine and biosecurity services, eco-cultural tourism, and arts and crafts, in addition to other economic activities. For the purposes of this review, livelihoods on country do not include payments for delivery of essential community services, social security payments or royalties or other payments by mining companies or others.

It is our opinion that research funders, research management organisations, researchers and Indigenous partners need to better - understand the distinction between projects that  are primarily focused on researching the factors contributing to or inhibiting sustainable Indigenous livelihoods and projects that are primarily focused on supporting the development of  such livelihoods. Misunderstandings about this distinction leads to disappointments and  frustrations: research funders can be disappointed when a project designed to deliver research outcomes with potentially wide applications primarily focuses on localised livelihood development  outcomes; Indigenous community partners can be frustrated that a project they had hoped would yield  tangible, local livelihoods outcomes prioritises the search for underlying issues with wider application. If, as is common, a project seeks to achieve both research and development outcomes through the use of an action-research methodology, then measures need to be put in place to ensure the expertise and resources are available to achieve this dual purpose.

Suggestions for improving the design and management of Indigenous livelihoods research include the  following points.

• Establishing appropriate supervision and review processes, such as the appointment of a mentor
  and/or an advisory group, to provide guidance at regular intervals during the project, rather than
  a single review event at the conclusion of the project.
• Allowing sufficient time during the project design stage to collaboratively
  develop appropriate methodologies and common understanding about the
  project goals, outcomes and outputs.
• Addressing the current limitations in livelihood research capability in northern
  Australia, for example through:
  - reforming the current publication-focused system of measuring research
    success to acknowledge and formally recognise researchers’
    participation in Indigenous livelihoods research and development; and
 -  encouraging trans-disciplinary collaboration approaches to address
    Indigenous-identified research and development priorities.
• Addressing constraints imposed by particular research traditions of particular
  research disciplines and by ideological positions by key organisations along the
  research delivery chain; both constraints can limit our understanding of factors
  contributing to sustainable Indigenous livelihoods and to exploring viable
  livelihood options.
• Addressing the current limited opportunities for Indigenous people to explore,
  test and develop innovative livelihood options, which can result in Indigenous
  partners agreeing to participate in research projects (in which they may have
  limited interest) as the only way to initiate livelihood development.
• Acknowledging that Indigenous livelihood research and development is
  occurring within the economic context of a welfare safety net, which reduces
  incentives for communities and individuals to pursue non-congenial livelihood
• Pursuing research agendas that will enable a better understanding of factors
  contributing to existing successful Indigenous livelihoods (“propitious niches”)
  such as ranger work and arts/crafts.

The issues and propositions raised in the review are consolidated into the following set of suggestions for managing livelihoods research.

Securing benefits for Indigenous participants and their communities.

1. Ensure, by careful and rigorous pre-approval assessment, that only projects with
    strong community support are selected, noting that support is likely to be strongest
    when projects are initiated by or designed in collaboration with participating
2. Give preference to projects that are backed by government programs or other
    portunities for implementation of options once tested through the research, to
    increase confidence that good work will lead to real investments.
Securing delivery of funder goals.
3. Promote clear recognition of funder expectations during negotiations on
    participation and project design.
4. Reject projects that appear to offer community engagement for purposes
    connected only indirectly to funder goals.
5. Require explicit acknowledgment by all participants of their exposure to and
    understanding of the expectations of funders.

Managing expectations of all participants.
6. In all agreements, clearly describe all expected research outputs, including standards to be
    met by those outputs, as well as the nature of outputs other than formal research products.
7. Secure clear statements from partners and Indigenous participants about their expectations of
    specific research and products or outcomes they seek.
8. Negotiate the form of research products needed to meet all expectations, including papers
    publishable in relevant peer-reviewed literature where appropriate.
9. Require written agreement among program managers (including senior leadership of participating
    organisations), researchers and community on clearly specified measures of research performance,
    prior to finalisation of project design.

