Using statistics to boost the wellbeing of rangatahi Māori

24 April 2019
Mr Andrew Sporle, Lecturer, Department of Statistics
Mr Andrew Sporle

Department of Statistics lecturer Andrew Sporle is one of three people leading ambitious research that aims to boost the health and wellbeing of rangatahi Māori – young Māori.

Te Hao Nui is a three-year, $1.2m project that will link three important official statistics databases, Te Kupenga 2013 survey, the Census Longitudinal Database and the Integrated Data Infrastructure to create the world’s largest indigenous longitudinal study. The information allows researchers to trace individual pathways through life and see how certain factors influence that journey.

The project will work with mandated health and iwi organisations in Northland, Auckland and Whanganui to provide research that addresses locally-identified needs for information. This information will improve policies and programmes to support the wellbeing of young Māori.

As half of the Māori population is aged under 25, says Andrew (Ngāti Apa, Rangitāne, Te Rarawa), the project has the potential to inform positive change in a lot of lives.

“It’s in adolescence that people develop many of the behaviours that determine their future health and well-being,” he says. “We want to make there is good-quality data available to inform policies and plans for young people.”

For example, he says, it may be important to find out what key milestones in children’s lives in a particular region are associated with good outcomes for young adults.  Or there may be a need to identify the key social factors associated with young people succeeding in local reo-Māori immersion schools and mainstream schools. 

It is important for iwi to have control of data about themselves, says Andrew, and secure portals for access to the data will be installed within partner communities.

“By putting these portals where our partners are, the research can be done in the communities, rather than being reliant on researchers who might be 600km away.”

The project will provide statistical literacy training to build capacity in local communities.

Andrew says that the project excites him “because it takes the fantastic existing data that we have in New Zealand and turns it around to face the communities it’s for, rather than the Crown. Māori providers and communities have been asking for national data to be transformed into something accessible that they can link in to their own service delivery and planning".

Although the project is funded for three years, it will build an enduring Maori longitudinal capability within this country’s official statistical system that can be reused and extended to answer other research questions. In addition, the community data portals, statistical literacy programmes and community data-needs hui are all pilot initiatives that develop approaches that can be extended into other communities and regions.

Andrew is co-leading the project with Dr Reremoana Theodore of the University of Otago and Dr Amohia Boulton of iwi-owned Māori public health research company Whakauae Research; with the latter company managing the project.

Statistical analysis will be undertaken by the University of Auckland’s social research group, CoMPASS, assisted by Kylie Reiri from Nicholson Consulting in Wellington.