31st July 2020

Unethical Practice in Cultural Training Program Development

By DrMJLock

This blog is a case in point about the unethical development of cultural training programs. It was stimulated by a social medial post from a prominent professional association (see the embedded post, below) asking for personal stories about culturally unsafe health practice. As an Aboriginal researcher, I was appalled at this unethical organisational behaviour.

Hang on, it’s not a research organisation!

That’s true. Universities and research bodies are required to comply with codes of ethical conduct, but not professional associations or private companies. In a sense they can practice unethically which means soliciting sensitive material from the general public without any regard for the trauma and harm that may cause. CATSINaM is within its rights to ask for ‘personal stories of culturally safe and unsafe provision of care’, but was there any consideration for the history research with First Nations peoples?

Why is research a dirty word?

Research has historically been seen as process used to colonise, subjugate and assimilate First Nations Australians and, therefore, research is a dirty word (see this article in The Conversation). First Peoples know this and live with the trauma of research, yes “research trauma” is thing! CATSINaM asking me for personal stories of culturally unsafe practice caused me to enter a mental world that I care not to access. Sleepless nights, restless days, and unhealthy thoughts resulted.

Luckily, I could call trusted friends and yarn through my trauma. Thanks friends!

Professional researchers know that such considerations need to be taken into account and set-up mechanisms for research participants to seek assistance when traumatised. That is absent from the CATSINaM research.

Unethical practice is normal in the cultural training industry

I have written elsewhere that the cultural training “industry” is closed, secret, and self-regulated. The word “closed” means I cannot see how the training was developed because it’s hidden behind corporate confidentiality provisions. On planet research, I have to develop a strong rationale and go through a rigorous assessment process by unknown peers.

The word “secret” means cultural training is provided only when you pay expensive fees. Hey, I get it, fee-for-service model is okay. Profiting from selling cultural knowledge and Aboriginal intellectual property? Nup #culturallydemeaning.

The phrase “self-regulated” means that the quality of cultural training is assessed by the people who produce it. It’s a great idea, right? Organisations need cultural training so let’s knock-up a program and get onto the cultural training gravy train. It’s a multi-billion dollar global “industry”, test the market by searching for “cultural safety training” (116,000 results of various types). The problem – no quality standards, bench marking, expert review, or government regulations. #culturallydisempowering

CATSINaM is following the industry norm of unethical practice. It needs to step-up to a higher moral ground. It is soliciting personal stories using Australian Government funding of $350,000. Yes, read about it here and download the media release here.

The commodification of cultural $afety

On planet research, it is extremely gruelling process to obtain funding to conduct public research. Compliance with ethical standards is strictly regulated and must be demonstrated before receiving public dollars. But not if you are a professional association.

Yep, Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt handed CATSINaM $350,000: no open tender, no public scrutiny, no rigours empirical submission, and no ethical considerations. Wow! Here you go, that’s 5.2 years worth of salary for an Aboriginal Health Worker ($67,039/yr). Oops, I forgot to consider the 30% administration fee of $105,000. Not that I can tell because the budget hasn’t been scrutinised by Senate Estimates Committee.

It’s an intriguing business model (CATSINaM is a company registered under the Corporations Act 2001, read the constitution). Obtain public funding then use it to solicit Aboriginal peoples stories for free and then charge for access to the online cultural safety training. But that’s not the real stinker, it’s turning First Nations cultural knowledge into the Western construct of $$$.

Organisational Ethics and Cultural Safety

CATSINaM is a peak representative body for health professionals who are required to practice ethically according to industry codes of conduct. But no such codes of conduct occur for organisational behaviour. That sounds weird right, how can an organisation “behave”? It does so through its Board and staff. The posting of the research on Facebook was done by an authorised representative of the Company.

The CATSINaM Constitution mentions ethics: ‘ensuring that the Company is efficiently managed, is financially and ethically accountable to Members and funding bodies, and maintains high standards of excellence and innovation’

Again, on planet research, deliberately breaching ethics is potentially career ending and deserving of scorn and derision. I expect other researches and their organisations to act ethically. I’m not a member of CATSINaM, but I think this unethical organisational behaviour needs to be called out by its membership. Do I need to mention “high standards of excellence and innovation”?

In other words, there is no independent regulator of Companies like CATSINaM. Health professions are regulated. Universities are regulated. Healthcare organisations are regulated. It’s time for heath professional “peaks” to be regulated and scrutinised.

Warning: Potential for Mental Distress

Call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 44; Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636; or other helplines here. The following image may cause emotional distress.

Trigger words: unsafe, research, videos, personal, honest, raw, emotional, negative, used, racism, stigma, uncomfortableness, and intention. Ok, I’m going for a long walk with my dogs on Country and commune with spiritual Elders. I’m already stressed with COVID lockdown, black lives matter, Aboriginal lives matter, fighting for Human Rights, etc. etc.

This approach to research and cultural training development can be summed up in one powerful phrase: shame job. #culturallydangerous