Accessible Desert Services: CDU's new link with desert communities 

Zane Hughes says the linkage between CDU and desert communities will move from a service delivery to a genuine partnership model

Charles Darwin University (CDU) has commenced a research project with the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) to look at the issue of ‘Accessible Desert Services’.

The project will investigate one of the Desert Knowledge CRC’s core research areas, the transactions and dynamics between the demand and supply sides of services at four desert settlements.

Two of these settlements are Lake Nash and Yuendumu, north and north-west of Alice Springs.

University partners from Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia are also involved.

Zane Hughes, Indigenous academic support lecturer, says little is known about these dynamics which are critical for successful desert settlement policies.

Accessible Desert Services will: (1) analyse the system at the interface between consumers and service-providers; (2) identify critical issues and strategies that provide leverage for change; (3) review and develop a range of technology and governance options with potential to improve the system; and (4) recommend strategies for trialling, monitoring and evaluating a range of technology and governance options.

Zane’s role will extend for the next three to four years. He says the linkage between CDU and desert communities will move from a service delivery to a genuine partnership model.

“This is a new era in Indigenous research where knowledge is given and owned by Indigenous people,” he said.

Currently, services to these communities are driven by external conceptualisations of social problems and national standards of welfare, resulting in patterns of resource distribution inconsistent with demand.

In the absence of systematic consumer pressure to reduce costs and maintain quality, the allocation process has become vulnerable to political influence. Health, education and housing outcomes remain elusive and services are orientated towards supply rather than demand.

Despite the accumulation of a great deal of empirical knowledge, very little is known about the demand side of services, and the interplay between demand and supply, in the unique economic contexts of desert settlements.

There is a need for an analysis of the many actors, agencies and functions at the interface between service-providers and consumers, from which to draw evidence-based technical solutions and governance reforms.