Pathways to Transition

Connecting Science to Communities: What Have we Learned About Research in Aotearoa?

More than a methodology: mission-led innovation systems that embed Māori values connect science outputs to what communities need. A review of Our Land and Water research shows there are implications for how we plan and fund science.

He Herenga Mātauranga, the Our Land and Water rangahau Māori wānanga on 22 May 2024

Collaboration, flexibility, and inclusivity are not just beneficial for research that resonates with communities and allows them to conduct their own research, but are also necessary for delivering connected, mission-led science.  

This is one of the key findings of a review of Our Land and Water research, led by the NZ Institute of Economic Research (NZEIR). 

The study analysed the entire 8 years of Our Land and Water research, examined the models used, and their impact on relationships, outputs, and community engagement.

Across different time periods of the Challenge, researchers assessed the number and diversity of relationships, levels of trust, and connections between researchers and communities, and considered these against traditional research outputs, such as papers.  In particular, they looked at how the research models changed over the course of the Challenge to a more partnership approach, and the impact of the embedding research in Māori values through the Te Taiao framework.

The review offers five important lessons for future science and science funding in Aotearoa:

  1. Empower collaboration: Research teams operating under the Te Taiao framework were notably more diverse and better connected with communities and other researchers. This diversity fostered strong interdisciplinary networks that stakeholders believe will yield lasting impacts. The inclusion of varied perspectives not only enriched the research, but also ensured that the outcomes were relevant to the communities involved.
  2. Be flexible: Flexibility in funding and reporting systems is crucial. It allows researchers to adapt their projects in response to community feedback and evolving needs. In a Te Tiriti-led system, this flexibility specifically empowers Māori people to lead and participate in research, setting directions that reflect their values and aspirations as part of the overall research process.
  3. Develop new metrics for success: Traditional metrics, such as peer-reviewed publications, don’t align with the positive outcomes of mission-oriented research. Funders should consider developing new metrics that reflect the impact and relevance of research to the mission's goals, focusing on tangible benefits to the communities involved.
  4. Fund and value trust-building: Building strong networks and trust relationships takes significant time and resources, which are often underestimated and undervalued. Future funding models should account for the full costs, including the additional roles Māori researchers often fill as cultural advisors (aronga takirua or ‘the second shift').
  5. Support independent researchers: Independent researchers and organisations played a pivotal role in delivering both peer-reviewed and community oriented research. Their involvement should be seen as indispensable to the science system in Aotearoa, providing critical insights and maintaining the integrity of mission-oriented research.

Our Land and Water included more than 1140 participants and has so far delivered nearly 600 paper, conference and hui outputs, with its research mentioned in 800 media stories. But this review suggests that trust, strong relationships, and community impact are outputs that shouldn’t be overlooked or undervalued.

Bill Kaye-Blake, principal economist at NZIER and lead researcher on the project says, “Our experience with the Te Taiao framework has shown us that when we place Māori values at the core of our research, we not only achieve better scientific outcomes but also create stronger, more resilient communities. This approach is more than a methodology; it's a path to sustainable, meaningful impact.”

Map of the degree of collaboration participants have they have with other participants in the Our Land and Water network
Map of the degree of collaboration participants say they have with other participants in the Our Land and Water network

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Allanah Robinson

Allanah Robinson is a science communicator with GoodSense

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