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Weaving Māori Data Expertise Into the Government Data System Design

Updated: Apr 25

Mā te whiritahi, ka whakatutuki ai ngā pūmanawa o tāngata

Weaving the realisation of potential together

In 2021, the Government Chief Data Steward refreshed the Government Data Strategy and Roadmap as a result of a rapidly changing data landscape. Notable changes to the data landscape include a 10-year Data Investment Plan, a Mana Orite Relationship agreement signed by Stats NZ and Data Iwi Leaders Group to realise iwi data aspirations, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2021 Government Data Strategy and Roadmap recognised the need for a future state government data system design. The government data system is the government-wide set of policies, practices, processes, and people that are involved in the collection, management, and use of government-held data. The design includes design pillars (behaviours and practices) and the required capabilities to support these. Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Te Tiriti) is embedded throughout all elements of the design. The vision for the government data system design is:

Equity of participation enabling equity of outcomes to support the ambition of an inclusive and integrated data system that supports innovation safely.

Nicholson Consulting was selected by Stats NZ to help weave the realisation of potential together through Māori data expertise in the data system architecture and design space. Originally the RFP asked for a single Māori data expert. However, at Nicholson Consulting we recognise our collective superpowers and proposed a multi-talented team to work on weaving Māori Data expertise into the data system design. The team included:

Ernestynne Walsh (Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui), Kiya Basabas (Cebuano, Waray-Waray, Kapampangan), Ben Ritchie (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Mamoe), Dani Lucas (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Raukawa) and behind the scenes support from Shanara Wallace (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Rauru, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Heretaunga, ki Wairarapa). The team brought a range of pūkenga, including operationalising Māori data sovereignty principles, decolonising algorithms, analysing data approaches through Te Tiriti, and te reo me ōna tikanga to deliver this piece of mahi.

The team worked in partnership with the Stats NZ design and architecture specialists (Rosemary McGrath and Jason Krause) to develop the Government Data System Design Narrative which explored:

  • The key data system design pillars to enabling the shifts required to achieve the government data system aspiration

  • The concept of a federated operating model (a model that is founded on relationship-based partnerships which allows data stewardship to remain with the original custodian) that enables equitable participation in a manner that builds relationships and enhances trust and reciprocity between participants

  • The federated data ecosystem operating model uses a value chain to describe how the government data system aspiration will be met

  • Key capability shifts to enable the government data system its future aspirations

  • Future horizons describing steps to transition to this future state so that participants in the government data system have a set of next steps to pursue.

Nicholson Consulting focused first on whakawhanaungatanga, making strong connections and understanding aspirations with key stakeholders to understand critical success factors.

Our approach for this piece of work supported our belief that data is more than just zeroes and ones; the data holds the mauri of people and whakapapa. As such, data should be used in ways that are tika to meet the aspirations of the people it represents. The team took a Te Tiriti article-based approach and articulated how the design of the data system could give effect to the articles of Te Tiriti.

Because we were working on behalf of Stats NZ, our kaimahi could not speak on behalf of tangata whenua. The focus was working with Government on how the design could minimise barriers to article II of Te Tiriti whilst leaving space for Māori to enact tino rangatiratanga.

Rather than simply stating how this might be achieved, Nicholson Consulting and Stats NZ worked with a few organisations to create case studies to provide tangible examples of projects that had successfully woven Māori data expertise into systems. The case study organisations have considerable expertise and generously gave their time to create case studies to test the data system design.

The final 120-page Government Data System Design Narrative was a culmination of many minds. Nicholson Consulting would like to mihi to Karaitiana Taiuru for reviewing the document, ko koe te kahika tū mahuta o te nehenehe nui. The team would also like to do a shout out to Stats NZ’s Te Tohu Rautaki Angitū Māori team for working alongside the team and providing the connection to the Māori Data Governance mahi. Ka nui te mihi ki a koutou. The final shout out goes to Rosemary McGrath and Jason Krause the mahi highlighted a genuine partnership with everyone contributing a range of skills and whakaaro, working together to produce a unique data system design document.

Ehara tā mātou toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini.

Our success is not our own but the success of the partnership

“This document is a taonga that has set the benchmark for the understanding and implementation of Māori Data Sovereignty” Karaitiana Taiuru – Māori data expert

“Undertaking this mahi with Nicholson Consulting demonstrates what can be achieved with genuine partnership, the valuing of all perspectives and the ability to work collaboratively to our collective outcomes and aspirations” – Rosemary McGrath - Data System Design Lead

The Government Data System Future state design – Iteration 1 provides details for how the government data system can be constructed to create a more equitable Aotearoa. The initial response has been positive and demonstrates that people are interested in trying partnership based approaches to collectively leverage the value of data.

If you would like to know more about weaving Māori data expertise into data systems get in touch by emailing

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