How Rangatahi Lead Positive Social Change in Identifying their Hauora Issues.


Authors:          Justina Webster, Te Rina Warren, Wheturangi Walsh-Tapiata, Dylan Kiriona with Rangatahi Researchers

                        Whäia te Hauora o ngä Rangatahi Research Unit, Te Rünanga o Raukawa Inc.       

This paper examines how rangatahi have contributed towards positive social change within a research project that considers their hauora.  Hapü and Mäori providers nominated rangatahi who they believed had leadership potential to be trained and to lead participatory action research into the health and wellbeing of Mäori rangatahi. The rangatahi played an integral role in developing the research including the methodologies utilised and in the process have become role models for the rangatahi that are the participants in the research. A noticeable change of attitude is now apparent from these young people as they realise the positive potential of research as means of ensuring their voices are being heard around social issues that are important to them.  

Mäori in common with other indigenous peoples face considerable problems with their youth.  While there have been many attempts to address these issues, there has been limited involvement from Mäori youth and their communities.  While there is substantial literature on youth in New Zealand as well as many statements that Mäori youth make up a considerable portion of the major issues and negative statistics in our country, there still appears to be minimal information which directly addresses the issues relevant to rangatahi Mäori, and even less from a rangatahi Mäori perspective.  Given the opportunity young people will reveal that they are actively  

“involved in their life projects, actively engaged in social relationships of all kinds, keen commentators on their own, full of suggestions for improving them, willing to participate in the institutions of everyday life, but very aware of the limitations placed on their ability to do so” (Prout, 2001:199).  


In 2002 Te Rünanga o Raukawa Inc. were successful in securing funding from the Health Research Council (HRC) in conjunction with the Foundation for Research Science and Technology (FoRST), to undertake a three year research project in the area of Youth Health and Well being. The Request for Proposal (RFP) indicated that the project needed to be overseen by an Iwi/Mäori organisation providing an opportunity for an iwi to become a lead organisation. Te Rünanga o Raukawa Incorporated was chosen to umbrella the project for a number of reasons.  As an iwi organisation Te Rünanga o Raukawa already had a strong presence throughout the Manawatu - Horowhenua area, had established health and social services and were interested in expanding into research and development.  

A particular strength of this project was the collaborative relationships that were established with a number of organisational stakeholders who would play a vital on-going interest in the project and would nominate members for an advisory committee that would oversee the project.  These organisations included, research units at Te Putahi-a-Toi (Massey University), the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work (Massey University), Te Mana Tuku Iho, Highbury Whanau Centre, Wesley Community Action, Te Wänanga o Raukawa, and the Academic Vice Chancellor Mäori at Massey University.  As highly recognised exponents in the iwi and research terrain specific advice was sought from Professor Mason Durie and Professor Whatarangi Winiata who in turn nominated their representatives for the advisory committee. 

The project would be undertaken within the boundaries of Ngäti Raukawa, but would include rangatahi Mäori of any iwi.  The research was being conducted under the auspices of Te Rünanga o Raukawa which also suggested the potential of a strong whanau, hapü and iwi being presented.   

Iwi and Mäori groups have been the participants of many research projects with many having negative experiences of the process.  Irwin (1994: 38) states that “researchers and academics generally have a poor reputation in the Mäori community and are viewed with suspicion at best, contempt in the main”. Iwi and Mäori have aspired for a long time to be in control of their own research, believing that they could rectify this negative imagery, however most research has been conducted via research institutions or universities.  Until recently, Mäori status was regularly described using deficit theories and Päkehä solutions were offered to the “Mäori Problem” (Walsh-Tapiata, 1997: 136).  Rather than focussing on the negative aspects often associated with young people and Mäori  this research offered the opportunity for rangatahi themselves to identify and highlight what they saw as their hauora issues as well as offering some possible solutions to these issues.  As rangatahi are the sole focus of this research this allowed rangatahi the opportunity to consider rangatahi Mäori solutions.    

Adult workers involved in the project were strong advocates for the need to ensure that the youth voice be heard throughout the research project as well as to monitor the project from their perspective.  Ensuring that the youth voice was heard was a key principle as “youth have insightful views and analyses of our society, have solutions to offer and would be willing to voice those if invited” (Tuhiwai-Smith, Smith, Boler, Kempton, Ormond, Cheuh & Waetford, 2002:170).   This research project endeavours to listen to the voice of rangatahi Mäori, allow them to mould the shape of the research, not just in terms of the information collected, but also in terms of developing appropriate research methods, and to involve rangatahi Mäori in a research process that is driven by them.  Through participatory action research we set out to “create new forms of knowledge through a creative synthesis of the different understandings and experiences of those who take part” (Rice and Ezzy, 1999:173).  Therefore, participatory action research allows rangatahi Mäori as researchers and participants the opportunity to convey their own experiences in a manner that may enhance their own health and wellbeing.  

