Translating Yannarumi into water resource risk assessments

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Project Partners:

Flinders University and Other

Research Theme:



Project Overview

Risk assessment is a fundamental process that underpins natural resources management. Based on the AS/NZS ISO31000:2009, the South Australian Department for Environment and Water’s (DEW) water resource risk assessment focusses on western concepts of natural resource management: economic production and environmental conservation. This western framework fails to engage with Indigenous worldviews that focus on reproduction and interconnected benefit and give effect to Indigenous values and interests.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan requires Basin states to consider Aboriginal cultural values in water resource risk assessment, further highlighting a significant policy gap for DEW and other jurisdictions with possible implications for the accreditation of South Australia’s water resource plans.

Over the past 15 years, Ngarrindjeri have emerged as a leading Indigenous Nation in relation to Indigenous engagement in water resource management and were awarded the Australian Riverprize in 2015. Recent Ngarrindjeri collaborations with Flinders University* have supported the emergence of the Ngarrindjeri Yannarumi Assessment process that enables assessments of environmental and water health, based on Ngarrindjeri principles and philosophies. 

Flinders University, DEW and the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority partnered in this project that seeks to translate Ngarrindjeri Yannarumi assessments into water resource risk assessments. The project seeks to articulate the points of connection between the two processes and informs the necessary adaptations required to DEW’s current water risk assessment conceptual models to integrate Aboriginal cultural values. The outcomes of this project may have application across all aspects of natural resources management improving the recognition of Aboriginal values and interests.

* lead researchers Steve Hemming and Daryle Rigney have since moved to UTS

Progress Update and Key Findings

The project was completed in February 2020. The project had four research tasks, which included:

1. Literature review – Review national and international contexts regarding the integration of Indigenous knowledge, values and wellbeing into natural resources management risk assessments.

2. Workshop to share assessment processes – For DEW staff to improve their understanding of the Yannarumi assessment process and for Ngarrindjeri to improve their understanding of the DEW water risk assessment process. For DEW staff, Ngarrindjeri and researchers to better understand how these two processes can connect.

The project team coordinated two workshops between DEW water policy and planning staff and Ngarrindjeri in early 2019 to inform a connecting methodology to translate Yannarumi assessment outcomes into water risk assessment. The outputs of these workshops were used by the project team to design changes to the DEW Risk Management Framework for Water Planning and Management to better engage First Nations peoples. The key design changes related to the inclusion of a new category of risk creating a space for First Nations to speak to: Risks to First Nations peoples, including the following sub-categories:

  • to First Nations and their Country;
  • to First Nations relationship with their Country;
  • to relationships between First Nations;
  • to First Nations relationships with government, including loss of partnerships and knowledge unique to Australia. 

3. Develop translating mechanism and test – Create a connecting methodology and process that can translate Ngarrindjeri Yannarumi assessment outcomes into water resource risk assessment, while also considering principles that could be utilised to engage other Aboriginal Nations. The project tested the methodology and process using the River Murray context and documented a methodology for applying the conceptual model to Aboriginal engagement for the River Murray WRP risk assessment.

The project team engaged a DEW water planner with no previous involvement in the project to test the adaptations to the risk management framework and the engagement guideline. Two risk assessment workshops with Ngarrindjeri were delivered in late 2019. Recommended improvements to the risk assessment and engagement guideline were collated. Risk assessment workshop outcomes are summarised in the bowtie diagram. The diagram summarises the assessment of risks to Ngarrindjeri goals and objectives related to water resource management. The diagram integrates Ngarrindjeri Cultural Knowledge, applied a Yannarumi assessment methodology and remains the property of the Ngarrindjeri Nation. The diagram is being shared to communicate and demonstrate the inclusion of a new category of risk in the DEW Risk Management Framework: Risks to First Nations peoples. Other First Nations may view risks to Country in different ways.

4. Adapting DEW’s risk assessment process – To develop a prototype water risk assessment methodology and process based on the AS/NZSISO31000 that connects with Aboriginal health and wellbeing principles.

The project team generated recommended adaptations to the DEW Risk Management Framework for Water Planning and Management and updated draft First Nations Engagement Guideline were submitted these to the Department for its consideration.

Project Impacts

DEW staff involved in the project are complete a review of the DEW Risk Management Framework for Water Planning and Management in early 2021 based on over eight years of implementation. The project’s recommendations to the Framework were integrated into the review. The First Nations Engagement Guideline was also developed with the assistance of the research team and an endorsed Guideline was completed in 2021.

This project has been informed by previous Goyder research projects (each partnerships between the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority and Flinders University): 

The project also builds on partnerships between DEW, NRA and Flinders University through the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth (CLLMM) Ngarrindjeri Partnerships Project.

Research Outputs

Translating Yannarumi into water resource risk assessments

Ngarrindjeri Yannarumi

Project News

The results of the research project ‘Translating Ngarrindjeri Yannarumi into water resource risk assessments’ have recently been publicly released on the Goyder Institute website. The project was commissioned by the South Australian Government in 2018 as a