Research that Matters, Episode 3: Security and sustainability
Research that Matters is a 9-part podcast series featuring researchers from Torrens University Australia, who are working towards solving complex global problems and propelling innovation. For more information, and to access all other episodes in the series, click here.
This episode features researchers whose research focuses on some of the biggest challenges facing humans right now include climate change, an ageing population and indiscriminate business practices.
Host: Clement Paligaru (in bold)
Guests: Dr Hayden McDonald (HM)
Dr Rachel Ambagtsheer (RA)
James Calvert (JC)
Note: The interview with James Calvert was conducted during the making of Thin Ice VR in 2021. For the latest information about Thin Ice VR, click here.
If Australian research scientist, David Warren, hadn't developed the black box flight recorder in the ‘50s, we may never have been able to successfully solve air disasters and ensure aviation safety and security.
Picture a world without research.
It would be a world without the polymer banknote, a world without plastic spectacle lenses, and a world where we'd never know about Google maps.
Research can find answers to things that are unknown.
JC: Virtual reality in itself is quite an engaging thing, but without the research, we don't know what benefits that really has. Is it more than just a fad or can we really bring this in and use it as a way to advance our understanding of education?
Research can fill gaps in knowledge.
RA: I think research just has that incredible ability to underpin our human decisions with information.
It's a cliche, but knowledge is power. Any decision that you make in life, I think, typically you hope you can draw on the best available information to make that decision.
Research can shed light on the problems we're facing and help shift attitudes.
HM: It's about having social impact, how we can work towards emancipating some of the conditions that are experienced by some of the marginalised communities in our societies.
This is Research That Matters. I'm Clement Paligaru.
This series explores the work of researchers from Torrens University Australia. We'll take you behind the curtain to hear what drives their passion and the impact their work has on all of us.
In this episode, we'll look at the role research plays across security and sustainability issues.
JC: What drew me to research was going, well, there's got to be more to it than the surface level understanding that I have. And in the case of virtual reality, what makes that effective as learning experiences.
So, to really understand that you've got to put your researcher hat on and break it down and go, well, what theories are out there that informed the design of these experiences and how does that play out when you put it in front of an audience, put it in front of a group of learners?
I'm James Calvert, educator, researcher, and a filmmaker.
You want to know is this storytelling technique going to sufficiently motivate and engage a learner. But at the same time, are we getting those knowledge gains?
For the past 20 years, James has spent a great chunk of his time experimenting with putting stories together. He's driven by a natural curiosity to create engaging content, from animations to film and games.
Along the way, he's picked up a swag of national and international awards. Now he's funnelling that knowledge and creativity into researching the virtual reality learning experience through a sustainability lens.
JC: The more entertaining and engaging an experience is, do we lose something with the knowledge gain and the knowledge retention? I'm really interested in that balance between those two aspects. There are theories of multimedia design that outlay, okay, well, if you put together an experience like this, you use this level of imagery, this level of narration, this sort of text-based information - then you get the most out of the knowledge gain for your learners.
That forms one part of it, but at the same time I want to go well, can we keep that and make sure we are designing an experience that has all of those foundational cognitive psychology aspects that mean its good for a learner, but we are still getting a really high level of engagement - we're still getting a really high level of motivation and perhaps even tapping into an emotional reaction.
This is where (VR) Virtual Reality is really quite interesting because it's a topic for researchers to go, okay, well, we have a good understanding of how traditional screen-based media works, you know, interactive screen or linear screen-based media, but when we put a headset on and we step into a virtual world and all of our senses are engaged and we're no longer in a classroom, but we're actually present in this virtual space - does that alter some of these theories? Can we have these cognitive benefits and these effective benefits?
To make an analogy it's like learning from a textbook or a screen versus learning on a field trip. When you go on a field trip, being present in that space, it gives you a kind of a situational context that you can't get from a textbook.
That's what virtual reality brings. It brings things like this situational context and things like presence.
