Population research in rural and remote towns tunes into local voices 

Dr Andrew Taylor … developing community capacity to influence policy makers

A Charles Darwin University academic says an innovative research project is assisting small towns in the Northern Territory and elsewhere to understand the impact of demographic and economic change at the local level.

Speaking at the Australian Population Association Conference in Melbourne, demographer Dr Andrew Taylor of CDU’s The Northern Institute, described the merits of the “inside-outside” approach to engagement with communities in rural and remote areas about their past and future.

“The approach is based on three Rs: respect, reciprocity and relationships* – using population change as the basis for discussions on community concerns and aspirations for the future,” Dr Taylor said.

“We use pictorial tools presented verbally and in the local language where appropriate to talk about things like childcare, who’s leaving town and what jobs people regard as important.

“We want to develop community capacity to influence policy makers and funding bodies by helping  them to understand the range of information formulated from the outside (official data, surveys, research) and how this is used in policy formation and planning on their behalf.

“We connect this with locally held knowledge, stories and data to feed into our agent-based population model to explore future change in rural and remote communities.”

Dr Taylor said this was the first time that agent-based modelling had been applied to research-based community dialogue and engagement around demographic and economic transitioning at the local level.

The research is being led by Professor Dean Carson, who works both at CDU and Flinders University and involves researchers from CDU’s The Northern Institute, the Northern Territory Department of Regional Development and Indigenous Advancement, Flinders University, the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and the University of Salzburg.

Dr Taylor said the inside outside research approach had been well received by communities and, although the model was highly technical, communities had warmed to its role in encouraging dialogue, which helped to empower local decision making and capacity to influence through knowledge building.

* The three Rs was developed by John Reid of the Poche Centre