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Towards a Māori Statistics Framework

Statistics New Zealand has been concerned for some time about the lack of an agreed framework aligning the collection and reporting of official statistics with Māori issues and concerns. This paper represents work in progress in the development of a Māori statistics framework which will assist in addressing these concerns.

The paper builds on previous work undertaken by Statistics New Zealand, explains why a framework for Māori statistics is needed and outlines the process and rationale used to construct the framework. The focus of the framework is Māori development, which is seen as the process to improving Māori well-being.

There is still a great deal of work to be done. The broad measurement categories outlined in the paper mark the beginning of the work. What is sought now is comment on the shape and structure of the framework, the values that underpin it, and the areas of measurement that have so far been selected.

The release of this paper is the first step in the consultation process that Statistics New Zealand will undertake over the coming months.

Towards a Māori Statistics Framework: A Discussion Document


Māori need good quality statistical information to inform their own debates, decision-making and research, and to assist them to monitor the effects of government policies and programmes relating to Māori. The official statistics go some but not all of the way toward meeting these needs. Statistics New Zealand has been aware of and concerned by the limited relevance of much of the official data on Māori issues and concerns for some time now. And, some small but ad-hoc steps have been taken to try to improve the situation (for example, by including a question on iwi in the population census). However, the department has been unable to address the matter of relevance in any comprehensive way because it has lacked an agreed framework for tackling the problem.

This paper represents work in progress. It sets out for critical comment, the Māori statistics framework as it has been developed thus far. The paper builds on work undertaken over the past years, and these past attempts at devising a framework are the subject of the first section.

The second section explains the purpose of statistical frameworks and the reasons why a framework for Māori statistics is needed.

The process used by Statistics New Zealand for the development of social indicators in constructing the framework is the subject of the third section.

The subject matter of the framework is Māori development, which is seen as a process of improving Māori well-being. These two concepts are defined in the fourth section.

The final section is devoted to describing the structure and the main elements of the framework, including the broad measurement dimensions.


Previous attempts at a framework

Work on a Māori statistics framework has progressed in fits and starts since 1995 when the Māori Statistics Forum set up a working party to formulate terms of reference for the development of a Māori statistics framework. The terms of reference made it clear that the framework had to be "centred on Māori people and their collective aspirations" and further, that it should be "linked to Māori development" (Minutes: May 1995). The contractor employed to come up with a proposal took the view that rather than being simply linked to Māori development, Māori development should constitute the actual subject area of the framework and this was subsequently agreed to by the forum (Minutes: June 1996). A number of principles were applied in the development of the proposed framework that were also agreed to by the forum. These were:

  • The framework should recognise the demographic, socio-economic and cultural diversity of Māori and different realities that characterise Māori society.
  • Māori cultural institutions and both traditional and modern resources should be included among the units of measurement.
  • Māori should be recognised as both consumers/users and producers/providers of goods and services.
  • The cultural attributes and socio-economic circumstances of an individual’s household should be treated as standard analytical variables.
  • Information should be collected and captured at the finest geographic level.
  • As far as possible, standard definitions and classifications should be employed to ensure sectoral integration.
  • The interconnectedness of Māori development and the development of the nation as a whole should be acknowledged by the establishment of linkages between the Māori statistical framework and the larger population, social and economic databases.

The draft framework that was submitted at the time, eventually floundered because not enough attention was given to conceptual matters, in particular, to defining Māori development. A second paper was presented to the forum in November 2000, the central argument being that any resulting framework should reflect a Māori worldview.

A third paper seeking agreement on the definitions of Māori well-being and Māori development from a Māori perspective was submitted to the forum in March 2001. The general approach was agreed to, and work commenced on selecting the statistics to be included, and led to the revision of the general shape and structure of the framework. It is this revision that is now being presented for critical comment. This paper is essentially a working document. The framework as presented is not finished. Comment is sought on the shape and structure of the framework, the values that underpin it, and the areas of measurement that have so far been selected.


The purpose of statistical frameworks

Māori statistics have been collected by successive administrations since the late 1850s. It would be fair to say that up to the point when the Hunn Report was published in 1961 (with the exception of the departmental officials and intellectuals among them), Māori were oblivious to official statistics and the impact they had on their lives. The report included a comprehensive statistical analysis, which highlighted the deprived state in which the Māori people were living. The findings of the report generated widespread concern and mobilised Māori support for the recommendations, which eventually found their way into government policy. The connection had been made between the statistical information that government departments collect and government decisions. By the 1970s, Māori intellectuals and organisations questioned the relevance of much of the statistical information on which the urbanisation policy of the 1960s and the social programmes introduced to address the resulting problems were based.