I guess the focus of what I do is to create something that can be brought into a classroom, whether that be a high school classroom or a university classroom. So, for an educator, you can provide your students an experience that they normally wouldn't be able to have.
For example, something that I've worked on teaches about the Kokoda Track, which is in Papa new Guinea. Now that's a really remote place and it's a very expensive place to get to, it can be quite dangerous, it's quite an arduous trek, it's really demanding. When you use something like virtual reality, a team of filmmakers can go there and capture it and bring it back into the classroom.
So now, all of a sudden, educators can employ that VR experience to teach their students in a kind of next-best-thing. I mean, yes, it would be great if you could walk the track and see it for yourself, but that's not really possible. So, it can give educators an opportunity to provide their students with something that's not normally feasible, it's not normally possible - instead of just being accessed by 5 per cent of students who can get there, now 100 per cent of students can get there.
I reckon put them on a treadmill with one of those programs where they go up and down hills and all that, that would work as well.
JC: Yeah. Speaking from experience on the Kokoda Track, definitely, it's just go outside and walk up and down a mountain a few times or go up and down 10 flights of stairs 100 times and then turn the heater up so that it's really hot.
So, do you have some key findings already from your research that you can share with us?
JC: One of the earliest studies involving the Kokoda VR experience I spoke about before was taken into schools and used as part of the curriculum.
Kokoda is taught to year 10 students in Australian high schools, so the Kokoda VR experience is a 40-minute-long learning experience where students get to actually walk along the track and see re-enactments of what happened there during World War II.
The study collected data from students using it and then going through a knowledge test and some questions regarding the effective benefits. It was definitely a case of the virtual reality experience led to increased knowledge gain and also increased effective gain - so things like motivation and engagement were higher, but also emotional connection was higher.
Feelings of empathy were higher for students. You're not just watching some soldiers on a screen, talk about what it was like to be in this campaign, but you’re actually standing in amongst them in a camp. You have this increased feeling of empathy come about because you're in there with them, rather than watching them from a distance.
Those lessons are being directly applied now to another virtual reality experience called Thin Ice VR, which is a 20-minute immersive experience set in the Antarctic, which covers a bit of history and a bit of climate change.
One of the taglines of the project is ‘a walk in Shackleton's footsteps’. His expedition and his story is considered one of the greatest stories of leadership and survival of all time. To survive floating on the Antarctic pack ice for around a year after their ship sank, and then sailing a tiny lifeboat across the Southern Ocean to reach South Georgia island - a really small island in the Southern Ocean. And then cross over the mountains of South Georgia Island with no maps and minimal equipment to reach a whaling station, which is the only civilisation that there is in that part of the world - and end an almost two year ordeal without losing a single member of his crew is incredible.
What Thin Ice does is gives people the chance to actually learn about that story by being there with him on the ice and reliving some of those moments. It lets you be there in the pack ice as the ship is being consumed and swallowed by the ice and sinking down into the depths. It lets you go across the mountains of South Georgia Island, slide down some of the steep descents that he had to make.
But layered across all of this is the fact that those landscapes don't look the same today as they did 100 years ago. Climate change has impacted that region significantly.
So, one of the driving forces behind Thin Ice is a chance to go, well, let's look at how it was 100 years ago versus how it looks today and see the difference in the fact that - well, Shackleton crossed the glacier at this point on his journey on South Georgia Island, for example, but then when we get there, it's not there anymore. It's retreated so far back inland that if you were to retrace his steps today, there were some perilous crossings he had to make that for us are just stepping through ankle deep meltwater from the glacier, which is now further up the valley.
There are smaller scales studies with smaller virtual reality experiences, but nothing has been produced at this level. And as a result, will mean that more people get to see it and experience and more data can be gathered around this, around how effective it is.
Thin Ice is a great learning tool for schools to use, for example. That information about how effective it is plays back into the research and the research community looking into virtual reality as a learning tool.
Virtual reality projects like this require many partners to come together and there's benefits for everyone involved as well as for the wider industry.
