Conducting research with whānau

Tēnā koutou katoa. He mihi mahana ki a koutou.

Ko wai ahau?
Ko Mohaka te awa, ko Tawhirirangi te maunga, ko Ngāti Pahauwera te Iwi.
Ko Fiona Cram tōku ingoa. He kairangahau hauora Māori ahau.

My greetings to you. My name is Fiona Cram and I’m a researcher and evaluator doing work related to Māori health and wellbeing, including whānau ora. I run a small company, Katoa Ltd, and we do Kaupapa Māori (by Māori, for Māori, with Māori) research, evaluation and training. You can find out more about the work we do at

I’m the first-up blogger on the Whānau Ora research blog and I’m going to be pondering the issue of how research can be conducted with whānau in ways that are tika (true), pono (correct) and rooted in aroha (love and respect).

As researchers and evaluators we have a responsibility to work with whānau in ways that uphold their mana (status). But what does this really mean in practice? It’s certainly more about how whanau feel they’ve been treated than it is about us and what we feel we’ve offered. At the same time we researchers need some principles or tīkanga to guide our own practices with whānau.

At the recent Te Anga Mua hui where the Whānau Ora Research website was launched we had the opportunity to ask some of the participants what their tip would be for researchers doing research with whānau. Over the next few weeks I’ll be talking about what they shared and asking you for comments about your own experiences as whānau who’ve been involved in research, as researchers working with whānau, or as interested onlookers. We have a lot to learn from one another.

To set the scene for this let me introduce the Community-Up Research practice model proposed by Linda Tuhiwai Smith and discussed by me in a couple of book chapters. It sets out seven cultural values that guide researcher conduct.

Table 1. ‘Community-Up’ Approach to Defining Research Conduct
Cultural Values (Smith, 1999)  –  Researcher Guidelines (Cram, 2001)
1.    Aroha ki te tangata  –  A respect for people – allow people to define their own space and meet on their own terms
2.    He kanohi kitea  –  It is important to meet people face to face, and to also be a face that is known to and seen within a community
3.    Titiro, whakarongo…kōrero  –  Looking and listening (and then maybe speaking) – develop understanding in order to find a place from which to speak
4.    Manaaki ki te tangata  –  Sharing, hosting, being generous
5.    Kia tupato  –  Be cautious – be politically astute, culturally safe, and reflective about insider/outsider status
6.    Kaua e takahia te mana o te tangata  Do not trample on the ‘mana’ or dignity of a person
7.    Kia mahaki  –  Be humble – do not flaunt your knowledge; find ways of sharing it
Source. Adapted from Smith (2006, p.12, Diagram 1)

This is one framework and over the past few years the importance of it has not necessarily been in guiding others how to do research with Maori, whanau and communities, although this was a goal of developing the framework. In addition it has provoked those who are party to research to think about how they want to conduct research, and promoted them to make explicit and explore each others’ expectations about how they would like to be treated within a research relationship. This has led to the development of research protocols for specific projects that have evolved over time as the values and principles each party has are tested and refined within a research environment.

Cram, F. (2001). Rangahau Māori: Tona tika, tona pono. In M. Tolich (Ed.), Research ethics in Aotearoa (pp. 35-52). Auckland: Longman.
Smith, L. (1999). Decolonising methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. New York & Dunedin: Zed Books & Otago University Press.
Smith, L. T. (2006). Researching in the margins: Issues for Māori researchers – A discussion paper. Alternative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples , 2 (1), 4-27.

Community Research


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