The relevance issue is still with us. The notion that Māori should be in control of their own development has gained currency in recent years and recent governments have shaped their policies toward this end. The devolution policies of the late 1980s and the early 1990s started the trend, and it was at this point that Statistics New Zealand became conscious of the need to upgrade Māori data. The recent introduction of the capacity building approach to Māori development has generated strong demand from Māori community-based organisations for statistical information for their own purposes. While some of these demands can be met by reshaping existing outputs where this is possible, a lot of the data requirements cannot be met.

Very rarely have statistics on Māori been collected specifically to meet Māori needs. Rather, governments have had their own reasons for collecting these statistics and from 1951, when the practice of a separate Māori census was discontinued, Māori statistics have generally been collected and produced as a by-product of the information that is collected for the entire population. As a result, Māori statistics tend to represent non-Māori analytical frameworks and philosophical approaches and fail to represent Māori realities and it is on the basis of the underlying assumptions that Māori have questioned the relevance of the data.

An agreed framework is the starting point for addressing relevance (as well as validity and consistency which have also emerged as issues). The Australian Bureau of Statistics observes that "A statistical framework maps the conceptual terrain surrounding the area of interest. In other words, frameworks can define the scope of an inquiry, delineate the important concepts associated with a topic, and organise these into a logical structure." And further, "Ultimately, the content and form a framework takes will be determined by the nature and scope of the topic, the purpose of the framework, and the perspective of those designing it." The bureau goes on to say that successful frameworks are: logical in structure; comprehensive but concise; dynamic and flexible to allow for change; and cognisant of other frameworks, classifications and standards. Above all, frameworks represent an agreed way of thinking about an area of interest and are therefore, valuable in promoting standards, consistency and comparability across data collections and between jurisdictions and sectors (ABS, 2001). These are the criteria against which the Māori statistics framework too should be judged.


The process used in constructing the Māori Statistics Framework

Although the object of the exercise is to design a framework for a system of basic Māori statistics and not a system of policy-related indicators, a process similar to that used for the selection of social indicators was adopted. Social reporting on the quality of life using indicators that represent various dimensions of that concept has become fashionable in many developed and developing countries, including New Zealand. And, while notions of what ‘quality of life’ or ‘well-being’ entail (the two seem to be used interchangeably) may vary from country to country depending on ideological and/or theoretical perspective, the process used to select appropriate indicators is generally the same.

There are two stages in the process. First, a conceptual framework is established and this usually occurs in two phases. First, the broad goals of society are identified, as these are almost invariably multidimensional in nature and therefore incapable of being measured. The second phase is devoted to systematically unpacking the different dimensions and organising them according to some theoretical understanding. It is the goal dimensions that are measured by the indicators system and not the goals themselves. Sometimes the goal dimensions are broken down into sub-dimensions and sub-dimensions into domains and outcomes.

The second stage in the process is to identify and select the indicators.


Establishing the goals of Māori development

The concept of Māori development is derived from the definition of Māori well-being. This is because Māori people’s well-being is considered to be the outcome, or ultimate end, of Māori development. As this section follows through the process by which the definition of development was arrived at, it starts out with a discussion of well-being.


Defining Māori well-being

There are several different approaches to the assessment and evaluation of well-being, most of which have been canvassed by Schmitt and Noll as a part of their work on a social reporting system for the European Commission (Schmitt and Noll, 2000). Deciding what approach to take is an important step toward defining what the term ‘well-being’ means. The capabilities approach, which underpins the United Nations Development Programme’s human development approach to the measurement of progress (UNDP, 2001), was considered to be the most appropriate because it recognises diversity among and within cultures and can therefore accommodate non-western world views, a property that other approaches do not have.

The capability approach is based on the writings of the 1998 Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen. In essence, Sen argues for seeing well-being or quality of life in terms of states of being or doing that individuals or collectives value and their capability of achieving those states or activities (Sen, 1990). What is important in the capability model is not what people are or what they do, but what they can or cannot be, and what they can or cannot do, given the opportunities or the freedoms. The model conceives of people directing their lives according to what they themselves value. Capabilities are a means to an end. They reflect opportunities, access and informed choices or in other words, the freedoms to function effectively.

