The shape of things to come: visions for the future of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research

Mary Guthrie
Med J Aust 2014; 200 (11): 618. || doi: 10.5694/mja14.00666
Published online: 16 June 2014

In 2013, the Lowitja Institute embarked on a project using futures thinking to consider how research might best contribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing in the year 2030. Futures thinking — a growing discipline in research and management — is not about predicting the future, but rather about identifying a number of possible and plausible futures. It differs from traditional research methods in that it draws on deeper intuitive insights as well as hard evidence.

Workshops were held nationally to consider possible scenarios based on two divergent futures: an inclusive, vibrant Australia in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued and embraced as central to the Australian identity; and an Australia in which economic and spiritual poverty drive a rejection of diversity and increase the divide between rich and poor.

The response from our consultations was not simply a list of research topics. Rather, participants articulated a strong and widely shared desire for a profoundly different system of research — a system in which research and practice are closely interwoven and which enables greater integration of health services, policy and research. Such a system would be responsive to changing research demands, but also to changing social, economic, technological and knowledge landscapes. This builds on work and methods developed by the Lowitja Institute and its predecessor organisations over the past 20 years.

Consultations also identified an urgent need to address the social determinants of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, along with a growing sense that the health and health research sectors need to play a facilitating role, inviting other sectors — such as early childhood, education, justice and local government — to collaborate and maximise the impact of their collective efforts to bring about change.

Finally, the project identified that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and health research sectors have played a pioneering role in the reform of research in Australia. In its role as an enabler of health research solutions, the Lowitja Institute will work with its partners to respond to this vision in our current and future work.

The report is available at

  • Mary Guthrie

  • Lowitja Institute



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