Building resilient communities

Learn about building resilient communities

This research theme builds on the strong engagement and collaboration with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, particularly those in south eastern NSW. Under this theme our collaborative research projects with First Peoples communities, organisations and leaders address the social and cultural determinants with a view to building healthy, sustainable and resilient communities.

Our researchers engage in a range of exploratory, participatory, action based approaches to research and utilise in both Indigenous and western and research methods. A key goal of this theme is to develop an evidence-base around successful initiatives, programs and projects that reflect the needs and priorities of local and regional communities.

Image from the launch of Ngarruwan Ngadju centre

Current projects

A Place Based Model for Community Led Solutions to complex health and social issues

Australian Research Council
May 2019 – June 2022


This project explores the ways in which Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) contribute to Aboriginal health and wellbeing.

Strongly connected to place, ACCOs have developed unique approaches, partnerships, programs, forms of community engagement and models of service delivery. They operate within a holistic Aboriginal cultural framework or set of principles and offer pragmatic and flexible models of delivery. Their programs access, engage with, deliver Aboriginal services, and provide leadership and capacity building opportunities, all of which are critically important to local Aboriginal communities. However there has been a lack of systematic research, evaluation or understanding of the vital role of ACCOs and this often renders them invisible or insignificant and jeopardises their survival in a competitive funding environment. Few of the innovative models that operate within ACCOs have been theoretically considered, documented or evaluated. This study addresses this knowledge gap and consequently optimises the long term and sustainable impacts of ACCOs on Aboriginal health and wellbeing

This project involves the Aboriginal led investigator team working in partnership with ACCOs across south eastern New South Wales (NSW). We apply a decolonising lens to better understand how Aboriginal organisations successfully operate within, and enable, key networks across social and community contexts; and investigate how, why and under what circumstances, community led programs are effective.

The main aim of the project is to develop an Aboriginal place based model of service delivery, and to share and transfer learnings to locations in Western Australia and Queensland. The study’s research aims will be achieved using a four phase design: Phase one will describe the policy environment; Phase two will use regional case studies to understand and contextualise Aboriginal community controlled approaches; Phase three will co-design a strategy to support the ACCO model; Phase four will translate the learnings from the south-eastern NSW to other locations within Australia.

What we did

During 2019 we conducted three literature reviews. A scoping review of the literature on ACCOs was undertaken determine the number, nature and scope of exiting peer-reviewed literature on ACCOs. In a separate review we identified literature around Aboriginal conceptions of place in relation to health and are conducting a narrative analysis of the results. Additionally we have reviewed how ‘place-based’ is understood and applied by government in their policies, planning and programs of activity.

Ethical approval was obtained from the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW to conduct phases one and two of the project. For phase one we have identified and have commenced a series of semi-structured interviews with key policy stakeholders from regional, state and Commonwealth Government. Work on the regional case studies for phase two commenced in 2020.

Caring for Community: Ngaimpe Aboriginal Corporation 'The Glen'


This overall aim of this project is to evaluate the contribution that Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) have on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples and their communities wherein they operate. The Glen Centre, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation service operated by the Ngaimpe Aboriginal Corporation, volunteered themselves to be a living case study. The Glen is a 37 bed, residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation service on the Central Coast, NSW. The service model is holistic, addressing addiction recovery from a ‘whole of person’ treatment perspective and a philosophy that seeks to restore people as active members of the community.

A strategic host of community partnerships situates the Glen in the centre of a social network which enables them to direct a raft of services to their clients as they pursue recovery. This network is also reciprocated by the Glen’s clients who provide work and services back to those community groups. The overall outcome of this relationship is the enhancement of client wellbeing and the social health of the community. This service model also ensures that the Glen can continue to operate as a holistic drug and alcohol service, meeting the needs of their community and Indigenous peoples from all over Australia whom are invited into their program.

What we did

A mixed-methods study approach was applied consisting of; surveys, telephone interviews and a focus group, to capture the insights and experiences of the Glens’ key stakeholders, board, staff and volunteers. We thematically analysed these interviews and found a series of themes emerging from them. An overall summary of these themes are that the Glen was described as a unique, diverse and holistic service that changes the lives of each client as well as being an important contributor to the life of the local community. The strongest themes to emerge across all participants were establishment of partnership, connections, maintenance of partnership, and involvement with community.

This project will conclude in early 2019, and has contributed to building an evidence base for the effectiveness of an innovative addiction recovery service, demonstrated the valuable contribution that an ACCHO has to their local community, and how organisational capacity can be built with Aboriginal leadership and through community partnerships.

