Questioning the ethics of evidence-based practice for Indigenous health and social settings in Australia

Joanne Luke, Ebony Verbunt, Angela Zhang, Muriel Bamblett, Gabrielle Johnson, Connie Salamone, David Thomas, Sandra Eades, Lina Gubhaju, Margaret Kelaher, Amanda Jones

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Australian government planning promotes evidence-based action as the overarching goal to achieving health equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. However, an inequitable distribution of power and resources in the conduct of evidence-based practice produces a policy environment counterintuitive to this goal. This context of contemporary evidence-based practice gives legitimacy to expert practitioners located in Australian governments and universities to use Western guidelines and tools, embedded in Western methodology, to make evidence informed policy and programming decisions about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. This method for decision making assumes a positional superiority that can marginalise the important perspectives, experiences and knowledge of Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and their processes for decision making. Here we consider the four steps of an evidence review: (1) developing a review question; (2) acquiring studies; (3) appraising the evidence and (4) assessing the evidence, as components of wider evidence-based practice. We discuss some of the limitations across each step that arise from the broader context within which the evidence review is produced. We propose that an ethical and just approach to evidence-based review can be achieved through a well-resourced Aboriginal community controlled sector, where Aboriginal organisations generate their own evidence and evidence is reviewed using methods and tools that privilege Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing, doing and being.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere009167
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBMJ Global Health
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2022


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