COVID-19 communications for our nation’s First Peoples


The COVID-19 pandemic, as we are often reminded, does not discriminate. It has the potential to infect everyone, regardless of age, location, gender, race, and ability. But this does not mean that it has affected everyone equally. There are certain groups more vulnerable to COVID-19 – and who are more likely to suffer greater, devastating impacts – than others.   

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, at greater risk of COVID-19 due to higher rates of other health issues, difficulties accessing health care, and in many cases, relying more on outreach services, are among those most vulnerable. Which is why when the pandemic first hit Australia in 2020, it was important – and today, remains important – to ensure strong measures were being taken to protect these communities.  

Our client, the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA), is an Australian Government agency responsible for Whole-of-Government coordination of policy development, program design and service delivery for Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islander people, who are grouped under the term, Indigenous Australians. The agency approached RD Consulting in March 2020 during the pandemic’s initial wave, requiring communication support in reporting COVID-19 cases. Mainstream COVID-19 reporting by Federal and State governments broke down case outbreaks, recoveries and deaths in states, cities and suburbs, but did not cover the cases and consequences in Indigenous communities specifically.  

As a vulnerable group, the NIAA wanted to be able to monitor the spread of the virus in Indigenous communities to help protect both life and cultural heritage. At the time, being able to turn over regular reports quickly on Indigenous communities was beyond the agency’s capability. And the agency was particularly challenged by the limited data available – which was mostly descriptive, making it difficult to categorise, analyse, interpret, and communicate meaningfully and in a relevant time frame. Staff were frequently working past business hours to sift through the data available and the nature of it meant that the regular reports were content heavy, meaning the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the agency had little time to read them and make decisions.  


RD Consulting came on board to assist NIAA with this communication issue. To understand the demands and needs of the agency, and to figure out where time could better be saved and the data collection process better streamlined, our team met with the key stakeholders. After a series of interviews, we broke the project up into three sections and helped the agency implement our corresponding recommendations.  

The first part of the solution involved standardising a template for the agency to use for its regular reports. Collaborating with our in-house Design Studio, the template we created set out standardised sections and corresponding headings for the agency to replace tri-weekly data with as it was recorded and released. These sections included updates for identified regions and communities across Australia, internal snapshots, breakdowns, heatmaps and geographic mappings of the virus’ spread. Using the agency’s branding guidelines, templating the report in a standardised way made it easier for the agency to compare and track different weeks across a larger time frame as COVID-19 spread. This recommendation was not rooted in the core problem but provided a quick interim fix. 

The second part of the project was to reimagine new ways for the agency to report data concerning all aspects of the indigenous community. We recommended an interactive dashboard to visualise the data through the use of Qlik. While initially, our team scoped other data visualisation software, upon assessment, Qilk made the most sense from a procurement perspective and could be integrated with the agency’s forthcoming Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. We created a functional interactive demo dashboard so that the agency could see how the introduction of Qilk would directly enhance their ability to access and interpret the data for strategic decision making. Extending this data visualisation part of the project, we assisted in scoping out the potential issues concerning data capture, specifically on-field descriptive data. 

The third part of the project was to aid the agency with the internal buy-in of the CRM tool. Our team storyboarded, scripted, directed, and produced a 2-dimensional animated video explaining to staff what it was and how it could benefit the organisation and its work.   


Following the completion of our work with NIAA, the agency has reported having enhanced capabilities in inputting, storing, translating and communicating COVID-19-related data on Indigenous Australians.

The template created by our team has allowed for the agency to quickly turn reports around, making them more engaging and digestible for decision-makers.

Our efforts in data translation have brought the agency closer to successfully introducing a new centralised way to record, manage and access key information quickly and meaningfully.   

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    David Lawson

    Principal Consultant

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    Michael Guo



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