Reflections on whānau – the bigger picture

Te Ritorito is a metaphor for intergenerational whānau, hapū and iwi wellbeing. The inaugral Te Ritorito forum was jointly held by Superu and Te Puni Kōkiri at the Pipitea Marae on 3-4 April 2017.

It was an excellent two days of challenging thinking and robust discussion. The hui aimed to illustrate what the bigger picture of whānau, hapū and iwi wellbeing looks like and what the future implications are for Māori and Government.

From my perspective as the Families Commissioner, I have reflected upon this day and here are my insights:

More understanding of whānau is needed

Government needs to give more consideration to understanding whānau as a unit. Whānau is rich with social connectedness and is a strength in our society, but there is great potential still untapped.

Whānau Ora brings a huge challenge for government systems. Government systems have limited forms of evidence on whānau and we have devoted little resource to understanding where and how whānau involvement leads to different outcomes. Systems will need to adapt.

As whānau becomes an instrument of policy, there is a high risk that its specific characteristics will be lost to public officials through a narrow understanding. A better understanding of whānau is needed if we are to accurately capture evidence of ‘what works’.

Whānau and iwi outcomes are not necessarily aligned, unless there is deliberate intent. Do not take the connectedness of iwi and whānau for granted. They are relevant in different contexts from social, economic and cultural perspectives.

Applying ‘what works’ to whānau-based programmes requires an understanding that comes from experience and evaluation with Māori

Measuring ‘what works’ will challenge current thinking. Existing public sector targeting and standards for performance measurement will differ from how whānau think about and measure ‘what works’.  While public administration brings a strong compliance focus, there needs to be better understanding of how whānau think about evidence. Accountability for delivery and what is measured must be recognised and valued on both sides.

Whānau-based programmes are ambitious! We must not lose momentum in getting whānau-based programmes running and performing, or in getting behind new thinking about defining performance.

 We cannot forget the past

We need to understand the history that has got us to where we are now. Past public policy of child protection, ‘Closing the Gaps’, ‘Ka Awatea’ and other ‘Māori Development’ initiatives tended to involve Government doing things for Māori rather than drawing on the richness of the Māori ‘way of thinking’.

It has been rare for the state to recognise the government transgressions which resulted in tragic outcomes for whānau.

 For social policy in the future to support this thinking in its work to champion ‘what works’, it will be challenged in a variety of ways to:

  • Help to ensure that the ‘best thinking of the day’ is made visible and shared among Government.
  • Support the availability and understanding of the various forms of evidence that can be of value to whānau.
  • Empower evidence building within whānau through supporting practices such as continuous improvement and case studies.
  • Support understanding of how different forms of evidence have relevance in the management of hard issues.
  • Contribute insights for the evidence that accumulates (what does the evidence mean, from whose perspective?)
  • Engage with Māori data sovereignty initiatives so as to be receptive to the challenges that come along.
  • Complement ‘Standards of Evidence’ with lifting awareness and understanding what different forms of evidence can contribute.

1 Response

  1. Thanks for the reflections. I agree there are risks when, as you write, whānau becomes an instrument of policy and specific characteristics are lost through narrow understandings. I’m keen to hear how people think this problem can be addressed?


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