Collaboration and co-design when evaluating intergenerational trauma projects

Content type
Practice guide

May 2017

This article has been written by The Healing Foundation.

Evidence in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context

Western empirical research practice poses a particular challenge for evaluating healing strategies and programs designed to address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander intergenerational trauma. This is because healing can impact on a number of domains and therefore outcomes rarely align to simple or siloed quantitative performance measurement frameworks. Given these frameworks rarely acknowledge nor align with Indigenous knowledge systems, "many Indigenous practitioners and communities do not accept that such methods of evaluation are required" (McKendrick et al 2014, p. 42).  Many pre- and post-test measures have yet to achieve cultural validity (Roy et al., 2015). An overreliance on these measures in evaluation has discounted Indigenous knowledge systems, so it’s important to reset this balance.

Co-designing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander evaluation framework

The methodology adopted to evaluate the intergenerational trauma project implemented at the Aboriginal and Islander Independent Community School (Murri School) is one example of an Indigenous-led evaluation framework. Throughout a four-year partnership with the Murri School the Healing Foundation has facilitated a co-design process informed by reflective practice, including engagement of school students, their families and school staff to inform the future direction of the project.

This process emphasised that good practice program evaluation cannot be isolated from good practice program co-design. Genuine co-design allows community members to identify their priorities and indicators of success. Identifying clear goals and desired outcomes at the outset informs the design of the evaluation framework and measurement approaches. This was achieved through a project review process led by the Murri School staff in collaboration with the Healing Foundation.

An evaluation design case study – The Murri School

As part of the project review process, a series of yarning circles were facilitated with students, families and school staff. Questions to guide the yarning circles were developed in partnership with Aboriginal staff from the school to ensure they were appropriate, and Aboriginal staff led the yarning circles to ensure a culturally safe environment. The circles sought community insights into what factors cause stress for kids and families, what makes families strong and healthy, and what makes us strong as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Input from the yarning circles will allow the next phase of the project to target the emerging needs of local kids and families and support a strengths-based approach that promotes pride in culture.

Program logic

A reflective practice circle was also conducted with the Murri School Healing Team, allowing them to identify program strengths as well as priority areas for further focus and professional development. This was followed by a program logic workshop allowing the team to revise the project goals, outcomes, activities and outputs, drawing from their own experience and the input from students, families and the wider school staff. While program logic is a western planning concept, it is a useful tool when adapted to allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ownership of program design, goals and measures of success. You can see an example in the Our Men Our Healing evaluation report

Evaluation and performance monitoring

With short, medium and long term outcomes clearly articulated in the program logic, the next step is to identify the qualitative performance measures that will be supported by comparative quantitative analysis of a range of indicators such as social and emotional wellbeing and cultural identity. Involving community leaders in evaluation design ensures effective measurements are developed. In our experience, this has led to quality outcomes as evaluation is driven by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, rather than imposed outcomes that often lack cultural context.

Self-determination is central to healing. Evaluation processes therefore must also enable this to support healing environments for children and young people to thrive. 

Further reading and resources

  • Growing our Children up Strong and Deadly (PDF)
    This paper outlines an understanding of intergenerational trauma, the emerging evidence of what works in addressing trauma and how this fits within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge systems.
  • Implementing Healing for Children and Young People (PDF)
    This paper summarises best practice thinking about program implementation and the evidence base for best practice in service development and delivery, with a particular focus on the Intergenerational Trauma Initiative.
  • Our Men Our Healing: Evaluation report (PDF)
    This report evaluates the implementation and early development of Our Men Our Healing, three pilot men’s healing projects in the remote Northern Territory communities of Maningrida, Ngukurr and Wurrumiyanga from 2013 to 2015.
  • Our Children Our Dreaming (PDF)
    This paper examines the scope and nature of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander over-representation in child protection and details strategies for how this can be more effectively addressed in Australia.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Programs: A Literature Review (PDF)
    This review summarises existing research on healing internationally and nationally, highlighting what constitutes an effective Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing process.
  • Evaluating the outcomes of programs for Indigenous families and communities
    This CFCA practitioner resource outlines some key considerations for community sector organisations and service providers who are thinking about evaluating the outcomes or impact of a program for Indigenous families or communities.


McKendrick, J., Brooks, R., Hudson, J., Thorpe, M., & Bennett, P. (2014). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Programs: A literature review. Canberra: Healing Foundation. < >

Roy, A., Noormohamed, R., Henderson, R. I., & Thurston, W. E. (2015). Promising healing practices for interventions addressing intergenerational trauma among Aboriginal youth: A scoping review. First Peoples Child & Family Review, Vol. 10 Issue 2, pp 62-81.

Feature image supplied by The Healing Foundation.