ABOVE: RE-FRESH researchers in Darwin for the Co-Design Workshop (from left): A/Prof. Julie Brimblecombe, Dr Meaghan Christian, Prof. Amanda Lee, Dr Jillian Whelan, Dr Emma McMahon and Dr Megan Ferguson.
Dr Jill Whelan, from Deakin University, is a postdoctoral researcher based in Geelong, Victoria, Australia, whose work focuses on the best methods and approaches to collaborate with diverse stakeholders to ‘creatively problem solve’ and design solutions to transform retail food environments (an approach referred to as ‘co-creation’ and ‘co-design’). Supported by RE-FRESH Domestic Early-to-Mid-Career Knowledge Exchange Award funding, she travelled to Darwin to observe a workshop held by a RE-FRESH project team that works with retail food stores in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities — gaining valuable skills and insights to inform her own work.
She shares her experience:
In June of 2022 I was lucky enough to have what I would describe as the “highlight” of my time as a member of the Centre of Research Excellence in Food Retail Environments for Health (RE-FRESH) – a positive and energising experience observing a workshop held by my research colleagues in Darwin, related to their ‘Benchmarking for Healthy Stores’ project.
This project is a partnership with The Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation, Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation, NT Health – Central Australia and Top End Health Services, and Outback Stores and aims to co-design a benchmarking model to support continuous quality improvement and implemention of health promoting best-evidence into policy and practice in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community stores.
The full-day workshop I attended aimed to ‘co-design’ the benchmarking model. Thirty-four delegates put their minds together for the event, including representatives from the food retail industry, community leaders, health professionals, government policy offers, nutrition officers and academics from several different universities. The focus was on ‘co-design’, a process in which all collaborators are treated as equals.
The team I am pictured with (previous page) are all RE-FRESH researchers from several universities who have been working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander food stores for many years –some for decades – with great success. While I was aware of their individual work within the remote context, I was not clear on how each component of the work fitted together into this overarching ‘change’ project. Attending the workshop enabled me to observe how healthy food retail projects in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have evolved over time and to witness the respectful and deep engagement between the researchers and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the room. I focused on practising ‘deep listening’ to the quiet conversations of those who had much to say, often in few words.
This exchange was important for me to further develop my understanding of how proven tools and methods could be utilised in other regional and remote contexts both within Australia and internationally. It provided me with the valuable opportunity of time to learn and reflect away from the busyness of everyday work and to focus on this unique and highly valuable body of work.
My use of co-creation and co-design methods to date has utilised focus groups and/or group model building. This workshop approach utilised a ‘world café facilitation technique’ where each group addressed a core component of the benchmarking project. The table facilitators presented their work to each small group who provided detailed insights to ‘co-design’ both the inputs and outputs that would best meet the needs in their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander food store context.
ABOVE: The ‘ripple tool’
One of many engaging tools was the ‘ripple tool’ – where each table within the world café groups physically moved sticky notes around the circles to share their experience and understanding of how environmental factors influence a store’s healthy practice. Mostly, the absolute privilege of sharing the room with these dedicated researchers and highly engaged stakeholders, and to listen and reflect on their insights of a world that I knew little about, and their united passion to build healthier Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, was very special.
Observation of the workshop and engagement pre and post with the researchers and attendees was an extremely rewarding and highly valuable experience for me as a researcher to improve my understanding of this work, and research in general. The dinner at the Darwin Yacht Club was particularly special, as I felt the warmth of relationships that can only occur through years of hard work and building of trust.
I added value to this opportunity by visiting the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT). It was extremely fortuitous the MAGNT was hosting an exhibition of the work of The Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA), a partner on the work led by A/Prof. Julie Brimblecombe. The ALPA exhibition was entitled ‘Making successful business together’, a theme also reflected through the workshop: healthy food retail is success for the business and for the health of their communities – which is of high importance to these stakeholders.
Since my involvement in an earlier project at Deakin University (2013-2015), I have remained connected to the ‘Active Darwin’ project as a subscriber to their mailing list. I took this opportunity to meet with Claire Dandie, who co-ordinates this project to promote physical activity, aimed to attract those who do not usually engage with physical activity. Our meeting was held in the Mukmuk-ba meeting room in the Darwin local government offices. As with most local government work, Claire explained her work was done on a tight budget with passionate people – something we are all familiar with. It is a testament to her strength and passion that this project has continued for almost 10 years.
These exchanges add to our academic experiences and to our personal experiences – so why not enjoy the outdoor cinema while I was there and try out the Darwin e-bikes to get me around town in the beautiful, but steamy weather!
My deep gratitude to A/Prof. Julie Brimblecombe and Dr Megan Ferguson who initiated this opportunity. Thanks also to Dr Meaghan Christian, for helping me feel useful when I was out of my depth. I have been a member of RE-FRESH since its inception and this was my absolute BEST experience to date with this wonderful team. I learnt a lot, listened a lot, absorbed much, reflected deeply. Such important work!
Thanks to the delegates of the workshop for accepting me as an observer in their discussions to build healthier food environments for their communities and the friendly banter that was shared.
Thank you to RE-FRESH for funding this experience. I am also grateful for the additional funds from my Fellowship that provided extra support.