Powhiri: An indigenous example of collaboration from New Zealand

Community member post by Rawiri Smith

Rawiri Smith (biography)

Collaboration is important in New Zealand as a method of bringing communities together to work on complex problems. A useful collaborative model is the Powhiri, practiced by Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, for hundreds of years.

The formal welcome to an area in New Zealand is a Maori process known as the Powhiri. The Powhiri recognises the mana of all the participants. One of the most important values of the Maori people is manaaki, or caring for the mana of everyone. The Maori word mana means the importance associated with a person. The performance of a Powhiri acknowledges the importance of a person being welcomed to an area.

The deeper meaning behind the Powhiri process gives more meaning and indicates what should be occurring through the Powhiri. The ground that the welcome is performed across is known as the marae atea and is the most important ground to the people who consider these lands as their home. It is also seen as the realm of Tumatauenga, the god of war. It is the place of debate before going into the wharenui or the meeting house which is the realm of Rongo, the god of peace. Starting the first engagement with a debate doesn’t sound welcoming, but understanding the intricacies of the Powhiri shows how it enables all participants to understand each other.

Powhiri in its widest context means a welcome, but within the word is a greater understanding. The two root words are po or unknown and whiri or plaiting, so a powhiri is the weaving of unknowns. If there are suspected points of difference in the unknown, the marae atea is the place to clear the air. The first stage of the Powhiri can be a wero, or challenge, where a warrior comes out to the visitors with a weapon and a peace offering. In picking up the peace offering, the visitor is honour bound to engage with mana. In this space comes the first voice, the voice of a woman in karanga.

The karanga is the call of welcome, but again within the word is a deeper meaning. Ka can be understood as energy and ranga understood as weaving, so karanga is the weaving of energies. The kaikaranga (the woman performing the karanga) calls a welcome to the visitors and recognises their whakapapa or genealogy as she calls to the spiritual ancestor too. The sound of the karanga connects intensely and visitors feel their spirits touched through reference to the name of their iwi or tribe or the name of the hapu or sub tribes (which is how Maori identify themselves). These names are normally names of ancestors. In this light and spirit, the formal speeches are started.

Whaikorero is the name given to these type of speeches. The deeper meaning again gives a better understanding of how the mana of all participants can be protected, even in a debate. Whai is a search and korero is speech so whaikorero is a spoken search for bringing people together. The debate starts with each person establishing their position, but framed by acknowledging what might be the viewpoints of the others involved. Each speaker looks to how parts of the argument from the others can inform their own position. This involves real listening to what the others involved have to say. This collaborative debate acknowledges the mana of the others.

Each person uses parts of arguments made by others to inform their own position. This requires real listening and acknowledges the mana –  the importance associated with a person – of the others.

Caring for the mana of people (manaaki) when they have similar positions to oneself is easy, whereas manaaki for people with differing, even conflicting, positions is harder.

This is further strengthened in the finishing of the process. While the finishing of the Powhiri is simple, the element of trust is strengthened. The waiata tautoko or supportive song summarises each speech in a concentrated theme. The koha or a donation is laid down by the visitors. Koha comes before any service is given and acknowledges the expenses the hosts will lay out. The hongi or the pressing of noses and the sharing of breath is the physical coming together where the very essence of life, the ha or breath, is shared. The guests then are taken to share some food as they come together. The Powhiri finishes and the visitors are ready to enter the realm of Rongo and further working together.

The Powhiri is a collaborative process that is built on the value of manaaki. When the process is used as a model for collaboration in a wider context, results can be transformative, because it involves real listening and caring for each other.

Bringing people together around an issue such as water through a Powhiri process can mean mana is recognised. Not only is the mana of the participants considered, but the mana of water and the mana of the issues related to water are considered too. When participants concentrate on the subject, water, with the attitude of caring for its mana, its potential to “weave” people is realized through a better quality of life.


