Written by Rebecca Hitchmough, Consultant, Fiftyfive5, part of Accenture Song


Hello! As a Brit who arrived in Australia less than a year ago, I have been fascinated by the rich and diverse landscape of social research here. Working within Fiftyfive5’s Social and Community Team has given me a unique perspective on how we approach inclusivity, particularly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.


A Profound Shift in Focus

Back in the UK, my work involved tailoring research methods to include a range of priority audiences—marginalised groups and people in vulnerable circumstances. However, for obvious reasons, Indigenous communities were never on the cards. This has been a profound shift for me as a qualitative social researcher deeply passionate about social justice, inclusivity, and amplifying marginalised voices.


Immersion in Alice Springs

My journey here has been both enlightening and humbling. I recently had the privilege of spending three days immersed in various communities in Alice Springs. During this time, I spoke with a wide range of individuals, each offering unique insights and perspectives. It was a steep learning curve, but one that has left me eager to understand more about the ethical practices and cultural etiquette necessary to ensure respect, dignity, and cultural safety for all participants.


A Challenging Encounter

Credit to our recruiters, who secured an interview with a retired Defence Lawyer who had been defending local Aboriginal boys. Built like a 6 ft 3 wardrobe, he was an intimidating figure making his audible eye-roll heard as he encountered yet another white, (now) middle-class researcher, from the city—just another outsider here to plunder stories and produce a report destined for a dusty digital shelf so that some government department could claim that it had done its duty. Balancing politeness and irritation, he asked if I knew about the power insecurity experienced in many Indigenous communities surrounding Alice Springs. Despite my admittedly somewhat shoddy research prior to arriving, I had to admit that I didn’t. His visible frustration spoke volumes.

He explained that the government, had introduced a pay-as-you-go system for electricity, requiring residents to pay upfront using prepaid cards, leaving thousands of families without access to electricity. When asked if I could imagine what that was like, I shared that, coming from a household below the poverty line in a deprived area of Liverpool, I had experienced the same degrading prepaid system, leading to many nights without electricity when growing up. He softened, recognising that while I may not be local nor adequately informed, I could at least relate to this one issue. A drop in the ocean of shared experience.

While I may understand a version of food, power, and housing insecurity both academically and personally, I have much to learn about the unique context that underpins and sustains these challenges among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.


Ethical Research Practices

To conduct ethical research, it is crucial to use language that respects and accurately represents Indigenous cultures, and to ensure cultural safety throughout every stage of our research processes. This involves more than just inclusivity; it requires a profound respect for the diverse and often traumatic experiences and perspectives within Indigenous communities.


Recognising Historical Injustices

Historical injustices, including forced removals, cultural erasure, and discriminatory policies, continue to shape the present-day realities for many Indigenous Australians. These legacies underscore the importance of approaching research with sensitivity and humility, acknowledging the ongoing impact of colonization and systemic inequalities that continue today.


A Commitment to Listening, Learning and Respect

By educating myself about these critical issues, I aim not only to avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes or narratives but also to actively contribute to a more equitable research landscape. This journey demands ongoing self-reflection, an openness to listening and learning from Indigenous voices, and a commitment to integrating cultural understanding into every aspect of our research methodologies.


A Moral Imperative

In essence, being informed about Indigenous histories, contemporary challenges, and cultural protocols is not just a professional obligation—it is a moral imperative. It is through this informed approach that we can strive towards research practices that uphold respect, dignity, and genuine partnership with Indigenous communities.


Final Thought 

This experience has taught me so much about the importance of a tailored, flexible, and inclusive approach to research. It’s not just about gathering data—it’s about building trust, fostering respect, and genuinely understanding the lived experiences of those we seek to learn from. I am excited and committed to integrating these learnings into our entire research process, from design to dissemination to inform positive social change grounded in justice, equity and inclusion.