People Behind the Research – Liz Gordon

What sort of a society are we that locks up its indigenous group in such high – and growing – numbers?’
We talk to Liz Gordon of Pūkeko Research about her recent research on children of prisoners and how a Member of Parliament became a community researcher.
Tell us something about you.
I run a research company called Pūkeko Research Ltd.  It is a company with character and values.  Its motto is ‘making a difference’.
What’s your favourite piece of community research?
This has to be our study of the children of prisoners, undertaken by Network Research for Pillars between 2009 and 2011.  With multiple reports, and significant engagement with government agencies, we see this as research that has the potential to bring about change for the children.
What’s on your mind at the moment?
The outrageously high rates of Māori imprisonment.  What sort of a society are we that locks up its indigenous group in such high – and growing – numbers.  There must be a better way!
What research has caught your eye recently?
Massey University’s analysis of charter schools and whether their introduction would improve schooling in New Zealand. It was a really thorough report, and fascinating, but is, of course, likely to be ignored.  Its main finding was that, in terms of the small number of charter schools that were successful (17%), most got their success either by cherry-picking the best and the brightest, or by high attrition rates – getting rid of non-achievers.  It was depressing, because we are going to have a charter school trial in New Zealand whether we want one or not.
Why is evaluation of community projects/programmes so important?
People invest a lot into projects, but unfortunately sometimes the amount invested is not reflected in the outcomes.  In other words, a project can feel good but not make a difference.  Evaluation by an external agency can discover what is of value and what is not.  It can also tell an agency what changes are needed.  Finally, it can assess financial value for money spent.

What has been the most significant moment in your career?
Crikey, that’s a big question. I have done lots of things. In 1979 I started university as an adult student, despite have crippling phobias. I also volunteered at the newly formed women’s refuge.  Then getting my degree, then more degrees, my Doctorate. Oh yes, Motherhood and later Grandmotherhood. I loved working at the university, and still meet people I taught…Parliament – a fascinating six years. I met a huge range of people, from inspiring to terrifying! My darling (second) husband, the wonderful Garth. And now my fabulous research career and heaps of voluntary and pro bono work.  Did I also mention that post-Parliament I went back to uni and did a law degree? That’s most of my significant bits, I think…
Liz’s papers recently added to the Community Research kete: Causes of and Solutions to Inter-generational Crime, Working with the Families and Children of Prisoners in Aotearoa and Invisible Children – A Study of the Children of Prisoners.

Community Research


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