JC: Kokoda VR was actually produced by the ABC. It was a project they had devised, and I was brought on very early on to consult and then the university came on board and we worked together.
It's one of those things where you need the production expertise, you need the storytelling expertise, and you need the educational expertise. In the case of Thin Ice VR, that's being produced by a company called Monkey Stack - they're an immersive studio creating engaging content for screens.
Tim Jarvis, the polar explorer and environmental scientist, he is the presenter and executive producer of Thin Ice as well. He has the knowledge of Shackleton, he retraced Shackleton's footsteps, he has that environmental science background that informs a lot of the climate change aspects of this. And then myself as the director and writer and the university with the academic and research background - it's vital that these sorts of collaborations can happen.
That's how things like Thin Ice get made. That's what lets Thin Ice be a virtual reality experience that you can go see at Illuminate in the Adelaide Film Festival or download and experience on a VR headset in your own home. But it goes from being that to also being something that has educational impact and can be used in schools and it has supporting material where you can learn a bit more about climate change - or you can learn a bit more about the history of the Antarctic and the early exploration and what's happened in the time since then.
Something of this scale needs those parties to come together and work to a common vision. We have support from traditional film agencies like the South Australian Film Corporation and Screen Australia.
Traditionally, they support movies and television series, but supporting this kind of virtual reality, almost like a virtual reality documentary is a new thing. And then we have support of smaller partners, smaller technology partners or logistics partners or exploration partners to help us actually get over to the Antarctic or to South Georgia Island.
We've brought together new types of technology in Thin Ice, using volumetric motion capture, photogrammetry, traditional green screen filming, location, filming to create it. That alone and seeing how those pieces can be put together is really useful for anyone else working in virtual reality.
But in terms of industry producing educational material, be that for schools or for universities or for public installation in places like museums. There's not only this information, technically how to assemble a project, but what that means for learners and what different methods need to be employed to make it an engaging and informative learning experience.
So that if other people are wishing to invest their money in projects in a virtual reality learning experience, there's now, not only hopefully a marquee example in something like Thin Ice, but it's also backed by research and there are papers that support how the design and all the innovations in the building of the Thin Ice VR experience, bring about these educational things.
I'm sure many researchers would do this, but with imagination like yours, does it kind of go racing off even while you're working on a particular project - just thinking about the possibilities in industries and projects down the track?
JC: Oh my goodness, yes. It's a problem. It's a problem. It's definitely a problem. I will always enjoy being in the moment and making something, but you just can’t help yourself. You've got to think about what comes next.
I've just learned over the years, I've got to have a book on my desk, a journal on my desk. And so instead of getting too excited and doing anything about an idea now, it has to go into the book, and I'll get to it later.
But yes, the possibilities are huge building on from Thin Ice, there's ideas that don't make it into the final 20-minute experience.
See, that's why the DVDs of the ‘90s were so great because you could throw in all the extras.
JC: Directors cuts. Yeah.
Definitely some of that behind the scenes and all those little extra bits will hopefully see the light of day. A project like this will live on and travel around the world and so we'll see how many of those extra ideas get out there.
A project like Thin Ice is equal parts lessons in history, geography, creative technology, and advocacy. It has the power to highlight the importance of environmental leadership and why it's needed to tackle climate change.
Research around issues that focus on security and sustainability also take us into the world of an aging population.
RA: I'm very interested in the issues of older people. My grandparents were very important to me growing up.
Sadly, I don't have any grandparents left, but they were a strongly formative sort of influence on me and as I saw them age through and access care - all those sort of things had a profound impact on me, really.
I certainly think that's motivated me to understand more about their health and wellbeing, for sure.
Hello, I'm Dr Rachel Ambagtsheer. I'm a Research Fellow and Senior Learning Facilitator with Torrens University Australia and I'm also currently the student and early career president for the Australian Association of Gerontology.
