Research Division

Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Ethics

If you are thinking about conducting a research project with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or communities, the design of your project must respect and take into account the values, and cultural protocols of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As such there are additional considerations for research projects that:

  • Involve or will be conducted in or with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities;
  • Uses data related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that is not otherwise publically available;
  • Targets participants who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people/s;
  • The recruitment population is likely to include a significant number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, i.e. health population studies, certain school populations.

More information

Guidelines for Adhering to the Six Values for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Research

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Values and Ethics: Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research (2003) provides researchers with guidance in the conception, design, and conduct of research. This document outlines six key values that demonstrates that ethical research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities requires more than adherence to the legal requirements of guidelines. All research projects must incorporate these six values, and researchers should also be aware of any Western research norms or assumptions that may unintentionally lead to culturally insensitive research practices.

Ethical research is founded on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural value systems. Accordingly, unethical research behaviour can arise from the failure to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander value systems. Unethical research behaviour can also arise from the prioritising of the researchers’ own value system over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural value systems. Either practice reduces research validity and causes real life harm to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Guidance for the Six Values Table (PDF 68KB) provides a description of the key aspects of each of the six values, accompanied by a set of positive research practice examples linked to the achievement of each value within research. Box 1 in the PDF includes problematic research practice that have been shown to increase the likelihood that a research project will not meet ethical guidelines.

Research projects vary in purpose, design, data source/type and analytical processes. The positive research practices linked to the descriptions of the six values of the NHMRC in the PDF below therefore are not going to be applicable to all research projects. The intent in guidance provided in the PDF is not to set hard rules, but to provide examples of high quality practices and processes.

The six values are

  • Spirit and Integrity
  • Reciprocity
  • Respect
  • Equality
  • Responsibility
  • Survival and Protection

The figure below shows how these values combine to form a holistic approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander related research. Discussions during the development of the NHMRC guidelines “emphasised the relationship of these values over time and their importance to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander identity. Of particular importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants was the nature of Spirit and Integrity as outlined in the diagram, working overtime to bind together the other five values to each other.”

Diagram 1 from Values and Ethics: Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research (2003), pg 9.

Note: The terms Aboriginal, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Indigenous are used alternately. Aboriginal reflects that most Indigenous people in Tasmania are Tasmanian Aborigines. Indigenous and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander reflects the welcome presence of other Indigenous people at the University.