Recruitment of Rangatahi Researchers and Participants

At the start of the research project we approached a range of iwi, Mäori and youth organisations to see if they were interested in the project.  We asked them whether they had any youth who might be interested in being involved.  Rather than placing advertisements in the paper we attended hui, asked adults or directly approached rangatahi.  Te Rünanga Whaiti (the executive committee of Te Rünanga o Raukawa) was approached to recommend young leaders from their hapü and a number of Mäori groups were also invited to recommend rangatahi for the project.  Rangatahi were then contacted and informed about an initial hui.  Rangatahi attended these hui for a number of reasons, some were already involved in youth  leadership programmes or youth councils, others were nominated because of their leadership roles in the various communities that they lived in, while a number had little idea initially as to why they were here but simply came “because koro said”.   

A dozen rangatahi became a part of the research team with two adults working alongside them.  Two of the older rangatahi had to leave the project because of permanent employment opportunities.  Initially we thought we would have a group of rangatahi between 19-24 years, however, the rangatahi between 15-19 years have been more consistently available. 

Having established the group of rangatahi researchers we identified possible rangatahi groups to approach about the project and to see if they would be interested in participating in the project.  A matrix of a range of rangatahi variables such as high–low risk rangatahi, rural–urban based rangatahi, and educational settings was designed and from this six groups were selected to participate. We also visited some of these groups to meet up with their rangatahi and see if they thought the project was worthwhile and if they were interested in participating.  The groups that have participated included a small rural town youth programme, a school, an iwi education programme, a leadership programme and two alternative education programmes, one based at a marae and the other based in a city.  

Research Methods

Since we set out to “privilege” the youth voice through the design of the methodology and the organisation of the research (Weis and Fine, 1993) the research project is strongly influenced by participatory action research and has utilised qualitative research methods.  The Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa (Ministry of Youth Affairs, 2002) also emphasises the importance of the youth voice in any youth developments.  We used a combination of open ended focus group interviews, in-depth individual interviews as well as youth based activities, in addition to the analysis of relevant literature.  The use of these qualitative research methods allowed us to explore the stories and experiences of the young people.  These methodologies enabled youth researchers, participants and adult researchers to identify and create “safe spaces” to “hear it like it is” (Tuhiwai Smith et al, 2002).  Reinharz (1988, 15-16) states, “…if you want to hear it, you have to go hear it, in their space, or in a safe space…In other words, if you want someone to tell it like it is, you have to hear it like it is”.  We conducted focus group interviews in the first phase and in-depth individual interviews in phase two.   

Durie (1996) believes that it is important to find methods that are appropriate to Mäori, with the critical factors being Mäori participation in the design of the project, the incorporation of Mäori  world views and a reflection of the diversity of Mäori .  In order for us to ensure that the interview schedule was youth focused and youth driven all phases were piloted first with and by the youth researchers and adapted accordingly. Using a semi-structured interview schedule allowed participants the opportunity to tell their story in their own words.  These methods and exercises provided rangatahi participants with information which was youth friendly and non-threatening and also enabled them to feel positive and empowered about their involvement in this research project and research in general.   

Every opportunity was used to discuss the various phases of the project with our rangatahi researchers and to assess whether our research methods matched our research objective.  Analysis of the literature on youth, Mäori youth and participatory action research methods supported the approaches that we used.  Yet, in order to contextualise this alongside the current developments in Aotearoa it became apparent that we should maximise our opportunities to create unique approaches to research with Mäori and particularly rangatahi Mäori.  Some of the methods used were developed as we progressed on our research journey.  These methods were influenced by both rangatahi and adults in the research team as well as by the advisory committee where a number of them came from backgrounds such as social work, community work, youth work and Mäori research.  With ideas starting to emerge meetings were held with our rangatahi researchers where these methods were trialled for their appropriateness.  In developing the interview schedule questions we felt that it was important for the rangatahi to have input to ensure that the questions were contextualised within their experience and informed by their knowledge of what factors would work or not work when researching young Mäori. So while rangatahi were leading the development of the interview schedule they were also being educated and trained about research and how to be youth researchers.  Given many of their previous negative experiences of research, despite their young age, it was vitally important to give them a different impression about how positive social change could occur through research (Munford and Walsh-Tapiata, 2001). 