Gerontology is one of those interesting disciplines where it's a very holistic approach to the older person. It's not a discipline that's just looking at a chronic disease like diabetes, or it's not just looking at a body system or an arm or a leg. It's viewing the older person as a whole person and looking at all of the factors that impact on their lives and their quality of life.
So that's what really attracted me, and I guess it’s the scope of the discipline and the potential for research which is significant.
Rachel’s research puts the spotlight on frailty, something that affects adults 60 years or older. It's a syndrome that around 700,000 Australians are thought to be living with.
With advanced age comes greater frailty, and that's linked to vulnerabilities.
RA: Frailty’s a condition of vulnerability, potential vulnerability, and increased risk of negative outcomes that older people experience. It affects multiple physiological systems in the body.
It's essentially this state of the potential risk from stressors, external and internal - obvious things like falls, fractures, illness, anything that could end you up in hospital, but equally less tangible stressors - things like grief and loss, financial stress, moving. All those things that can impact on someone's mental health can equally add up and increase the vulnerability of older people to frailty.
The intent of the study was really to identify which of the many frailty screening instruments that are being used out there worldwide, would be appropriate for Australia. We're at a very early point in our frailty journey in Australia. We designed the study to be intentionally large so that we could generalise the results to other contexts, and it turned out to be one of the largest general practice studies that's been conducted on frailty screening worldwide.
It was actually really initially quite focused on the Australian context, but it has international applications.
We wanted to ensure that it was a randomly selected process, which basically makes the results more statistically valid. What we did was we pulled the register of all people who were 75 and older, of those practices who are participating, and we took a random list. We asked older people, we approached them through a letter that had the letterhead of both the university and the practice on it. We very much presented it to them as a partnership between ourselves and the clinic in which we explained to them what we were trying to do.
We offered them the opportunity to be followed up, so if it was found that they were frail through the process, the idea would be that they would then be offered additional care through the clinic after the study was finished. That was a strongly motivating factor for many of the older people I spoke to.
General practice is a very busy place and they often have multiple projects going on - even just take the example of COVID with all the vaccinations that are going on - so to bring in a large study, into an already busy practice and ask them to share space and share resources, in the sense of the practice nurses, and even just the headspace to get around at all - it's a big ask to be honest.
A lot of research is quite a big ask and so those partnerships are critical. I can say that if you don't have the practice manager on board, the practice nurses, the people who are going to be involved in the study, if they're not on board with it and supporting you 100 per cent, the study is not likely to be successful.
What's in it for the health and aged care industries. I mean, how do they benefit?
RA: There tends to be mixed motivations or many motivations for health and aged care providers in terms of these types of studies. I'd say the primary one would be that they offer the chance, or the opportunity, for better health outcomes for their clients or their patients, depending on what setting you're talking about.
Practices maybe don't have enough time or a lot of time to get on top of all of that latest research. So, this is a real example of where knowledge translation can come in and the practice can take advantage of the state-of-the-art of the knowledge that's happening in an area. That's a real draw card for them, I believe, in terms of participating.
Some of the other research I've done in which I've been not the lead, but a collaborator, is an arm of consumer research that we've done on frailty. So, essentially interviewing consumers and talking to them about what they think about frailty and what they think about frailty screening. That's a project which was led by Dr. Mandy Archibald.
It's clear that people have a fairly limited understanding about frailty and the big secret is that it's potentially reversible. There's research starting to emerge that shows that if we know that someone's frail and we get them at the right time and give them the right intervention, then potentially, we can certainly reduce their frailty levels and potentially improve their quality of life.
I think if people knew that there would be much more engagement with the idea of frailty screening, but at the moment, it's like the best kept secret. We're really trying with our research to get the message out there that it is actually something that potentially there could be something that you could do about it.
We've actually, again with Dr. Archibald, been involved with a series of consumer education videos. That's intended to inform the general public and older people that there are things you can do to protect yourself and to improve your frailty status - also a series that was intended for health service providers.
It's a slow process, but I think we are getting there.
It's no secret that Australians are getting older. By 2051 nearly a quarter of us will be 65 years or older. So, the issue of frailty is not something we can afford to put on the back burner.
