Community Data Project

Chief Investigators

Professor Marcia Langton (University of Melbourne)/ Dr Kristen Smith (University of Melbourne)/ Dr Vanessa Russ (University of Melbourne)/ Dr Odette Pearson (South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute)/ Dr Kalinda Griffiths (University of New South Wales)/ Dr Len Smith (University of Melbourne/Australian National University)

Key Project Partners

Empowered Communities
Binarri-Binyja Yarrawoo (BBY)  
Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service (ATSICHS)

Project Advisory Group

Co-chairs: Marcia Langton, Julie-Ann Guivarra (NIAA).
Members: Raymond Brunker (ATSICHS), Jon Willis (ATSICHS), Liza Balmer (NPYWC), Christy Hawker (BBY), Fadwa Al-Yaman (AIHW), Juanita Petit (ABS), Kristen Smith (UoM), Alice Church (NIAA), Anthony Housego (NIAA).


National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA)

Overview of the research

Greater access to data and information is critical for Indigenous community organisations to augment their own data sources. Maximising the use of public sector data from both federal and state governments is a key factor for regional and multi-jurisdictional comparative analysis.  Importantly, accessing these data at fine levels of granularity is critical to creating Indigenous community-led defined catchment area profiles that do not currently existing within the Australian Statistical Geographical Standards (ASGS) used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Generating data that measures holistic health and wellbeing outcomes important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, to whom Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations deliver services, necessitates data from disparate data sources including the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census, Medicare, Social Services, Business Longitudinal, and other government held data resources.  Constructing the digital infrastructure to deliver such an approach requires the ongoing development of skills and capabilities within many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations. The value of this project includes a bottom-up regional perspective within Indigenous communities on data, which brings regional alignment to the national Closing the Gap (CtG) reforms.

The evidence that will be built by this project will fill major gaps in our knowledge of Indigenous data ecosystems in Australia. The findings will build the evidence base to inform policy development to support Aboriginal community-controlled organisations across Australia to enhance their data ecosystems. This will include their ability to access and use community-level disaggregated data from many sources and share their data with others. As such, this project will support the achievement of CtG Priority Reform Four. More broadly, this project will strengthen local data governance and data sovereignty efforts, enabling Indigenous people to develop, access and make use of their own data in ways that are both locally relevant and useful for their communities.

Aims & research questions

The primary objective of the project is to support the delivery of the CtG Priority Reform Four by strengthening Indigenous data ecosystems in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations to increase their technical, institutional, social, and economic data capacity.

By strengthening Indigenous data ecosystems in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations the project aims to support these organisations to:

  • Participate as equal partners with government and support the achievement of Priority Reform One agreed by the Joint Council on CtG.
  • Drive their own development of local solutions and support the achievement of CtG Priority Reform Two.
  • Measure the effectiveness of mainstream organisations operating in their region and support the achievement of CtG Priority Reform Three.
  • Facilitate better storytelling by supporting Indigenous people to tell their stories through their data.
  1. What do different Indigenous data ecosystems look like (functions and features) and how have they been developed?
  2. Have Indigenous data ecosystems advanced to reflect the holistic service delivery in Indigenous communities?
  3. What are the primary barriers and enablers to advancing Indigenous data ecosystems?
  4. What are the gaps between what community-controlled organisations do with data, and what they aspire to?
  5. How do we build capacity within Indigenous organisations to enhance Indigenous data ecosystems to close the data gap?

Significance of the research

This study will develop better understandings of local data needs, and enablers and barriers to data use, in different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The research will employ theoretical and methodological approaches from anthropology, data science and Indigenous studies. The research will investigate the potential benefits of greater data access and use in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to improve local policy-making, resourcing and social well-being.

Other outcomes of the study will include:

  • Comprehensive data mapping of community-led services across the three sites;
  • Relevant training, capacity building and support forAboriginal andTorres Strait Islander organisations and participants;
  • Improved understandings of the data challenges facing communities, government and researchers to inform legislative and systems-wide solutions;
  • A greater understanding of the potential for a data sharing framework that is co-designed for local Aboriginal use.

Research Methods

Using mixed-methods, this project will collect and employ multi-jurisdictional qualitative and quantitative research methods across three case studies sites, working collaboratively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations at each site. The primary research methods proposed will be employed:

Indigenous data ecosystems mapping:

  • Ethnographic & social science research methods
  • Archival research

Participatory Action Research:

  • Data access and agreement making
  • Software development research
  • Geospatial mapping
  • Data linkage and descriptive epidemiology
  • Data capacity building training
    The participatory action research methods will be tailored according to need within each participating organisation.

The participatory action research methods will be tailored according to need within each participating organisation.

Indigenous Data Network Background

In 2017, the University of Melbourne, the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Australian National University, co-convened the Indigenous Data Sovereignty Symposium (IDSS 2017). A key outcome of the IDSS was the development of the Indigenous Data Network (IDN). The IDN aims to support community-led organisations to collect, manage and use data assets relevant to their needs and aspirations.

The IDN includes Indigenous and non- Indigenous experts in data science, health, education, employment, justice, environmental management, and cultural heritage preservation, all focused on Indigenous data rights. Led by a Steering Committee, the IDN is a national network of regional and remote Aboriginal community-led organisations, university research partners, Indigenous businesses and Commonwealth, state and territory agencies and departments.

More information on the IDN:


Professor Marcia Langton
Dr Kristen Smith
Dr Vanessa Russ
Dr Len Smith
Dr Kalinda Griffiths, UNSW
Dr Odette Pearson, SAHMRI