Reconciling divergent approaches to research.
10. Go beyond participatory or action research labels to specify methods clearly and show how
      outputs meeting expectations of funders and other participants and meeting required standards will
      be achieved.
11. Secure explicit agreement from Indigenous participants that they are prepared to participate in
      an action research project and understand what that entails for the role of the researcher and
      other participants and the nature of the research and other products.
12. Provide for staged agreement-making process as community engagement expands to ensure that all
      participants have genuine understanding of their roles.
13. For proposals requiring indirect or weak interactions with communities show why more direct
      engagement is not sought and how outputs will be relevant to and suitable for use by communities.
14. Ensure that all projects obtain necessary formal ethics approvals from an appropriate
      organisation, irrespective of how organisations supervising research view their entitlement to
      present the views of Indigenous participants.

Understanding context.
15. During project design review information on activities funded from other sources on which
      projects will depend, including assessment of implications for the type of research outputs
      realistically achievable in the context they create.

Supervision and review.
16. Implement a process for regular project review rather than a single end-of-project
17. Conduct reviews with experienced researchers who also understand funder goals.
18. Identify reviewers during project design for all community-based projects to
      maintain a dialogue with project researchers and undertake more formal reviews at
      appropriate intervals (between 6 and 12 months apart depending on the duration of
      the project).
19. Require the project reviewer to identify shifts in direction and either prompt
      correction or, where appropriate, ensure that funders and program managers
      understand the reasons for change of direction and the benefits of endorsing
20. Submit progress and all other reports to peer review at an appropriate level before
      formal project completion; if necessary paying reviewers from research budgets to
      ensure prompt response.
21. Ensure effective communication of the implications of all reviews to all parties 

Maintaining flexibility.
22. Contain project ambition/scope to recognise the probability of delays in design, agreement on,
      and execution of community-based projects.
23. Provide extended timeframes for development of projects sufficient to search for high quality
      and appropriately experienced researchers.
24. Provide for carry-over of funding beyond formal program end, subject to satisfactory interim
      products, or for truncating projects at new endpoints still capable of producing useful outputs.
25. Support decisive cancellation of projects when obstacles are regarded by the project reviewer
      as incapable of timely resolution.
26. Explore different models for execution of research, including direction of local activity by
      skilled non-researchers supervised by a competent researcher or panel of researchers.

Securing proper expertise.

27. Assess the capability of the relevant research management organisation and its
      access to established researchers with experience in community-based research.
28. Ensure that resources are available to secure active participation of Indigenous
      people with the knowledge and skills needed to optimise outcomes.
29. Where necessary, advertise project availability widely, offering researchers
      opportunity to shape project details by dialogue with participating communities and
30. If research management capability is clearly inadequate, seek other external
      supervisory arrangements.
31. If research capability is marginal, supplement local supervisory capacity with strong
      support and review arrangements, and use the opportunity to build local capability;
32. If significant doubt remains about research management capacity, refuse funding,
      irrespective of other merits of the proposal.
33. Specify arrangements for providing timely community access to technical expertise
      on issues raised during community exploration of livelihood options.
34. Encourage multidisciplinary projects that provide assessments under all
      dimensions of sustainability.
35. Consider the potential benefits of establishing a selection panel and/or technical
      advisory group to guide the development and management of the project.

The review notes that the challenges facing the development of sustainable Indigenous livelihoods on country are daunting, particularly in the context of the high failure rate of many small business initiatives even in areas without the problems of remoteness, small markets and social disadvantages found across northern Australia. There are, however, emerging opportunities (such as the Carbon Farming Initiative) which, together with the considerable momentum that has already developed through Working on Country ranger employment, Indigenous Protected Area management and carbon abatement fire management programs, provide a degree of optimism that Indigenous livelihoods on country can be developed and sustained. Our hope and intention is that the suggestions developed to manage the issues raised in this review can assist the research community and their Indigenous partners to contribute to understanding and building on this momentum.
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Created: Mon, 07 Mar 2016, 11:09:02 CST by Marion Farram