Right now though, frailty screening is not widely practiced across our GP clinics. Rachel's research is working to change that and it's the first of its kind in Australia.
So how could it make a difference?
RA: What it does is allow clinicians or general practitioners and practice nurses and health service providers, the opportunity to choose from a suite of tools that they can be confident will be able to detect frailty if it's present. But the challenge then really is what do we do about it.
Older people are sick of doing tests and having no results or participating in research even, and then there being no results.
The clear message from older people and consumers was that they were happy to be screened, provided that there was appropriate follow-up offered. From a practice perspective, it's really about looking to identify which of the aspects of frailty are most relevant for the individual older person. That can vary - they can have key issues around nutrition, exercise, diet, social support. It's about understanding what those are, and then working with the older person to look at their goals and work out what do they want to focus on initially - and then setting out a plan to do that, that brings in other providers and sort of wraps it around the person and offers them some kind of hope that they can begin to impact that frailty status.
In fact, we know that one in 10 people right now are frail here across Australia. So can you explain what kind of broader social benefits your research will lead to?
RA: If you are frail that does increase your risk of mortality, residential care admission, falls, hospitalisations - all those things that we want to avoid.
It demonstrably impacts on your quality of life and how you see yourself as a person. There will certainly be significant cost implications of that for the health and aged care system. So, if we can get people earlier and keep them out of hospital and out of residential care, then certainly there is an economic benefit for older people.
But equally, if we're looking at that quality-of-life angle, certainly the social implications of addressing frailty would be very important, because frailty does tend to, I think, draw you into yourself a little bit. If you don't feel well enough to go out and exercise, or you don't feel well enough to walk around your neighbourhood, then inevitably you're going to have less social contact with people and with your community. And that's very sad.
But if we raise awareness, then we're more likely to be able to identify those people who are in those vulnerable positions and put supports around them to make sure that they're not suffering through that kind of experience.
It does make good business sense, doesn't it, for the health and aged care industries to look closely at this type of research?
RA: Oh, absolutely it does. A lot of frailty assessments are essentially about gaining a better multidimensional understanding of the older person as an individual.
I think that can only be a good thing if that's being done regularly and there's a lot of attention being paid to how that older person's needs are changing over time, especially if they're in a residential aged care setting.
Not everybody in residential care facilities are frail, even though a significant proportion are, it's about half across all facilities at the moment, half aren't and so we probably want to make sure that they don't progress into frailty or hold that off for as long as we can. But for those other half who are, not to just assume that there's nothing that can be done.
Personally, my grandmother, she was in her 90s when she died, but she was in a residential care facility for some years before she died. And I came in one morning and I said to her, how are you Oma, she's Dutch. She said, oh, my arms are quite sore, a little bit tired, but I'm feeling really good and she said, oh, they had me on a rowing machine this morning.
You know, she was delighted. To just assume that older people are in residential care facilities - there's nothing that can be done for them, well that's a very unfortunate attitude to have. And I think that's something that needs changing.
There's sufficient evidence at this point to suggest that routine frailty screening could potentially be incorporated into those existing assessments, many of which are already being done for older people. So, say you've got a seven-question instrument, one question might be being asked already in a dementia screen, another question might be being asked in a mental health screen, and another question about physical activity or diet might be being asked somewhere else. They're not being pulled together in a way that would be meaningful for frailty.
In practice, I don't think clinics would have to do anything that much different from what they're already doing. From a government policy side, there are certain Medicare items that the government could formalise and apply to frailty, but we're just not there yet.
It is a bit of a waiting game and an education game in terms of all that happening at some stage in the future. It has already been taken up by a New South Wales state government background paper that was looking at the issue of screening among older people.
Rachel's research has unearthed another important finding - that not all screening tools are acceptable to patients.
RA: There are some frailty screening instruments that require an older person to do a four-meter walk, timed with a stopwatch. This is a very common way of assessing frailty worldwide called the gait speed test.
