Indigeneering: Promoting Diverse Knowledge Systems in Technical Design

Nichols, Crighton (2009). "Indigeneering: Promoting Diverse Knowledge Systems in Technical Design " Paper presented at the 6th annual conference of the HDCA, 10-12 September 2009, Lima, Peru.

In simple terms, engineering can be defined as the application of mathematics and science to solve problems of a technical nature. However, Western science and technology are seen as having little relevance to the lives of many Indigenous Australians, of whom very few are attracted into engineering and related programs at university. As an unfortunate and largely unintentional consequence, Indigenous Australians have been almost completely excluded from participating in the scholarship and practice of engineering, and in doing so, denied the benefits and opportunities offered by this profession. These benefits and opportunities would be especially welcome given the poverty and disadvantage faced by so many Indigenous Australians. By adopting a conceptual framework that is based on the capability approach, this paper explores a novel approach to attracting more Indigenous Australians into the engineering profession that is centred around opening-up the engineering culture to be more inclusive of Indigenous values, knowledge systems, and perspectives. Consideration will be given to both the content and pedagogy of engineering education, as well as the process of design in engineering practice. Precedent for a similar approach has been established with the recent trend to encourage more women into engineering by attempting to change the perceived masculine culture of the profession. Indigenous communities will benefit from more engineers be able to understand, engage and effectively participate with them in the design and development of critical infrastructure such as housing, resource management and transport. As communities become more familiar and comfortable participating in design process, it is contended they will become increasingly empowered to design innovative solutions to local issues that require a greater understanding of the specific context and tacit knowledge that may not be available to external design professionals. In turn, this will help address the woeful track record of poor infrastructure and service delivery by external parties in many remote Indigenous Australian communities. The benefits to health and wellbeing that will arise out of improving the provision of infrastructure and services may then create a positive feedback loop that will encourage an increasing number of Indigenous youth into meaningful education (such as more Indigenous engineers) and assist in the creation of innovative employment opportunities, helping to ensure the increased community empowerment is sustainable. Also, this approach is expected to benefit the engineering profession, and economy in general, by engaging a wider diversity of perspectives than would traditionally be considered, potentially resulting in more innovative solutions.
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