15/08/2017 - 14:46

Indigenous research success shows value of a good yarn

15/08/2017 - 14:46

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The impact of a WA initiative that empowers young Aboriginal women was recently showcased at the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education.

Indigenous research success shows value of a good yarn
Helen Ockerby (left) Rose Whitau and travelled to Canada to present their unique longitudinal study to indigenous representatives from around the globe. Photo: Attila Csaszar

A local program focused on improving educational opportunities for Aboriginal girls is ticking all the boxes in a not-for-profit sector increasingly driven by the need to measure outcomes and demonstrate impact.

As reported in Business News (July 17), a Centre for Social Impact report released last month revealed many of the state’s charities are struggling to measure their service outcomes due to a lack of funds and research infrastructure.

One program to have avoided these pitfalls is Shooting Stars, an initiative run by Glass Jar Australia – the charity arm of Netball WA – which uses netball and other skills-based activities as a vehicle to encourage greater education engagement and school attendance of young Aboriginal girls in Western Australia’s regional areas.

Established in 2015 as part of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, in conjunction with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the program engages almost 300 students across six delivery sites, including Halls Creek, Derby and Mullewa.

School attendance across all sites increased by 12 per cent in 2016, with more than 60 per cent of Shooting Stars’ participants now attending school at a rate of 80 per cent or higher.

The results and methodology behind the program were presented at the triennial World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE) in Toronto, Canada, late last month.

The conference attracts education practitioners and scholars from around the world to share the latest strategies and lead the discussion on culturally grounded indigenous education.

Shooting Stars community development coordinators Rose Whitau and Helen Ockerby were invited to address the WIPCE and share their ‘Yarning Circles’ model, a popular indigenous research method they have adopted and designed as a longitudinal study specifically for the program.

Ms Whitau said the Yarning Circles method had enabled tangible evaluation of the progress and efficiency of the program, but had also provided a platform for the young girls and the wider community to drive the direction of Shooting Stars by creating activities that directly influenced outcomes, such as increased school attendance.

“If you think about any group of people who don’t have a voice, young indigenous girls are pretty high up there,” Ms Whitau told Business News.

“What I love about Yarning Circles is that we’re giving these girls a voice, and the chance to suggest things so they can make change for themselves.

“We’re using sport for development and there’s a section in the United Nations that does this, but one of the big critiques of it is that there’s no evaluation conducted and no in-house research.”

Ms Whitau and Ms Ockerby undertake the data analysis themselves with a coding process they developed for different responses that arise from each Yarning Circles session.

Sessions are held separately with participants, as well as with a local steering committee, comprised of Shooting Stars and school administration staff, and members from the local Aboriginal community.

“We moved away from gathering information on a piece of paper,” Ms Ockerby said.

“Our Yarning Circles are an opportunity for these girls to talk to us in a safe place with familiar faces; we’re not a researcher coming in, they know us already.

“We ‘yarn’ (talk) about positive attitudes, the barriers (to attending school), solutions, and how we can link that in with what we are delivering.

“We transcribe the conversations, code and put it through the (data analysis) process, then we’re able to look at what can directly help drive social change.”

Ms Whitau said 22 sessions had been conducted across the six sites in the past year, with some solutions already having been implemented.

“It can be something very simple, like providing food or games, but they can see they’ve said something and we’ve acted on it,” she said.

Yearly school attendance, year 12 completion rates, and the number of participants who become employed or move on to university are just some of the figures collected as outcome indicators for the program.

Ms Ockerby said case studies and the Yarning Circles method had helped track the progress of girls as they developed more positive attitudes towards their education.

“When we get to the next stage where they’re facilitating it, attitudes and behaviours will have another shift because they are actually taking ownership of the program,” she said.

Shooting Stars community partner Horizon Power supported the trip to the WIPCE.

Managing director Frank Tudor said the partnership was an important step forwards for Horizon Power’s work within the communities it operated.

“We go beyond the delivery of energy, to develop partnerships with community organisations that have activities, interests and values compatible with our own,” he said.

“We are proud to work with groups like Netball WA to improve outcomes, in this case for students in five communities and towns.”

Horizon Power has also recently celebrated the graduation of four Aboriginal men who have completed a national apprenticeship the organisation created to improve outcomes in regional communities.

The State Training Board registered the National Certificate III Remote Community Utilities Worker (RCUW) trade qualification as an apprenticeship last year and Mr Tudor said the qualification was designed to improve the reliability of power supplies in remote Aboriginal communities and reduce the duration of outages, as well as create jobs and boost the community’s economic development.

Before the apprenticeship program began it would often take more than 24 hours for crews based in Kununurra to get to regional towns if there was a power outage.

“We are working closely with the State Government in the hope we will be able to improve the maintenance and quality of electrical infrastructure in more Aboriginal communities in regional WA and to work with communities to provide further training and employment opportunities where possible,” Mr Tudor said.

“The four RCUWs were the pioneers of this work and were actually involved in the development of the training to ensure it met the unique needs of remote communities and, critically, safety requirements given the requirement to work alone.

“We would love to build on this important work and provide more job opportunities for Aboriginal people in communities to ensure a sustainable future."

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