If you've ever been to a busy general practice clinic, there's not a lot of area that there's a four-meter-long space that's clear and free of obstruction that you could have an older person walking up and down, and someone's standing there with a stopwatch.
One of the only areas that that might be able to do that is the waiting room. So, is it ethical to ask an older person to do a four metre walk in a crowded waiting room, full of people who are watching them?
The older people that I interviewed and my anecdotal experience while we were doing it at the practice suggests that they don't enjoy that - who would? And that there might be more sensitive ways that we can get at assessing frailty that are more private and are more respectful of perhaps the older person's experience.
I feel confident that research is applicable and will be taken up by health service providers who care about the patient experience and who are wanting to maximise the comfort of older people in those health service settings.
In countries like the UK and Singapore, where there's similar aging patterns, they've already embraced frailty screening.
Is it time for urgent reform across Australia as well? And what can we learn from other countries?
RA: I do believe there is a pressing need to really engage with this. It is the UN decade of healthy aging.
You mentioned the UK where they mandated frailty screening into all of those health assessments, so they basically required all of their GPs to identify their patients who had moderate or severe frailty and then put a plan around that.
I think initiatives like that will make a difference. We do look to the UK for a lot of our policy directions inevitably, and I think we will learn from their experience.
Hopefully, I'd say within the next decade or so, we would hope to see more of those kinds of instruments being integrated into daily practice.
And we can't really underestimate your contribution to all of this Rachel. You're actually in the top 0.5 per cent of experts on frailty worldwide.
It's unsurprising really, I mean, you've had 18 papers published already on the topic. How would you like your research to change the world?
RA: Imagine you or I - it would be terrible if our health service provider was sitting there looking at us thinking, oh well, they're frail, there's nothing we can do for them really, other than stabilise them and hope they don't get worse.
My goal would be to inject some hope into this scenario and to hope to at least contribute to the foundation of future change in this country, but also in other places. I would hope that my research would be taken up by others who then potentially even go on to extend that further.
When it comes to security and sustainability, as humans it's something we all crave, no matter where we are in the world. A personal tragedy brought that into sharp focus for one of our researchers.
HM: I was working as a chartered accountant for a number of years and actually really enjoyed my role and had a pretty significant life event in my twenties when I lost my mother to cancer.
That really got me thinking about what we're doing in workplaces to protect the health and the wellbeing of our employees. So that led me down the path of researching my PhD, which was looking at how we account for the wellbeing of our employees.
Hi, I'm Dr. Hayden MacDonald. I'm a Lecturer and Research Fellow at Torrens University, focusing on researching accounting for social injustice, which is rather ironic being an accountant, looking at something that's not money, but a very rewarding area of research to explore.
So mum, she was diagnosed with cancer in January and passed away in July.
Through that as well, I had a really understanding workplace that I worked in. So, my mother was living in New Zealand at the time, I was living in Australia, and I think within five months I flew back to New Zealand, 15 times. So, I exhausted my sick leave, ran out of annual leave and my employer actually funded some of that.
I began to think are all workplaces like this? And can all workplaces be like this and how can or workplaces places be like this?
That really has been the drive of my research to create frameworks within accounting systems that appreciate the fact that profit is important, but also to balance that with social orientated objectives, around being good with what we do in our organisations, and really trying to strive to ensure that people within society get a fair opportunity and the ability to maximise the value of their existence and pursue their personal objectives.
Hayden's research looks at the development of managerial tools that address indiscriminate business practices. His focus is on Reconciliation Action Plans or RAPs as they're commonly known.
HM: When I started with my PhD, I was looking at what we call management controls. We might be looking at the governance structures within a business, such as job roles of employees, we might be looking at certain types of policies based around selection, retention, training, and you're measuring key performance indicators.
I developed in my PhD, a framework which develops a way of inclusively, including the voices of employees and different kinds of communities within these management controls in organisations.
