Aboriginal Research Designs

Valuing Knowledge in Context

What constitutes valid or credible research? For researchers like Michael Saini and many others, this is not merely an academic question — particularly when Western notions of validity and credibility in research methods inform decisions about what projects get funding and what types of results are valued. “Randomized control trials and quantitative methods have long been considered the golden standard of research,” Saini points out, “but there is a real need to

provide more space for the benefits of research that values the rich contextual knowledge existing in Aboriginal communities through their stories, histories, traditions, cultures — those variables that Western research methods often try to bracket and control for.”


Although there is a growing awareness of the value of diverse types of research that consider context and culture, problems arise when Aboriginal research designs are judged against Western criteria. “Different types of research are useful for answering different types of questions, and each methodology needs to be measured against its own criteria,” says Saini. In this sense, the validity of research — or the credibility and trustworthiness of the research design and results — depends on the types of questions being asked and the methods used to find answers. Western research tends to value systematic methods that can be replicated and tested by other researchers. Validity in this context often means proving that results are consistent, reliable and not influenced by external variables. In contrast, Aboriginal research tends to value methods that involve communities and prioritize justice and action. Validity in this context often means proving that results are authentic and accurately represent the knowledge, experiences or needs of the communities involved.


The goal of Saini’s systematic review was to look for studies that compared the validity of Western and Aboriginal research designs in order to determine whether there is any basis for the argument that Aboriginal research designs should prove their validity based on standards of Western research. His answer was clear: no such studies exist.


In fact, an “empty review” such as this one shows in a comprehensive way that there is a gap in knowledge about a particular topic. The message that Saini hopes this systematic review sends is not that one type of research design should be cross-validated by the other — but simply that there is no evidence to suggest that Aboriginal research designs should be evaluated against Western criteria for validity. Saini argues that there needs to be different criteria for appraising different research designs.

This systematic review supports ongoing work to forge new directions in research based on engagement, justice, fairness and empowerment, and to ensure that there are equal opportunities and recognition of Aboriginal research.

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