Healthy Housing: improving communication pathways between housing, health and social services working with Aboriginal families in South East Sydney

January 2019 - December 2019


Housing is a well recognised determinant of health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children impacting infectious disease, injury, developmental progress and social and emotional wellbeing. Social housing services in NSW are significantly overstretched and the social housing system has been described by many Aboriginal families and health service providers as opaque and particularly difficult to navigate. Despite this, there is no established effective care pathway to connect agencies providing housing, health and social services to Aboriginal families in South East Sydney; nor are there systematic communication mechanisms between these services.

The aim of this project was to develop and trial an enhanced health and housing care pathway to improve the identification and communication of housing issues for Aboriginal families accessing services in other sectors (e.g. health, education, community services). The purpose of this enhanced pathway is to improve the efficiency, transparency and coordination of multi-sector service provision to ultimately improve health, housing and social outcomes for Aboriginal families.

What we did

This observational study collected data over two phases. Phase 1 involved interviews with key stakeholders (health service providers, community service providers, housing providers, housing tenancy advocates). Participants were recruited through a snowball sampling process.

Phase 2 involved yarning sessions with families; participants were recruited through invitation in close consultation with participating community organisations. Co-design of referral pathways also occurred in Phase 2 through development and feedback sessions with key stakeholders (recruited from Phase 1 interviews and yarning sessions with families).

Evaluation of the Ngaramura ‘See the Way’ Project

Global Challenges Program
Duration: April 2018 – March 2020


In 2018 the Coomaditchie United Aboriginal Corporation invited researchers from the Ngarruwan Ngadju research team to evaluate the Ngaramura (Supportive Pathways for Indigenous children in Schooling and Employment) program. This project pilot addresses the educational needs of disengaged youth in the Illawarra region. In collaboration with the Coomaditchie United Aboriginal Corporation and the project’s steering committee, the research team is conducting an evaluation which focuses on the delivery of the program at the Coomaditchie Hall in Kemblawarra, over a 12 month period.

What we did

The evaluation is being conducted in a staged approach. In Stage 1 we developed a program logic model which clearly described the inputs, activities, participants and the short, medium and long term expected outcomes of the project, through a series of interviews with key stakeholders. The evaluation framework also developed in Stage 1 set out the key questions for the evaluation and identified data sources for the evaluation. Stages 2 and 3 involved conducting a program evaluation over a 12 month period utilising the following sources of program and qualitative data:

  • De-identified routinely collected program data
  • Individual interviews with parents / carers of past and present students
  • Group and individual interviews with Ngaramura staff
  • Group and individual yarns with current and past program participants (secondary school students)
  • Onsite observation of the Ngaramura program
  • Interviews with school staff from the five participating schools.

Due to additional funding the Ngaramura pilot program has been extended. We have therefore extended the data collection period and expect to report on the evaluation towards the end of 2020.

The School Kids Aboriginal Mentoring Program (SKAMP): Cultural mentoring with Indigenous male students (years 5-8) in Dapto & Shellharbour areas

UOW Community Engagement Grants Scheme
Duration: January 2019 – December 2019


In this project we worked in collaboration with the Illawarra Koori Men’s Support Group (IKMSG) to deliver and evaluate a culturally safe program for Aboriginal students in Years 5-8 as they transition from primary to secondary school. The School Kids Aboriginal Mentoring Program (SKAMP) involved Local Aboriginal Elders leading education and mentoring sessions to young people. They focused on Aboriginal culture and the importance of respect. The project also enhanced the capacity of the organisation as the Board and UOW staff worked together towards a replicable self-sustaining model of service. The partnership between the IKMSG and UOW helped to enhance the research and evaluation capacity of the Aboriginal organisation. It also helped build an evidence base about what works within the Aboriginal Community Control sector.

What we did

This project contributed to the building of capacity of IKMSG board and staff. It established new service delivery to a new target audience. A close relationship was built with a local Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation, and a program was established that positions Elders as mentors in their communities. A final report was submitted to the Communities and Partnerships in December 2019.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Ngarruwan Ngadju is committed to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. These goals provide a shared global framework of development priorities. The research under 'Building resilient communities' corresponds to two of the SDGs:

10) Reduced inequalities - learn more about SDG 10

11) Sustainable cities and communities - learn more about SDG 11

Goal 10: Reduced inequalities     GCP SDG Goal 11