I've since repurposed that tool that I've been developing for a number of years, looked at it in the context of Indigenous Reconciliation Action Plans. Reconciliation basically is trying to build up respect and trust for the benefit of, not only Indigenous people, but for the benefit of all Australians.
When we talk about cultural reform, we actually have to change the way we do culture within businesses, so that we are appreciative of diverse opinions of different people groups within our organisations. It's a very under-explored topic really, Reconciliation Action Plans. From the perspective of Australia, Australia has got a wonderful opportunity to really lead the world in this space in terms of advancing concepts of reconciliation and cultural reform.
The framework that Reconciliation Australia has set up is incredible. Reconciliation Australia is an Indigenous organisation that oversees the structural and governance of the implementation of Reconciliation Action Plans.
What we're doing is having a look at all the different nuances that occur within different organisations. That's looking at how specific organisations implement Reconciliation Action Plans, how they embed them within their existing systems and processes of the organisation, and also how they really operationalise some of the government policies like Indigenous procurement policy. So, what needs to change in terms of the policies - who needs to make those changes? What kind of key performance indicators are they introducing to progress towards being more appreciative of the objectives of diverse stakeholders?
The research that we're doing informs businesses in adopting RAPs.
To bring this research to life, Hayden partnered with an ASX listed company and one of the largest Indigenous organisations in Australia.
HM: These two organisations that we've been studying, working together in a large construction project for the government and as part of the government initiatives, they have an Indigenous procurement policy. That policy requires - any government contract has to have a certain percentage of their spend and employment go towards Indigenous people and business organisations.
What we're looking at is how Reconciliation Action Plans can be aligned to each organisation's existing management control systems. And also, how each Reconciliation Action Plan can be tailored to suit the specific needs of that organisation.
Something really interesting that we found in our study is it's quite uncommon for an Indigenous organisation to have a RAP.
What both organisations are doing in the context of reconciliation is just incredible. It's been a wonderful project.
In terms of collecting the data, we have interviewed key employees, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees from both organisations. We had about 15 interviews in total, and we also interviewed Indigenous elders that are associated with those organisations.
The other thing that we did was look at all of the policies and different types of strategic documents of each organisation. We looked at their Reconciliation Action Plans.
From all of that information, we developed what we would call a coding book and research terms, which is basically just a list of categories and classifications and terms of all the different types of management controls that these organisations use in and around trying to get their cultural reform objectives implemented.
I can't express enough the importance of including the Indigenous voice in that process. The role of Indigenous elders in each organisation was actually quite different. Some of the key performance indicators measuring the non-Indigenous organisations success in terms of implementing cultural reform were developed by the Indigenous elders and Indigenous communities.
That was a really innovative initiative and really exciting concept that was getting introduced by the non-Indigenous organisation.
Now, if we go to the Indigenous organisation, the elders were really used almost as like they're employees of the organisation. So, they were called upon to help employees through certain matters that they were going through. They were called on to get involved in construction related conversations, around design of projects.
The Indigenous organisations have a real solid foundational cultural agenda to their business. So, their strategies are all around connecting with the community and invigorating the Indigenous employment and business prospects, but they may struggle with regulation and governance policies and structures.
We see a real opportunity in terms of creating training programs, education systems, to up-skill a lot of these business people in terms of some of the regulatory areas of traditional or mainstream business process - while at the same time, really validating the importance of that cultural connectivity and that appreciation for a different way of valuing the environment and sustainable issues.
On the other end of a spectrum where you might have a non-Indigenous organisation that probably doesn't appreciate the same kind of value systems around environment, around culture, around social element, but they may be strong in terms of the regulatory aspects - looking to bring connections there, where they introduce new key performance indicators, new ways of looking at processes of engaging with community, engaging with environmental stakeholders.
Hopefully through that, bringing the two different business models closer together in terms of functional and operational connections.
Hayden's research provides a means through which organisations can start to actually put a value on, and attach a benefit to, some of these initiatives.