Consistent with this approach, Māori well-being is viewed as a function of the capability of Māori individuals and collectives to live the kind of life that they want to live. Besides recognising cultural diversity, this approach is consistent with Māori thinking in several other respects:

  • Although it is conceived in terms of individual development, it can readily be adapted to development at the collective and societal levels (Sen readily acknowledges that individual and collective well-being is intertwined and that the power of collective action is an essential driving force in the pursuit of development).
  • Issues like freedom, security and the empowerment and participation of people, often overlooked by other approaches, are key themes.
  • It is rights-based rather than needs-based, although it does not discount the fact that in order for people to choose and realise the kind of life they want to live, basic needs have to be satisfied.
  • It recognises the critical role that government plays, and the obligations that the rest of society and the world have in enabling a people’s development.
  • It does not attempt to define what the ‘good life’ is but instead takes a pluralistic approach. It is, therefore, at odds with the use of Māori/non-Māori comparisons to measure Māori development.
  • It acknowledges the fluidity, complexity and diversity of Māori society and recognises multiple realities.


The dimensions of well-being

As stated above, the concept of Māori well-being is still ambiguous and for purposes of measurement, needs to be clarified by unpacking its various dimensions. It is important for the reader to understand that the process of identifying the dimensions of a concept involves the exercise of value judgement, and that one of the most important functions of a statistical framework is to make those judgements transparent.

In making its choices, the project team responsible for developing this framework were guided by the theoretical perspective discussed above and by the literature on Māori development. A number of conferences on this subject have been held over recent years, starting with the Hui Taumata in 1984, (Department of Māori Affairs, 1985). As well, many academic and policy papers have been written. The most helpful was Margaret Forster’s paper to the 2000 DevNet Conference, which suggests that there are four main goals of Māori development (Forster, 2000). These are articulated as: cultural affirmation, social well-being, economic self-determination, and self-determination. Although couched in different terms, all of these ideas had been identified in advance by the project team, who perceived them as aspects of life contributing to Māori being able to live according to their own values and preferences.

For the purposes of the list of dimensions for the framework, Forster’s list was extended by adding human resource potential, which was assumed to be subsumed under either social well-being or economic self-determination.

The resulting list was:

  • Sustainability of Te Ao Māori
  • Social capability (since ‘capital’ is a word that Māori would not use in relation to people and social relations, and capability is more in keeping with the general approach being taken)
  • Human resource potential (and not human capital)
  • Economic self-determination
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Empowerment and enablement.

The dimensions as they now appear have been revised since the forum meeting in March 2002. As well, the first attempt at structuring a framework proved to be less than fruitful and the work done on it was eventually scrapped. As work on determining the proposed measures progressed, the boundaries between the different dimensions became more and more blurred. Measures of one dimension seemed to apply equally as well to other dimensions. For example, is proficiency in the Māori language a measure of cultural affirmation, social inclusion, human potential or empowerment? Or is it an equally valid measure of all four? There is nothing in the literature that suggests the dimensions need to be treated as mutually exclusive categories. On the contrary, in so far as they acknowledge links between dimensions, all of the known approaches to well-being assessment also acknowledge a degree of overlap. In this instance, outputs were being repeated to such an extent that questions had to be asked about the robustness of the proposed conceptual framework.

A review of the framework led to a reduction in the number of dimensions and a reversal of approach. Instead of sub-dividing the dimensions into domains or areas of interest as the project team had been doing, areas of interest became the context within which the dimensions were to be measured. Together, the reduction in the number of dimensions and the reversal of approach had the effect of lessening the amount of repetitiveness by a considerable margin.

Nevertheless, overlaps were still very much in evidence. Since one of the dimensions was concerned with culture (meaning, a way of life), this is hardly surprising. A people’s culture is all pervasive, it penetrates and influences all aspects of life. Moreover, based on its work with indigenous people in other parts of the world, UNESCO has observed that cultural survival is both the reason for and the ultimate end of indigenous people’s development (Fukuda-Parr, 2001). Cultural survival is no less critical for Māori. Indeed, the notion of cultural vitality is at the very heart of the concept of Māori well-being.

