Data linkage project

Two people are sitting at a conference table in a virtual meeting

A particular focus of Yuwaya Ngarra-li is on increasing the understanding and strategic use of administrative data to inform our planning, evaluation and progress towards Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s long-term aims. This is achieved through an iterative process of collaboration and capacity building between the DEG, UNSW and other stakeholders. 

Administrative data have historically been collected and used according to the ideologies and agendas of government agencies and non-Indigenous researchers. This has led to research that is predominantly deficit-focused and fails to address the needs and priorities of Indigenous peoples themselves. Indigenous Data Sovereignty (IDS) is about the rights of Indigenous Peoples to control their own data, from what data are collected through to access, data management, analysis, interpretation and dissemination of findings and the reuse of data. Indigenous Data Governance (IDG) is about how IDS is put into practice, to ensure that data collection, access and usage reflect the priorities, values, culture, life-worlds and diversity of Indigenous peoples.

Since 2019 and led by DEG priorities, the Yuwaya Ngarra-li Research and Evaluation team have analysed administrative data from various individual government agencies. The findings from these data have been interpreted and refined with the DEG, and disseminated in the form of presentations, briefing papers, and research reports, some of which are published. 

Most of Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s early analysis of administrative data used publicly available data, including aggregated census, police, court, fines and education data. To enable more detailed analysis of youth justice system interactions, in 2022, Yuwaya Ngarra-li analysed de-identified unit record data provided by BOCSAR to measure changes over time in diversions, criminal court, and youth detention, before and after the Two River Pathway to Change model commenced. The findings were interpreted in conversations between the DEG and Research and Evaluation team and published as a research report. However, it was clear that justice system data are only one part of this puzzle, and that health, child protection, housing and education data are also important to a holistic understanding. It was also apparent that analysing publicly available data from different government agencies is not able to provide that understanding. The lack of flexibility of and gaps in publicly available data, and the limitation of analysing individual datasets in isolation, demonstrated the need for linked (de-identified) unit record data from multiple agencies to build on this work. 

The first step in planning the data linkage study (in Phase 1) was the development of a Data Linkage Protocol, led by the DEG secretary Virginia Robinson. Underpinned by Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s core principles, the Data Linkage Protocol is guiding all stages of the study, through an iterative process of sharing knowledge, interpretation and decision-making between Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s Research and Evaluation team and the DEG. 

Understanding institutional pathways of Aboriginal children and young people in Walgett: A data linkage study

Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s current work on data linkage is focused on a population based retrospective cohort study linking child protection, out of home care, health, housing, education, fines and criminal justice data for children and young people from Walgett and their immediate family members. This will enhance understanding of, and inform locally-led responses to, the relationships between institutional contact and pathways and different experiences and outcomes for children and young people in Walgett, and what works to help Aboriginal children and young people to thrive. 

Through discussions between the DEG and Yuwaya Ngarra-li Research and Evaluation Team, three overarching research questions were developed: 

  1. What are the changes in Aboriginal children and young people's police and court outcomes since Yuwaya Ngarra-li began its focused work on youth diversion in 2018?
  2. Are changes in justice system contacts associated with changes in education and health outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people in Walgett?
  3. What can we learn about young people's pathways from their interactions with different agencies (health, housing, child protection, education and justice)?

The data linkage project will help the DEG to improve outcomes for young people in Walgett through:

  • Community control—Providing evidence to assist the DEG to improve the accountability of government agencies, address systemic barriers and drive change for improved outcomes for young people in Walgett.
  • Advocacy—Demonstrating the relationships between education, health and criminal justice contacts and advocating for more effective, community-led solutions. Enabling access to data and building data literacy across government agents and Walgett Aboriginal community stakeholders.
  • Evaluation—Tracking the progress and impact of strategies and programs to improve outcomes for children and young people.
  • Understanding—Identifying systemic factors and drivers of change in outcomes for young people.

The overall objective of this data linkage study is to improve the community’s understanding of and inform locally-led responses to the complex relationships between different experiences and outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people in Walgett and what works to help children and young people to thrive. This study will also have impact beyond the Walgett community as a demonstration of the operationalisation of IDG protocols; how research institutions and government departments can support Indigenous communities to lead their own research agendas. 

Importantly, as described in the figure above, Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s data linkage study is not a standalone project. It is embedded in the broader work of the partnership, led by the DEG in the interests of their community. The DEG will continue to provide leadership and guidance and engage other stakeholders where appropriate  as the research progresses. This will ensure that the findings are appropriately interpreted, contextualised and disseminated in ways that are respectful, accessible and useful to the community.

A recent webinar featuring Yuwaya Ngarra-li's A/Prof Ruth McCausland, Dr Rebecca Reeve and Peta MacGillivray on Community-Led Research, Government Data, and Indigenous Data Governance can be viewed here.