Ko Maungarake taku maunga kaitiaki
My mountain guardian is Maungarake

Ko Ruamahanga taku awa oranga
My life giving river is the Ruamahanga

Ko Takitimu te waka o oku tohunga tawhito
The canoe of my ancient priests is Takitimu

Ko Ngati Kahungunu taku iwi
My tribe Ngati Kahungunu

Ko Ngati Kaiparuparu me Ngai Taneroa me Ngati Muretu oku hapu
My sub tribes are Ngati Kaiparuparu, Ngai Taneroa and Ngati Muretu

Ko Nukupewapewa taku tangata me kaiwhakaora
My person and liberator is Nukupewapewa

Ko Rangikaiwhiria Reiri raua ko Rangiuea Namana oku poupou
My grandfathers are Rangikaiwhiria Reiri and Rangiuea Namana

Ko Ida Ihaka Namana raua ko Hera Huaki oku nanny
My nannies are Ida Ihaka Namana and Hera Huaki

Ko Frances taku whaea
My mother is Frances

Ko Rawiri Smith taku ingoa
My name is Rawiri Smith

No Wairarapa ahau
I am from Wairarapa

Rawiri (Ra) Smith is an Environment Manager (Kaiwhakahaere Taiao) for Kahungunu Ki Wairarapa, an indigenous tribal authority in Wairarapa, New Zealand. As a proponent of indigenous models from New Zealand, he is a part of national initiatives (Our Land and Water National Science Challenge Collaboration Lab, Land and Water Forum), a part of political bodies at a regional level (Greater Wellington Regional Council’s subcommittee, Te Upoko Taiao, Ruamahanga Whaitua Committee), a part of district organisations (Masterton District Council, Sustainable Wairarapa, Te Hauora Runanga o Wairarapa), and a part of traditional Maori entities (Ngati Kahungunu Ki Wairarapa Tamakinui-A-Rua Treaty Trust, Kahungunu Ki Wairarapa, Hurunui-o-Rangi Marae Trust). Most of these organisations operate under collaborative ideals and seek to synthesise an indigenous knowledge base with other knowledge bases.

Ra Smith is a Vision Mātauranga researcher in The Collaboration Lab project funded by Our Land and Water National Science Challenge.

Four simple questions for navigating the knowledge mobilisation swamp

Community member post by Vicky Ward

Vicky Ward (biography)

How can knowledge mobilisers – people who move knowledge into action – make sense of diverse definitions, navigate through the fragmented literature and better describe their work? It all starts with a few simple questions…

Over the past 15-20 years, research and practical activity focusing on how knowledge can be better shared and used has grown at what sometimes seems like an alarming rate. For many, the diverse range of literature, terminology, models and tools can seem overwhelming and bewildering. In 2010, for example, McKibbon and colleagues identified 100 different terms used to describe the activities and processes involved in linking knowledge and practice (McKibbon et al., 2010). And in 2014 Huw Davies and colleagues found 71 substantial reviews of research literature on this topic across health, social care and education (Davies et al., 2015).

When I first entered the knowledge mobilisation landscape back in 2007, I had to distinguish between different approaches and models, and identify the ones that best fitted my working theories about knowledge and practice. I sometimes struggled to describe and explain the focus of my work to other ‘tribes’ of knowledge mobilisers who used different terminology and had different ideas about knowledge, practice and how to link them together.

As I reflected on my experiences and what other knowledge mobilisers were telling me about grappling with the same issues, I began to realise that there was a missing piece of the jigsaw – a simple and practical model to increase clarity and understanding across the field and reduce the risk of misunderstandings and misalignment between knowledge mobilisers and those they are working with.

From the literature I reviewed 47 models of the processes involved in sharing knowledge between settings and groups of people, and from these extracted 16 categories grouped under four questions. These aim to help those who are interested in sharing and mobilizing knowledge to reflect on, communicate and evaluate their aims and objectives, and select models and approaches which could support those aims.

1) Why is knowledge being mobilised?

This question focuses on the overarching purpose or intended outcome of knowledge mobilisation activities. The models reviewed covered 5 distinct purposes:

  1. to develop local solutions to practice-based problems
  2. to develop new policies, programmes and/or recommendations
  3. to adopt/implement clearly defined practices and policies
  4. to change practices and behaviours
  5. to produce useful research/scientific knowledge.

2) Whose knowledge is being mobilised?

This question invites knowledge mobilisers to consider the source of the knowledge which is being mobilised (or the ‘knowledge donor’). The models covered 5 groups of knowledge donors:

  1. professional knowledge producers who produce empirical and/or theoretical knowledge and evidence
  2. frontline practitioners and service providers responsible for delivering services to members of the public
  3. members of the public acting as, or on behalf of, their communities and people in receipt of services
  4. decision makers responsible for commissioning services and/or designing local/regional/national policies and strategies
  5. product and programme developers responsible for designing, producing and/or implementing tangible products, services and programmes.

