Research partnerships

Building strong partnerships and collaborating in research can be a fruitful way for PBCs to engage in projects to keep and revitalise knowledge, culture and language. Some important things to consider when embarking on collaborative research projects include:

  • research partners
  • project governance
  • ethics
  • Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP)
  • data management
  • funding and resourcing


IP Australia recorded this video with John Watson, Alison Page and Mark Allen explaining about intellectual property (IP) and traditional knowledge.

How to find a research partner?

Every Australian university conducts collaborative research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in a number of main fields including science, health and language. Find step by step help in the guide for partnering with Indigenous communities in the environment sector. Many Indigenous researchers are also working collaboratively with their own and across communities. They are connected through the National Indigenous Research and Knowledges Network (NIRAKN).

Project governance

Successful research partnerships recognise the right to self-governance and autonomy. PBCs should ensure that the corporation and their members are full participants in research projects that concern them, share an understanding of the aims and methods of the research, and share the results of this work. At every stage, research with and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be founded on a process of meaningful engagement and reciprocity between the researcher and Indigenous people. In participating in the research process they are also researchers, and all participants must be regarded as equal partners.

Examples of good ways to strengthen Indigenous knowledge and build partnerships for knowledge sharing in caring for country are collated in the best practice guidelines Our knowledge our way in caring for country (Guidelines). They establish that a good partnership means:

  • collective decision-making that respects and follows each group’s customary governance, and cultural protocols
  • enough funding, staff and support to strengthen, not weaken, cultural norms of knowledge governance
  • enabling the protection for ICIP
  • partners committing to ethical research protocols and agreements to create transparency, ensure mutual benefit, and protect ICIP
  • strong corporate and cultural governance arrangements as a foundation for protocols and agreements that enable transparency, ensure mutual benefit and protect ICIP
  • understanding the importance of time in enabling proper decision-making and building trust, foundations for respectful working relationships.
  • that Indigenous-led partnerships hold mutual benefits for knowledge-sharing.

The Guide provides many examples of respectful and successful research collaborations. Amongst them is the Kimberley Indigenous Saltwater Science Project (KISSP) which has produced tools and a training package on collaborative research in marine conservation and management.


PBCs should ensure that all research projects that involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have ethics review and approval before the project begins.

The ARC website provides a number of essential codes and guidelines for responsible and ethical conduct in research:


AIATSIS as leading institution in this field of research ethics and developed a Guide to applying: The AIATSIS code of Ethics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research. The Institute also provides the services of the Human Research Ethics Committee responsible for reviewing research projects to ensure ethical standards are met.

Data sovereignty, governance and management

A good research partnership also includes the establishment of effective protocols around the data collected in research. The Maiam nayri Wingara Indigenous Data Sovereignty Collective established that ‘‘Indigenous Data’ refers to information or knowledge, in any format or medium, which is about and may affect Indigenous peoples both collectively and individually. And, ‘Indigenous Data Sovereignty’ refers to the right of Indigenous people to exercise ownership over Indigenous Data.’ Ownership of data can be expressed through the creation, collection, access, analysis, interpretation, management, dissemination and reuse of Indigenous Data.

Data governance allows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to identify what works, what does not work and why. It empowers them to decide how best to support their communities to meet their needs and aspirations.

Within a good research partnership this means that:

  • data is to be returned to community in a useable and accessible form including access to data management platforms
  • effective agreements are in place to ensure data is collected, analysed, stored and shared in accordance with cultural protocols and community wishes
  • Indigenous data sovereignty and decision making processes are respected
  • project budgets and timelines must account for appropriate data sharing and dissemination, including trips to report back and provide training.

Funding partners

Practical help in finding funding partners and how to apply for funding is outlined under funding application and in the practical funding work book.

The PBC website also maintains a funding database .

Further Resources

Examples of collaborative research projects

Practical information



Indigenous cultural and intellectual property rights

Data management