HM: We had a number of different ways that the organisations were measuring the value - in terms of number of staff engaged in cultural initiatives, number of staff trained in cultural initiatives, the different results coming through on the surveys of the cultural wellbeing and cultural performance of staff.
We had an example where we had people within the organisations going home and educating their children about some of the wonderful initiatives that they'd learned in terms of Indigenous cultural values and systems.
We had some lovely experiences in conversation - staff feeling, not only more engaged, but really more connected with their history and with the benefits of having a real diverse outlook. Having staff engage with a real diverse set of opinions within your own organisations really is quite closely aligned with innovation and so forth.
It's a tricky one to balance, the profit with the culture, but certainly in terms of the growth of the organisation and the sustainability of the organisation, the long-term benefits to shareholders there are extremely valuable.
We presented the findings at a recent CPA Indigenous accounting forum and we had a significant number - over a hundred attendees - from the CPA chartered accountants of New Zealand attend the event and extremely interested in the findings.
We finished with a yarning circle, which is a common practice in Indigenous culture where you just get together and everyone has an equal opportunity to discuss or share their viewpoints. Some of the commentary that we got, what people are planning to do within their workplaces and the initiatives that are getting put forward - it was just really encouraging to be involved in that. Yeah, just exciting.
There's a real demand for addressing some of the social injustice issues that we experience from the workforce. There's a real demand from the customer base of organisations as well. We're seeing that just in the volume of interest in the work that we're doing.
That demand flows through either directly or indirectly into some of the measures that influence the value of a company on the share market and so forth. In that respect for companies to get involved, I think it's inevitable that they're going to have to at some stage anyway, or else they will get left behind.
In the context of RAPs and Indigenous procurement policies, Hayden says value has quite a different meaning.
HM: We have to think about values quite differently when we're talking about valuing cultural initiatives and so forth. Because if you think about the concept of valuing lands, our typical value systems rely on the fact that someone has ownership of the end result from that productivity.
But when you're dealing with cultures, there's collective interests in the end results. So, we have to look for value in terms of more subjective measures, like the collaboration that it brings, the partnerships that it brings, some of the benefits that it produces along the supply chain of the organisation.
It's really important that we have these Indigenous procurement targets. But the tensions that they create, if they're not treated correctly can actually reinforce discrimination. The objective of the procurement policy is actually to increase the skills and the number of Indigenous people represented in the business community.
What can happen at the moment is if you've got an Indigenous procurement policy at 1.5 per cent, then a non-Indigenous organisation might engage with 1.5 per cent spend or employment with Indigenous people and stop there.
To give you an example, the CEO of the Indigenous organisation - he was quoted as saying that he feels like he's constantly got someone with their hand on his head saying ‘that will do for you’.
What we find with these Indigenous procurement policies on the one hand is that they're absolutely essential, on the other hand, we actually need a way of getting ourselves out of having to use policies to drive these kinds of initiatives. We need to start to think about how organisations engage these procurement policies within their business.
One of the comments came from the Indigenous organisation -why not set it at 10 per cent? Why do we set it at 1.5 per cent or 3 per cent? Why not set it at a point where it's completely unachievable in the short term?
What we're hoping to see is other policies in and around trying to develop the skillsets, a number of Indigenous businesses trying to grow the businesses and also see policies in terms of helping those Indigenous businesses help other Indigenous businesses as well.
What we talk about there is the actual combination of policies that are introduced rather than looking at any singular policy in a silo. My ambition is to get to a place within workplaces where the people that are involved in the business community have a say in terms of how that business operates and the impact that business has on the facilities that we share in common
In the next episode of Research that Matters.
Professor Justin Beilby: How do you actually affect and influence people's quality of life from a Google or Amazon perspective? There's a new paradigm surfacing. It's an area that people are demanding a different way of working and it's an exciting time to look at proactive aged care.
Research that Matters was produced by Written & Recorded. This is a Torrens University Australia podcast, and I'm Clement Paligaru. To hear more, search for Research that Matters on the Torrens University website or wherever you get your podcasts.