To reduce the extent to which the cultural dimension was cutting across the other dimensions of the framework, the focus was changed from cultural vitality, which now was seen as an integral component of Māori well-being, to cultural inheritance or taonga tuku iho, now termed, Te Ao Māori. As far as the project team is concerned, there is still likely to be overlaps but this will simply have to be lived with. Sen’s views on the subject of ambiguity in this area of measurement are salutary. "Ambiguity", he says, "reflects the nature of human life" and where this condition is apparent, "the precise formulation of the idea should try to capture it". "In social investigation", he goes on to say, "it is undoubtedly more important to be vaguely right than to be precisely wrong." (Sen, 1990).


Defining Māori development

Given the way in which Māori well-being has been defined, how should Māori development be viewed? In essence, Māori development is a process of enablement, a process that seeks to extend people’s scope for improving their own lives. It involves notions of:

  • expanding opportunities
  • enhanced choice
  • better access (for example, to Māori knowledge and institutions and to the knowledge and institutions of society generally)
  • increasing participation not just in Māori areas but also in the larger economic, social, cultural and political processes
  • increasing command over goods and services
  • increasing self-determination.

The ultimate end of the process is a state of well-being, a state in which Māori have the capabilities and freedoms to live their life as they wish to. For the purposes of measurement, that desired state is defined by the variety of desirable outcomes that contribute to its achievement. In the context of the framework, these become the goal dimensions, that is, the dimensions of the ultimate end, well-being. Thus, the thinking that went into the original conceptual framework remains largely intact (see Appendix 1). The changes that have been made have been to the specific elements that made up that framework, the way in which those elements were organised, and, of course, to the nomenclature.


Structure of the framework

The Māori statistics framework is structured by areas of interest and the goal dimensions of well-being identified above. Measurement dimensions have been added as the first stage in the populating of the framework. The measurement dimensions establish the broad information requirements.

The framework presented here is intended to measure the goal dimensions of well-being and hence, progress with Māori development, in the context of the areas, which are of most interest to Māori. Thus, within each area of interest, one or more of the dimensions of the framework (i.e. sustainability of Te Ao Māori, social capability, human resource potential, economic self-determination, environmental sustainability, and empowerment and enablement) will be identified and measured.

Areas of interest correspond to important aspects of the quality of life or well-being. Their selection represents yet another judgement call by the project team. Again, it relies heavily on conference literature and the knowledge of the members for support. Comment on the appropriateness and the completeness of the selection would be welcomed.

By measuring the goal dimensions within an area of interest, linkages among the dimensions are easier to demonstrate. As already mentioned, the project team’s first attempt at constructing and populating the framework took the reverse approach. Each of the goal dimensions was identified and differentiated into areas of interest so that for example, Māori language was seen as a component of what was then the cultural vitality dimension (but is now called sustainability of Te Ao Māori) rather than the other way around. This was the reason why repetitiveness became such a problem. With the area of interest approach, it is possible to see at a glance what the linkages are within a particular area.

There is still a great deal of work to be done on populating the framework. The broad measurement categories derived from the goal dimensions within each area of interest mark only the beginning of the task. Work has already commenced on identifying outcomes for each area of interest and on specifying the statistical outputs needed to measure them. Some attention has also been given to the inputs. Value judgements are again involved in selecting the broad measurement areas. In making these judgements, the project team kept in mind, fundamental Māori values like manaaki, hau, whanaungatanga and kaitiakitanga.

Now that the conceptual issues have been resolved and given competing priorities, it is expected that the identification of more specific information requirements will be completed by the end of the year.

For the proposed framework see the downloadable file.


Where to from here?

The shape and structure of the framework is based on a certain theoretical perspective. That perspective, which is explained in the body of this paper, was chosen because it accommodates Māori ways of looking at the world. It was the project team’s task to try and capture those world-views and to recast them in a way that would render them measurable.

The framework’s function when it is finished will be to help Statistics New Zealand to improve the relevance of the statistics it collects to those Māori individuals and organisations that need to plan and make decisions and give advice. There are certain areas covered in the framework on which it would not be appropriate for a government department to be collecting information. The department is well aware of the need for discretion and care in this sensitive area.

The department expects that iwi, hapü or Māori communities and organisations may want to collect, produce and store some of this information themselves and that where this is the case, Statistics New Zealand’s role will change from provider, to that of facilitator of local collection through its statistical capability building programme.

Comments are invited on all aspects of the paper and the framework. In effect, the project team is asking whether it is on the right track. Your input will assist the department to make its products more suited to Māori statistical needs.


Printable version

A copy of this paper is available in pdf format. This file is a full copy and includes the Framework, References and Appendix, which do not appear on this web page.

If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat Reader you may download the reader to view or print the contents of the file.

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