Training Exercises and Activities

The following are some of the training exercises and activities that we have used within this project.  One of the initial exercises used to encourage this group of rangatahi Mäori about the importance of research was a textbook exercise.  A range of literature on youth was presented to the rangatahi researchers.  All were asked to choose one of the reports, books or articles we had on youth health and to see what, if anything, was stated specific to rangatahi Mäori.  Only a small amount of information was found specific to rangatahi Mäori which was an effective mechanism of allowing the rangatahi to conclude not only the importance of this research project but also why of their involvement was critical.   

Another activity included simply asking the rangatahi researchers “what is research?”  In this workshop rangatahi were broken into two groups and were asked to brainstorm/mind map what they thought “research” was.  After a slow beginning and some uncertainty about what they were  expected to do, a flow of ideas produced not only some creative ideas but also allowed further discussion around the different types of research (qualitative versus quantitative), information gathering as well as analysis of data, specific research skills required and rangatahi appropriate research. Some of the ideas that rangatahi had about “what is research” included breaking down the word into:

re = as in re-doing something more than once

search = finding or looking for 

The rangatahi themselves led the discussion but also identified further areas that they would like more information on in order become good researchers.  They were gaining confidence in the subject area as well as the ability to suggest processes and procedures within the research project that needed to be considered from a rangatahi perspective. 

It was also vitally important for the rangatahi researchers to realise that they were key decision makers in the entire research process and the on-going success of research is particularly because of the valuable contribution that they make. Being guided by our rangatahi researchers also meant that the adults had to be aware of the attention span of rangatahi and we were mindful to break the interviews up with youth based activities or by asking questions that allowed experiences and stories from the rangatahi to be expressed in several contexts.  In addition the use of drama, song and story telling techniques were also used to ensure that the individuals felt comfortable in focus groups and interview settings while still contributing to the research. All of these techniques proved to be effective and generated rich data about the nature of wellbeing (Munford and Sanders: 2003).  We began each focus group interview with warm up exercises that allowed whakawhanaungatanga processes to occur within the group.  These whakawhanaungatanga based activities allowed rangatahi to interact and engage with each other.  These activities were also designed to create an interactive environment and break down some of the initial barriers, particularly when rangatahi did not know each other.  An example of this was a human bingo exercise where all participants had to ask other rangatahi simple questions about themselves.  

Group exercises of brainstorming or mind mapping addressed broad interpretations of hauora which then led to more specific brainstorming questions relevant to particular areas of hauora.  The use of large A1 post it stickers and coloured vivids offered visual aids for further discussions and encouraged dialogical learning (Freire, 1970).  While the use of brainstorming promoted peer interaction and conversation it also allowed rangatahi to track what topics had been spoken about and provided the quiet individual with the opportunity to simply write their own thoughts on one corner of the paper.  This exercise catered well for both the collective and the individual.  

As we delved deeper into the interpretations of hauora and experiences of these an individual exercise called the ‘secret box’ (Punch, 2002) offered the participants an opportunity to comment about a health issue that they may have felt reluctant to discuss in front of their peers.  This issue could be a positive or negative experience, however, most presented negative experiences ranging from abuse, drugs and racism.  This particular exercise gave the project some insight into some of the deeper issues that rangatahi are faced with. 

While focus groups interviews looked at uncovering the broad interpretation of hauora, the individual interview schedule looked at services, people and programmes available to youth in their community and the appropriateness of these services from their perspective. As the research process progressed we believed a true partnership had been created where rangatahi felt that their voice was truly being heard and listened to.  Every focus group was undertaken jointly by both rangatahi and adults and it was here that the leadership roles in facilitating the interviews started to obviously change.  As the rangatahi researchers became more confident in both the research and in their role in it, they began taking on a more frontline position where they developed the facilitation skills that they had learned.  Slowly the rangatahi moved from handing out pens and paper, to fully facilitating the sessions. In some instances they themselves were able to decide in certain contexts that they may not have been the right person in the interview.  An example of this occurred when one focus group turned out to be all female participants and the rangatahi researcher was male.  This male felt uncomfortable and sensed that the group was also feeling this way so in a discussion it was decided that he no longer co-facilitate but proceed to undertake other tasks not directly associated with the interview such as preparing the kai.  This aligns with the notion of ko te amorangi ki mua ko te hapai o ki muri. 

