A young woman in traditional face paint stands in grass at sunset.
Source: KALACC

KALACC turns to youth to save Aboriginal traditional knowledge

The Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre (KALACC) is a peak governance body for more than 40 language groups throughout the Kimberley region of north-western Australia. Their mission is to assist and promote the ceremonies, songs and dance of Kimberley Aboriginal people, to encourage and strengthen their social, cultural and legal values and ensure their traditions have a place in Australian society.

In the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisation identified that the slow rollout of vaccines to their elders presented the risk of devastating impact to the retention and flourishing of traditional Aboriginal culture. KALACC engaged Cadent to understand how technology may assist their safeguarding efforts.

Cadent engaged with key KALACC stakeholders to understand the needs of their constituents and develop early competing concepts for solving the problem. After aligning on an approach, Cadent and KALACC developed an early product concept - a mobile app for Aboriginal youth in communities to capture their traditional culture. Cadent produced a high-level solution architecture and implementation budget to support KALACC's subsequent grant applications. These were successful and the initiative was funded.

Next, Cadent supported early in-field concept validation and user research work which strongly indicated that the concept was viable, but yielded insights into several unique challenges: the system had to function well without internet access, the app must operate on low-spec devices, and consistent access to our regional audience would be time- and cost-prohibitive especially in light of rolling lockdowns. Even more complex was the nature of secret and sacred traditional knowledge sharing, which required a high level of care and comprehension to support in culturally appropriate ways.

With the concept validated and key challenges identified, Cadent's team of designers and developers engaged in an agile development model to deliver the application. This model incorporated key stakeholder feedback every four work days to ensure that the team's implementation of key cultural concepts was appropriate, and facilitated the ability for KALACC to dynamically alter the priority of features so that the greatest possible impact would be achieved within our time and budget constraints.

In just 5 weeks of work, Cadent was able to deliver Mabu Jila, a cross-platform mobile application and web admin portal based on Flutter and Firebase, that:

  • Allowed for the capture, playback and storage of song, story, dance and ritual video content,
  • Compressed content on-device to economise on internet bandwidth and data quotas,
  • Queued content for background upload in areas with no internet,
  • Includes content reporting and moderation workflows, and
  • Is governed by a culturally appropriate and secure access control model for the sharing of secret and sacred traditional knowledge within in each language group.

At the time of writing, Mabu Jila is about to be introduced to communities by emerging cultural leaders alongside another KALACC program to ensure that comprehensive validated user input is gathered prior to the next phase of the product and program.