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FOCUS GROUP RESEARCH: PROPENSITY TO IDENTIFY IN SURVEYS
The research design sought to understand perspectives on identification for each mode of collection: interview, paper form and online form, however it was observed that discussion tended to refer to general attitudes toward identification. Differences between collection modes were observed, for the most part, only where differences inherent in the collection mode would force a specific opinion. For example, issues to do with interviewers being known to respondents impacted on views about Indigenous identification in interview surveys, whereas pride in identity was reported as a reason for identifying regardless of collection mode.
Factors encouraging identification
Across all methods of collection the reasons for disclosing ones Indigenous status information were commonly attributed to:
Across all methods of collection, the reasons for not disclosing ones Indigenous status information were commonly attributed to:
Conversely, the belief and experience that identifying can have negative repercussions for the individual and the wider community and may lead to racism, discrimination or ‘different’ treatment was reported as a motivation not to disclose one’s Indigenous status. Some participants also indicated that their reluctance to identify is ‘learned behaviour’ as a result of negative past experiences.
One reason noted by participants for not identifying was being offended at being asked the Indigenous status question in certain contexts. Participants expressed frustration at the frequency with which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have to identify themselves compared with other population groups. The wording of the question was noted as important in obtaining accurate responses.
Participants also noted that they need information about the reasons the information is being collected in order to make an informed decision about identifying. The impression that answering the question was compulsory in certain contexts was also mentioned.
There was discussion about ‘qualifiers’ of Indigenous status. While some participants felt that an individual should be able to identify if they wished to, some expressed a view that an individual is required to possess a ‘Confirmation of Aboriginality’, which is a form of documentary evidence of an individual’s Indigenous status. It is important to note that this tension may exist in the broader population, as it may discourage self-identification dependent on the view of the community an individual resides in. Some participants spoke of being more comfortable with identifying now that they have a ‘Confirmation of Aboriginality’ certificate.
Findings from the focus groups also indicated that it may be difficult for people with newly discovered Indigenous status to disclose their status in a group environment as this can often be treated with scepticism.
Differences across survey methodologies
While participants tended to indicate that survey methodology would not have an impact on their response, the following views were offered by participants who held specific views on the different survey approaches.
Participants cited the anonymity granted by paper surveys as a promoter of identification behaviours; participants noted that considerations related to the perception of the interviewer (for example, the interviewer’s perception of their skin colour) are eliminated in the paper survey context.
Literacy and numeracy issues were cited as barriers to people disclosing their Indigenous status on paper surveys. Participants also mentioned that the absence of an interviewer who could answer questions about the survey content and/or assist with form completion may contribute to non-identification.
Similar issues, particularly in relation to confidentiality and the privacy afforded by completing the survey alone, were discussed in relation to online surveys. Additional concerns relating to online privacy and the use and security of data were raised, along with computer literacy and internet access as potential impediments to identification.
Interview-based surveys raised some complex issues for enumeration design. Participants noted that the presence of an interviewer can assist with understanding the survey and the purpose of individual questions, but they also expressed that identification may be more sensitive in this context because interviewers may make judgements about a respondent’s Indigenous status on the basis of their physical appearance (or other factors). Participants also noted that for individuals who are sensitive about their Indigenous status (for example, because of recently having discovered their heritage or because of negative past experiences), an interview may be a more confronting context in which to consider disclosing their Indigenous status than a paper or online survey.
When considering ‘in person’ and telephone interviews, participants stated that in person interviews are preferred for a range of reasons, including privacy and security and the ability to be sure of a data collector’s credentials.
Person collecting the data
Discussion points included whether participants would feel more comfortable identifying if interviewed by a person known to them as opposed to a stranger, and if interviewed by an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person as opposed to a non-Indigenous person. Views were mixed, and included the perceptions that a known interviewer was preferable because of the trust inherent in an established relationship; conversely, that a known interviewer may discourage identification because of privacy concerns within established social networks. Participants also noted that, when interviewed by a stranger, they could choose to withhold information that may otherwise be already known to an interviewer with whom they are acquainted.
The impact of the Indigenous status of the interviewer was mixed. Participants variously expressed that an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander interviewer may be preferable in some contexts (depending on survey content) and, conversely, that a non-Indigenous interviewer may encourage identification (this appeared to be related to the social/familial networks issues raised above). Participants also indicated that the Indigenous status of the interviewer would have no impact on their propensity to identify.
Organisation collecting the data
Participants expressed mixed views on the impact/s of the organisation collecting the data. Where the organisation was a consideration in the decision to identify, issues involved included:
Where the ABS was referenced specifically, recognition of the Census of Population and Housing was particularly noted and participants expressed that they would identify on the Census. Participants reported that the ABS’ work is important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and that the ABS can be seen as safer and more trustworthy than other organisations. The understanding that participation in ABS surveys is required by law was also raised, as was the perception that the ABS is somewhat separate from, and different to, other government organisations.
Third party identification
Views around identifying on behalf of others tended to centre on family connections. Where participants commented on identifying on behalf of others, they spoke about their willingness to identify on behalf of members of their family and about the importance of having another person’s permission to identify on their behalf. Where participants held the view that they would not identify on behalf of another person, reasons tended to be associated with privacy and the right of the individual to make their own decision about identifying. Participants suggested that views on third party identification may vary across geographical areas – specifically, that views on identifying on behalf of others may be different in remote areas.
Where participants spoke about having had their Indigenous status disclosed on their behalf by someone else, they tended to report that this had been done by family members or an elder in their community. This was perceived, by the participants who described it, as acceptable. Inappropriate examples of third party identification, such as where an external body had reported a person’s Indigenous status without their consent, were mentioned.
Inter-generational perspectives and changes over time
Participants expressed the view that young people may be more likely to identify, and to do so consistently, than older people. Past experiences and changes in the socio-political environment around identification were discussed, namely that young people may have had less experiences of negative or prejudicial treatment and that identifying is encouraged more now than in the relatively recent past.
Changes in the environment surrounding identification were also discussed in relation to changes over time in an individual’s identification behaviours. Participants spoke about increased confidence in their identity as they grew older leading to increasing identification behaviours. Participants’ knowledge of the importance of identifying (for the purposes of social policy and population enumeration) and their increasing comfort with research questions were also mentioned. When discussing changes in identification behaviours over time at the population level, young participants compared negative experiences of older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people known to them with their own more positive or neutral experiences. Participants commonly expressed the view that it is easier and more beneficial, both at the group and the individual level, to identify these days.
1. As outlined by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) a ‘Confirmation of Aboriginality’ can be in the form of: