For too long, research was done on First Nations peoples, not with them. Universities can change this

In Community-Led Research: Walking New Pathways Together, researchers from a range of disciplines consider how researchers and communities can work together well. How can research be reimagined using the knowledge of First Nations peoples and other communities to ensure it remains relevant, sustainable, socially just and inclusive?

The book is available now, in paperback and open access, free to download and read online as part of our Sydney Open Library.

Book cover: Community-Led Research, Walking New Pathways Together
The book’s editors recently wrote for The Conversation about their experiences with community-led projects. Read an extract of their reflections below, and their complete article here.


By Victoria Rawlings, James L. Flexner and Lynette Riley

For too long, “research” was an activity done to or on Indigenous people; it was something imposed from the outside. This was especially the case for people who came from communities that were oppressed or marginalised in the colonialism of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Indigenous people throughout the world feel they have been the subjects of endless measurement, recording, and invasion of privacy with little or no apparent benefit except for the scholars who make careers out of it. Māori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith calls this approach “research adventures in Indigenous lands” in her book Decolonising Methodologies.

Our collaboratively edited volume, Community-Led Research: Walking New Pathways Together, represents a substantial step towards redressing power imbalances that continue to characterise much academic research.

The book asks how to move research done to and on people towards for and with people. It features both community and academic voices and reflects on research that foregrounds non-academic priorities.

Since the global Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and beyond, academic researchers have recognised the political and moral responsibilities we have to those impacted by our studies.

To meet their responsibilities to different communities, researchers have incorporated methodologies such as:

  • participatory action research, in which members of the community affected by the research actively participate in different parts of the project

  • public patient involvement, in which non-academic people work as employees or volunteers in organisations’ high-level work

  • community-based participatory research, which aims to equitably involve community members and others in research projects.

Each of these are slightly different, and are used variously in different disciplines, but their increasing presence affirms that involving communities in research is crucial for good research outcomes.

However, we have found approaches putting community at the centre of research beyond disciplinary siloes have not yet been documented in a comprehensive way. Our book builds on previous research by bringing together various community-led approaches, including from education and social work, health and medicine, and archaeology.

Stories, not blueprints

The chapters in our book reflect on community-led approaches to research in different spaces. They consider questions of identification of a community, appropriate protocols, and how to build positive collaborations.

The authors do not attempt to provide a template that can be applied in all research situations. Nor should they. As several chapters point out, there is a risk to “community-led” becoming another buzzword that ends up being appropriated for marketing or institutional propaganda.

We found community-led research must be built on a foundation of real relationships, mutual respect, and true reciprocity. We have all come into community-led research from different disciplinary perspectives and research experiences, as well as personal experiences.


Keep reading in The Conversation

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