Another training session looked at transcription techniques.  As a group we talked about the various ways in which to record interviews.  We talked about the range of equipment available as well as the equipment we would use.  One rangatahi spoke of her experience of transcribing and how she found the task long, boring and tiring. She did note however that it was good to re-hear the interviews.  Although transcribing itself can be a monotonous job, we attempted to maintain a reasonable amount of interest while demonstrating the activity.  As a practical exercise the rangatahi researchers were separated into groups of five and each group provided with a dictaphone with their first task being to “tutu” with them.  The next task was for them to record a two minute conversation in their group.  They then had to pass their dictaphone to the other group who where to transcribe the first minute of the conversation.  Initially the rangatahi thought the exercise would be easy but as they struggled to make sense of the conversation replaying the tape many times with much heated debate about what they thought they had heard they became aware of the importance of accurate transcribing and its relevance to research.  As an additional exercise, the rangatahi still in their groups attempted to transcribe a song from a well known hip hop band.  Rangatahi said that this was fun but that it still offered the same difficulties especially with regard to the different interpretations and the running together of some of the lyrics.  

The discussions around transcribing centred on the difficulties and ways in which we could minimise these as well as some strategies that are useful to remember.  Some of the difficulties included not having been present at the interview and therefore it would be harder to interpret what was being said and the difficulty of focus group interviews where you have a number of speakers let alone some that speak really quietly The possible strategies included having someone who was at the interview to transcribe the interview as they generally knew what the conversations were about.  Patton (2002) also suggests that transcribing your own interviews provide an opportunity to get immersed in the data.  Patton also highlights the importance of having good equipment and that extensive notes should also be made immediately after an interview.  We also discussed the possibility of returning the transcripts to the participants to ensure the transcripts were correct.  This exercise was orchestrated to demonstrate some of the issues that surround transcription.   

“Whäia te Hauora o ngä Rangatahi” is based on participatory action research.  This means that rangatahi who participate in the research are agents of change.  Having established an honest and open relationship between all of the parties involved in the project, the rangatahi themselves are giving voice to their ideas and are each showing leadership potential.  Each training exercise and activity provides an opportunity for learning as well as an expression of opinion for these rangatahi.  There ability to vocalise their thoughts and to show a true interest in youth activities as well as whanau, hapü, iwi and Mäori issues is indicative of the number of them that have been nominated to be at this conference by their hapü .  Within the research project, there are many instances when adult researchers glimpse underlying talents and hidden leadership qualities in these rangatahi and these are harnessed as a part of the research project. Again a good example of this is our tohu and our up and coming artist.  We think that the research project is offering an exciting insight into rangatahi potential.  As the project progresses rangatahi are revealing of their personal traits to both the adult researchers and their peers and we are seeing artists, singers, kapa haka components, tuakana-teina roles and responsibilities, analysts, youth leaders, and researchers to name a few .  The saying, these are the leaders of tomorrow, is a heavy burden to carry especially with the knowledge of the myriad of issues that rangatahi face in contemporary societies.  But it is an even heavier burden if we as pakeke have no understanding of these issues and do not equip our rangatahi with the necessary skills to do deal with those issues.  Who would of ever have thought that establishing a youth driven research project would be a ground for developing Young Mäori leaders.  Young Mäori leaders who are agents of social change themselves in their various communities.  Not only have they encountered change in terms of their views of research, or change in rangatahi attitudes by providing rangatahi faces to the ancient art of research reserved only for fossils and dinosaurs, by they have collated and provided information about their own experiences and realities in order to effect change in a way that adulthood views of rangatahi and their health issues could never do.  We believe that their efforts will effect change much further a field than their own thinking, their own homes or their own communities.  We know that these rangatahi are already leading a new direction for youth research, for Mäori research and for health research.  Some say that these are our leaders of tomorrow; we say they are leading us today. 

Te Röpu Whai – Rangatahi researchers include:

Riria Arapere, Hohua Arapere, Sharn Webster, Amokura Tapiata, Mihikore Davis, Istarnia Peachey, Michael Moses, Areti Metuamate-Tuatini, Te Aniwaniwa Gotty, Kiriona Pene, Mahinaarangi Baker, Te Hokowhitu Cook, Terewai Rikihana, Te Puawai Stretch-Logan, Kieran Brown, Rawiri Tapiata, Tiaria Ransfield



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