Exploring the power structures in the social services sector

Bachelor of Social Science Final Year Research Project

Cyclic design capturing the expansion of the students' knowledge, personhood, and project.

Team member Aniway Aquilizan handcarved this cyclic design on lino for the project. The image expands like a ripple and captures the expansion of our knowledge, personhood and project.

Team member Aniway Aquilizan handcarved this cyclic design on lino for the project. The image expands like a ripple and captures the expansion of our knowledge, personhood and project.

In a great example of industry engagement with real outcomes, students from The University of Queensland joined forces with Inala Wangarra - an Indigenous Community-Controlled Organisation delivering holistic services to First Nation peoples in Inala and surrounding suburbs of Brisbane - as part of their Final Year Research Project.

A highlight of UQ’s Bachelor of Social Science program, this course is taught by Professor Paul Henman and Dr Lynda Shevellar, who lead the students through the processes of undertaking the research.

“They work with an industry partner – typically a not-for-profit organisation or a government service delivery agency – to carry out original research,” Professor Henman said.

“The research idea is identified between UQ academics and industry organisations based on information that the organisation will find useful for enhancing their work or advocating to government for policy or service changes.”

In this case, the research forefronts Indigenous Community-Controlled Organisations (ICCOs) in their ongoing practice of self-determination, and through the case study with Inala Wangarra, seeks to recognise, articulate, and critique the power structures which underpin the social services sector.

The project explored the viability of an Indigenous community-control model – grounded in Indigenous self-determination – within the current practical and political climate of contemporary Indigenous affairs.

Students from the project team, Grace Mansfield, Aniway Aquilizan, Catherine Dickson, Ellen Nickson, Jasper Every and Bradley Watson said their key finding was the paradox that participants advocated for Indigenous Community Controlled Organisations as best practice, but they also emphasised that current policy frameworks are not supportive.

“Our research seeks to provide insight to, and connect, the relational landscape of the social services in collaboration and advocacy to challenge the paternalistic control mechanisms reinforced by the Australian government,” the team said.

“In order for advocacy and change to occur, agents must work together and consciously push back on the control mechanisms reinforced by the current policy framework.”

These findings were publicly reported at an annual industry showcase event, which saw the project take home the award for best video presentation.

Inala Wangarra Student research project – research findings.


Each project is supervised by a UQ academic with expertise in the research area. In this case, Associate Professor Chelsea Bond, who is also a board member of Inala Wangarra.

She said the project demonstrates the importance of Indigenous scholars whose work is grounded in the community from which we live and work.

“Rather than think of ourselves as stakeholders of either industry or academy, we embody both positions,” Associate Professor Bond said.

“Here we can model to students the possibilities for a transformative, transparent and accountable scholarly practice which can be of service to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as opposed to the exploitative and extractive nature that has typically marked such relationships.”

Professor Henman was most impressed by the students’ involvement in the Inala Wangarra project.

“Their research involved interviews with politicians, public servants, and managers of other Indigenous and community organisations, giving the students rich data to work with,” he said.

The team at the Video Presentation night (From left: Ellen Nixon, Grace Mansfield, Cathy Dickson, Aniway Aquilizan, Jasper Every and Bradley Watson).

The team at the Video Presentation night (From left: Ellen Nixon, Grace Mansfield, Cathy Dickson, Aniway Aquilizan, Jasper Every and Bradley Watson).

The team at the Video Presentation night (From left: Ellen Nixon, Grace Mansfield, Cathy Dickson, Aniway Aquilizan, Jasper Every and Bradley Watson).

The student team said the industry partnership enabled them to realise the vital role social research has within the community.

“We were very lucky in working with an organisation who was really invested in what we were producing, because it is grounded in their lived experience,” they said. 

“The project transformed our understanding of our university education, giving us perspective on how the skills and knowledge we’ve gained from our degree can be used and valued in our future roles within the community.

“It also connected us with incredible peers who are driven, passionate, and inspiring.” 

Gudanji traditional dance group at NAIDOC.

Gudanji traditional dance group at NAIDOC - image supplied by Inala Wangarra.

Gudanji traditional dance group at NAIDOC - image supplied by Inala Wangarra.

CEO of Inala Wangarra Karla Brady said working with the six students on this industry partnership was really rewarding.

“They had fresh eyes and ideas, and the way in which they were able to articulate the paradox that is well known in ICCO’s landscape was commendable,” she said.

“Most impressive was the respect they consistently demonstrated to us as a First Nations organisation.”

While as an ICCO, Inala Wangarra has produced significant and impactful results for nearly two decades, Ms Brady said they have never been able to attract investment to keep the organisation operational.

“As such, the industry partnership allowed us to see ourselves through the impartial lens of the students and really unpack the power structures that impact the important work Inala Wangarra does,” she said.

“The work that the students did for us to date, matters. The students might have done this work because it was an assessment but to us and our cause, it is so much more because they made it more, they made it matter.”

The student team said the nature of the project created a unique relationship with their industry partner.

“It transcended the obligations of assessment and became something personally driven and close to our hearts,” they said. 

Elders dance. Image supplied by Inala Wangarra.

Elders dance. Image supplied by Inala Wangarra.

Elders dance. Image supplied by Inala Wangarra.

Inala Family Touch Football Day. Image supplied by Inala Wangarra.

Inala Family Touch Football Day. Image supplied by Inala Wangarra.

Inala Family Touch Football Day. Image supplied by Inala Wangarra.

Welcome Babies to Country. Image supplied by Inala Wangarra.

Welcome Babies to Country. Image supplied by Inala Wangarra.

Welcome Babies to Country. Image supplied by Inala Wangarra.

UQ's Anthropology Museum.

UQ's Anthropology Museum.

UQ's Anthropology Museum.

UQ's Anthropology Museum.

Why choose Social Science at UQ?

UQ’s Bachelor of Social Science provides students with training in multi-disciplinary knowledge and social research skills.  

Graduates leave work-ready, armed with the skills to create change and enhance human societies. Students can choose to major in Development, Environment and Society, or Health and Social Policy.

future-students.uq.edu.au