Pathways to Transition

Can Pōwhiri Help Us Collaborate?

The traditional Māori welcoming ceremony has been identified as a powerful model for collaboration.


Adversarial processes have dominated natural resource decisions in New Zealand, which can lead to stalemate, low buy-in to policy solutions by stakeholders, delays in implementing solutions, and non-delivery of desired environmental improvements.

Researchers in The Collaboration Lab, part of the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, hypothesized that new models of interaction are needed, where solutions to problems are developed collaboratively.

One perhaps surprising collaborative process being investigated is the pōwhiri. This process is familiar to many New Zealanders as a ceremony where hosts welcome visitors with whaikōrero (speeches), waiata (song) and hongi (pressing noses).

Collaboration practitioners and part of the Collaboration Lab research team, Whatahoro and Matariki Cribb-Fox identified the pōwhiri as a powerful model for collaboration due to the emphasis on listening and caring for each other. The pōwhiri is a collaborative process built on the values of manaakitanga (showing respect, generosity and care for others), that is traditionally used to ‘weave’ people together.

They suggested that bringing people together around a natural resource planning issue such as water through a pōwhiri will mean mana is recognised – not only the mana of the participants, but also the mana of water and of the issues.

Researchers have hypothesized that bringing people together around a natural resource planning issue such as water through a pōwhiri will mean mana is recognised

The initial pōwhiri work was shared at a wananga (workshop) of Nga Rangatahi A Iwi (NRAI), a group of young Māori future leaders that is a subsidiary committee of the Iwi Chairs Forum.
Members of NRAI are identified by their peers and their respective Chairs as the up-and-coming leaders of iwi.

A narrative from the wānanga stated: “The NRAI bought a greater depth and understanding to the models [of pōwhiri]; something we need to include in the research going forward. The kōrero we gathered from the day showed us that there is far more depth and knowledge in the models than we had previously presented. Furthermore, NRAI was instrumental in bringing that knowledge out, and are keen to continue to contribute.”

Initial research suggests the pōwhiri process could be applied to collaborative processes with iwi, hapu and Māori communities as follows:

  • Reo Pōwhiri – Administration
  • Reo Whakatau – Establishing relations
  • Wero/Taki – Establishing and/or identifying issues
  • Tū atu Tū mai – Unpacking issues
  • Koha – Reciprocity in practice
  • Harirū – Networking
  • Hākari – Strategies and Timeframes
  • Poroporoaki – Implementing Action Plan

The Collaboration Lab research has identified a lack of information about Māori methods of and participation in collaboration. Whatahoro and Matariki Cribb-Fox are exploring this problem in partnership with practitioners from the Māori world, to further our understanding of collaborative practices, including tikanga-based approaches.

For more details, see Pōwhiri as a Tool for Collaboration, by Whatahoro and Matariki Cribb-Fox (PDF)


Annabel McAleer

Communications Manager, Our Land and Water. Text in this article is licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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