Challenges in Evaluating Aboriginal Healing Programs: Definitions, Diversity and Data

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Journal Article
Evaluation Journal of Australasia, 2017, 17 (2), pp. 4 - 10
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© 2017 Australasian Evaluation Society. Indigenous people around the world have long healing traditions. Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing projects are designed to empower individuals, families and communities; strengthen connections to culture; and reduce the damaging effects of colonisation and government policies such as the forcible removal of children (the Stolen Generations). Evidence on the conditions necessary for healing to occur, and how healing works for different people and in different contexts, is limited. Evaluations that will help identify good practice and document the full range of outcomes are sorely needed. This paper is based largely on experiences and learnings from Stolen Generations projects around Australia funded by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation, and the reflections of experienced scholar-practitioners. It argues that evaluations that are responsive to, and ultimately owned and led by, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities need to be designed and implemented differently to mainstream evaluations. Timeframes, methods, relationships between evaluators and stakeholders, and the identification and measurement of outcomes all need to be carefully considered. Challenges include definitions of healing, diversity of landscapes and programs, and data collection. Qualitative methods that preference and support Indigenous cultural frameworks and ways of creating and sharing knowledge work well. In addition to ensuring culturally sensitive methodologies and tools, working ethically and effectively in the Indigenous healing space means emphasising and enabling safety for participants, workers and organisations.
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