A new $1.3 million Indigenous data project has been announced, which will allow Indigenous community organisations to better analyse their data and make decisions to improve outcomes for their communities.

The Indigenous Data Network (IDN) — an initiative of the University of Melbourne’s Indigenous Studies Unit — is working in partnership with the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled Peaks (Coalition of Peaks) to develop the new platform, which will enable Indigenous organisations to upload and analyse their own data.

The data collected will be focused on the areas and targets, including the Priority Reforms, in the newly agreed National Agreement on Closing the Gap. It will span health, education, employment, justice, environmental management and cultural heritage services, ensuring Indigenous organisations can make evidence-based decisions to set strategies that are aligned to community needs.

The project is funded by the Australian Government via the National Aboriginal Community Health Organisation (NACCHO) and is part of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap Priority Reform 4, which focuses on shared access to data and information at a regional level. The Priority Reforms are designed to change the way governments work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Formal commencement of the IDN’s work on Closing the Gap Priority Reform 4 was announced in July 2020.

University of Melbourne Professor, Marcia Langton, who leads the project team, said better data collection and management are central to community outcomes.

“By supporting communities and community-controlled organisations to collect their own data and use government-held data, the Coalition of Peaks and the IDN are helping communities to tell their own stories about what is working for them and what isn’t,” Professor Langton said.

Lead Convener of the Coalition of Peaks, Pat Turner, added that the new data project would also support shared decision making at a local level with governments.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people said clearly they need improved access to data and information to share decision making with government and drive their own development by identifying local solutions for local issues,” Ms Turner said.

Announcing the data project in his February 2020 address, Closing the Gap Statement to Parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that, “A vital part of empowering Indigenous communities is giving them the data and information to inform their decision making.”

The project will mean “richer and more localised data to inform programs designed by and for local communities,” Mr Morrison added.

Alongside its collaboration with the Coalition of Peaks, the IDN team plans to work closely with the University’s Indigenous Knowledge Institute, launched in August 2019, which aims to advance research and education in Indigenous knowledge systems.

Institute Director, Professor Aaron Corn, said: “Improved data access for Indigenous communities is vital to strengthening their futures, and ensuring long-term maintenance of their unique knowledge systems.”

IDN National Coordinator, Dr James Rose, said: “The IDN is Australia’s leading vehicle for Indigenous-directed expertise in data science and population health.

“This project is an opportunity to deploy that expertise directly into the heart of the Closing the Gap initiative, to make sure that Indigenous data is used as evidence for programs that work for Indigenous communities,” Dr Rose said.

The launch of the project is the latest achievement for the IDN, which was established in 2017 to give voice to the principles of Indigenous data sovereignty — the recognition of intellectual property and other rights of Indigenous people and entities in their data so that it cannot be harvested without consent by governments or any other data collector — and to lead a push for the implementation of national Indigenous data governance framework.

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