“Whānau voice” is increasingly understood as an essential aspect of social innovation and design thinking practice in Aotearoa New Zealand. It seems like everyone wants an ethically produced whānau voice as part of their research or evaluation project. As a researcher at Tokona Te Raki I am fully supportive of ensuring that whānau are at the heart of everything we do. But recently I think that as a movement we are underestimating the amount of time, skill, and resource that it takes to ensure that an authentic whānau voice is informing the evidence base for our mahi.
As an independent Māori research organisation we are always in the position of having to secure the resources needed to produce quality, evidence based insights. What I find interesting about these conversations is that generally we don’t find ourselves having to advocate for the resources required for traditional ‘big data’ projects, but we always have to make the case for ‘soft’ data and the vital role of whānau voice and qualitative research in giving the ‘hard’ data any meaning or value.
Personally, big data feels meaningless without the cultural and contextual nuances of lived experience. Yet it’s perfectly normal to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars engaging economists and data specialists for predictive and exploratory quantitative data insights. To change this paradigm I think we need to reframe the value we place on lived experience informing our work. We need to be honest about the time, skill, and resources it takes to do this within the values of ‘tika’ (doing the right things) and ‘pono’ (doing them in the right way).
So why do we value big data more than qualitative insights? And why do we as practitioners continue to agree to unrealistic budgets, deadlines, and deliverables when we know how much time, skill, and resource this mahi takes to initiate, analyse and write up? I don’t have the answers to these questions but reflecting on my own practice I can see myself wanting to resist the push to do ‘whānau insights’ quickly in order to meet unrealistic deadlines. If we want to make transformational change we need to have a robust conversation with our project partners and develop a strategy for whānau voice that has integrity.
Knowledge is power. Linda Smith has spoken about the need to decolonise research for over 30 years and yet still now in 2020 researchers are faced with the conundrum of how to “validate” whānau voice for a professional Pākehā audience who expects this process to be a quick and cheap exercise.
Qualitative research involves real people and real lives. It is intimate work and involves a level of vulnerability on behalf of the participants and the practitioner. Both parties need to be willing and able to enter into an authentic relationship of vulnerability and sensibility. To do this both parties need the time to figure out how to share this power in an authentic way. People have a right to know how their data will be used, and for what purpose and in what ways it will inform the ongoing mahi of the organisation. Ultimately the experience has to be mana enhancing for both parties. As researchers and practitioners we cannot flit in and out of communities, “mining” them for data.
So yes we should all be advocating for the inclusion of whānau voice in our research. But we first have to understand and then advocate for the resources and research capability needed to approach whānau in a way that is respectful, accountable, and in service to self determination. Funders, decisionmakers, and agencies need to understand how long this process takes, how much it takes from everyone involved, and appreciate the real value of human heart data.