Three-Category Approach

Embedding Indigenous knowledge systems in urban research and practice is an important way to improve cities for people and for biodiversity. But cross-cultural work and two-way sharing in an urban context is new to many of us, and often complex to deliver.

To overcome these barriers, the Three-Category Approach and workbook has been created by Indigenous researchers, communicators and designers. It aims to guide non-Indigenous researchers and practitioners in their work, helping support Indigenous led projects and make space for co-design.

The Three-Category Approach workbook discusses Indigenous engagement in three categories: communicate, collaborate and co-design. Users are guided through each category, given suggested actions to take and prompted to reflect on their work and research approach.

The stories in the Three-Category Approach workbook are taken from interviews with researchers associated with the CAUL Hub. The Three-Category Approach was incorporated into the Hub's research in 2016 – in recognition of the critical role Indigenous perspectives play in making cities better. The stories in the Three-Category Approach Workbook shine a light on the challenges, opportunities and lessons learnt from participating in Indigenous-led research and two-way sharing.

Some projects benefit more than others from Indigenous perspectives. Understanding where your project sits can help guide your process.

Download the Three-Category Approach workbook, here.

The intention of the workbook

This book is intended as an introduction to cross-cultural work with First Nations peoples in Australia. We recommend it be completed in conjunction with a workshop led by an Indigenous Australian facilitator. It is not intended as a complete course in Indigenous cultural competency.

Any project involving Indigenous Australians should respect the following principles: that there are important cultural protocols regarding who is permitted to hold, share and/or apply Indigenous knowledge, and in what context; and that any project must allow sufficient time to develop meaningful relationships with community.  More information on these principles can be found in the ‘Our Knowledge, Our Way’ resources.

For more information about the Three-Category Approach, see this info sheet

Category 3

Category 3 projects have no direct input from Indigenous people or organisations and work to communicate outcomes.

Category 2

Category 2 projects involve collaboration and opportunities for knowledge sharing.

Category 1

Category 1 projects co-design outcomes with Indigenous people or organisations to ensure mutual benefit.


The Three-Category Approach presented in the workbook is based on a framework developed by members of the Indigenous Advisory Committee of the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. We thank them and in particular acknowledge the contributions of Stan Lui, Gigari George and Leah Talbot.

We also acknowledge The Clean Air and Urban Landscapes (CAUL) Hub’s Indigenous Advisory Group, under the leadership of Stan Lui, Timmah Ball, Maddison Miller, Lauren Arabena, Jason Barrow, Jade Kennedy, Kirstine Wallis and Luke Briscoe, for supporting and developing the Three-Category Approach within the CAUL Hub, and guiding the creation of this workbook.

This workbook was produced by Jirra Lulla Harvey for Kalinya Communications, based on research conducted by Jirra in 2018, with guidance from Lauren Arabena, Cathy Oke and Libby Porter. Illustrations by Dixon Patten of Bayila Creative. Photos by Cristina Ramalho.

Funding has been provided by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program, RMIT University and the University of Melbourne.