Kaupapa Māori – Participatory decision making

While my methodology for my doctoral research is located within a kaupapa Māori lens, my strategy in utilising elements of action research, participatory action research, community‐based action participatory research, co‐operative inquiry, and co‐design to collaboratively create visualisations of aspirations of health and wellbeing emerged from an interest in how we (kaupapa Māori evaluators) align with practices and movements towards tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake through engaging in participatory decision making.

The term “action research” was coined in 1948 by Kurt Lewin, who proposed cyclical steps of looking (gathering information), thinking (interpreting and explaining), and acting (resolving issues and problems), and then repeating the process. A core principle is critical reflection – exploring how and why things happen and making changes in the research process. Action research is broadly understood in two dimensions, as either an individual (practitioner) reflective process, or a “systematic collection of information that is designed to bring about social change” (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992, p. 223). The action research process can provide a working framework to be developed, whereby future problems and directions can be managed (Mathie & Greene, 1997).

As a participatory process, action research involves researchers working collaboratively with participants such as whānau, hapū, iwi, and organisations to develop, apply, and evaluate evidence‐informed actions that address problems they have highlighted (Cram, 2012). Action research emerged in response to the broad generalisations of positivist research, which made no attempt to recognise the subjective, complex, diverse, cultural, and community lived realities. Descriptions of kaupapa Māori research and action research highlight community voice, collective understanding of issues, developing participant definitions, processes, actions, and outcomes. Action research can complement kaupapa Māori research by adding a reflective cycle that aligns with kaupapa Māori (Kerr et al., 2010).

Participatory action research is a form of action research that makes participant involvement explicit and takes a participatory empowerment approach to social change. Premised on the notion that local communities ought to be full partners in the processes, participatory action research is concerned with knowledge creation and social change and breaks down the distinctions between the researcher and the researched (Cahill, 2007). The method embodies an interactive process of change, where institutions and communities become transformed as people who participate in changing them become transformed. When participatory action research is combined with the overlay of colonisation, the question of who is in control or how control is relinquished through participation and who benefits or becomes empowered through this research, becomes critical.

Community‐based participatory action research is closely related to action research and is “mainly used to conduct research with communities that are underserved by health services and seeing the outcomes of this in the health disparities experiences by people in these communities” (Cram, 2012, p. 2). The method is based on the premise that it begins with an interest in issues from a collective – group, organisation, or community. Community members are recognised as experts in relation to the issue or occurrence, which allows the meaning and usefulness of research to be informed by participants’ everyday experiences and understanding. As a process of inquiry, the approach is based on a set of social values that enable participation of all people, acknowledge people’s rights to equality, provide pathways away from oppression and debilitating conditions, and draw on people’s strengths and potentiality (Stringer, 2007).

Co‐operative inquiry (collaborative inquiry) is also closely related to action research, with the main premise being about research done “with” rather than “on” people (Heron & Reason, 1997). Heron and Reason (1997) extend this by describing four different ways of knowing: propositional (conceptual), experiential (felt), presentational (symbolised), and practical (actions). In the health and social science field, forms of knowing favour propositional knowing and understanding, expressed in statements and theories, which have become the dominant foreground of understanding and inquiry (Heron & Reason, 1997). Less attention is given to forms of knowing that are experiential: face‐to‐face engagement, and knowing through connection, empathy, and resonance. One extension of experiential knowing is presentational knowing: expression through imagery, narration, drawing, sculpture, movement and dance and which is largely underdeveloped in academic research. However, in Indigenous spaces, experiential, presentational, and practical (skills and competencies) are very much a part of expressions of knowing. Additionally, in their enactment, these forms of knowing are embedded in connections and relationships and with them come all the rights and obligations they imply.

One approach gaining momentum in the public health service field is the method of co‐design, also known as co‐creation/construction/production. Co‐design challenges existing quality‐improvement practices commonly utilised in the public health system. In Aotearoa, DHBs, public hospitals, and local councils claim to utilise the method that employs similar principles and practices to co‐operative inquiry, participatory action research, and kaupapa Māori research (Boyd, McKernon, Mullin, & Old, 2012). Power sharing and acknowledgement, community engagement, and action‐focused and strengths‐based practices focus on developing participant definitions, processes, actions, and outcomes (Kerr et al., 2010). As a result, participatory action research and kaupapa Māori research both draw attention to areas of strategic importance by revealing real and pressing issues for the communities and participants concerned.

My doctoral study aligned with elements of co‐design as I utilised techniques and tools derived from service design and values‐based practice processes such as having an aspirational approach towards creating meaningful participant input, collaborative practice, creative activities, problem solving, and innovation practice. However, my research departs from the method when the aspiration of “co” assumes an equal input on the part of the participants/consumers. My approach was about offering components of co‐design and co‐creation pathways as an option; it was about the invitation to participate and collaborate for participants to determine the extent of engagement and participation in the method.


Bogdan, R., & Biklen, S. K. (1992). Qualitative Research For Education. Boston: Allyn  and Bacon.

Boyd, H., McKernon, S., Mullin, B., & Old, A. (2012). Improving healthcare through the
use of co‐design. The New Zealand Medical Journal, 125(1357), 76–87.

Cahill, C. (2007). Repositioning ethical commitments: Participatory action research as
a relational praxis of social change. ACME: An International E‐Journal for
Critical Geographies, 6(3), 360–373.

Cram, F. (2012). Action research. Retrieved from http://www.katoa.net.nz/kaupapa‐

Heron, J., & Reason, P. (1997). A participatory inquiry paradigm. Qualitative Inquiry, 3(3), 274–294.

Kerr, S., Penney, L., Moewaka Barnes, H., & McCreanor, T. (2010). Kaupapa Māori
action research to improve heart disease services in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Ethnicity & Health, 15(1), 15–31.

Mathie, A., & Greene, J. C. (1997). Stakeholder participation in evaluation: How important is diversity? Evaluation and Program Planning, 20(3), 279–285. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0149‐7189(97)00006‐2

Stringer, E. T. (2007). Action research: A handbook for practitioners. New Bury Park, CA: Sage.

Dr Teah Anna Lee Carlson (PhD)

He uri mokopuna tenei no Te whānau ā Apanui, Ngāti Porou me Waikato‐Tainui hoki. My whakapapa is derived from my Pākehā māmā (mum) and a Māori pāpā (dad). My māmā has English, Scottish, and French ancestry. My pāpā is Māori, Swedish, English, and Scottish. I grew up in two worlds – this is my strength and my lens. I grew up in a small Māori community, Mangatokerau, on the East Coast, Ngāti Porou. Mangatokerau is so small it has no shops and just a few whare (houses). Ever since I was young I wanted to be part of a solution, a movement that served the community and strengthened the marginalised, oppressed, and disadvantaged. It has been a long journey to discover that I do not have to search for this purpose. The role has been handed to me; it is written in the stories in my whakapapa and is a part of me. I have worked in hapū and iwi settings, as a social care worker, youth worker, researcher, and evaluator.


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