It’s also worth noting that a number of well-known models and authors encourage knowledge mobilisers to focus on the audience or recipient of knowledge. This assumes that knowledge is a product and that knowledge mobilisation is a linear process. In contrast, many of the models that I reviewed take a co-productive view of knowledge mobilisation involving the continual re-shaping of knowledge between parties.

3) What type of knowledge is being mobilised?

This question allows knowledge mobilisers to reflect on the alternative theoretical and philosophical notions of knowledge and to better articulate their own assumptions about knowledge. The models covered three types of knowledge:

  1. scientific/factual knowledge (eg. research findings, quality and performance data, population data and statistics, evaluation data)
  2. technical knowledge (eg. practical skills, experiences and expertise)
  3. practical wisdom (eg. professional judgments, values, beliefs).

4) How is knowledge being mobilised?

The final question prompts knowledge mobilisers to consider the types of approaches or techniques which they are, or could consider, using. The models covered three broad approaches to knowledge mobilisation:

  1. making connections between knowledge stakeholders and actors by establishing and brokering relationships
  2. disseminating and synthesising knowledge via online databases, communication strategies and evidence synthesis services
  3. facilitating interactive learning and co-production via participatory research projects and action learning sets.

An important point about many of the categories I identified is that they are not mutually exclusive. It is possible, for instance, to mobilise multiple types of knowledge from multiple sources, and some of the models I reviewed reflected this. As such, the framework does not represent an overarching ‘typology’ of knowledge mobilisation but is instead intended as a practical tool for those interested or involved in sharing and mobilising knowledge.

As such, I envisage the framework being used for 5 purposes:

  1. personal reflection and learning
  2. articulating team/project goals and objectives
  3. networking and communicating with others
  4. evaluating knowledge mobilisation projects
  5. identifying relevant literature, tools and approaches (for more on this see the paper cited below (Ward 2016) which lists and categorises all 47 frameworks)

The framework’s greatest benefit, however, is likely to come in enabling knowledge mobilisers to develop clearer and more thoughtful descriptions of themselves and their work to increase clarity and understanding across the field of knowledge mobilisation.

What do you think? Where do you think the gaps are in the knowledge mobilisation landscape? What makes your knowledge mobilisation work most difficult? Are there other questions that you ask yourself when starting a new knowledge mobilisation project?

To find out more:

Ward, V. (2016). Why, whose, what and how? A framework for knowledge mobilisers. Evidence and Policy. DOI (open access): 10.1332/174426416X14634763278725


McKibbon, K. A., Lokker, C., Wilczynski, N. L., Ciliska, D., Dobbins, M., Davis, D. A., Haynes, R. B. and Straus, S. E. (2010). A cross-sectional study of the number and frequency of terms used to refer to knowledge translation in a body of health literature in 2006: A Tower of Babel? Implementation Science, 5: 16

Davies, H. T. O., Powell, A. E. and Nutley, S. (2015). Mobilising knowledge to improve UK health care: learning from other countries and other sectors – a multimethod mapping study, Health Services and Delivery Research, 3, 27

Biography: Vicky Ward is an Associate Professor in Knowledge Mobilisation at the University of Leeds, UK. She focuses on how healthcare staff and academics can be supported to learn from and share their knowledge with one another. Her recent work has focused on developing a service user feedback framework for improving integrated care, how health and wellbeing managers from different organisations share and create knowledge, how collaborative relationships between academics and NHS managers develop and how knowledge is exchanged within service delivery teams. In 2014 she was awarded an NIHR (National Institute for Health Research) Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellowship to focus on how knowledge is mobilised across health and social care boundaries in community settings. She is part of the organising group for a new online learning network – the Knowledge Into Practice Learning Network (for more details and how to join visit https://knowledgeintopracticenetwork.wordpress.com/). Before branching out into health research, she had a career as a clarinet teacher and ran her own teaching practice. Find out how (and why) she made the move into health research on her blog.

The strength of failing (or how I learned to love ugly babies)

Community member post by Randall J. Hunt

Randall J. Hunt (biography)

How to give others your hard-won insights so that their work can be more informed, efficient, and effective? As I’ve gotten older, it is something that I think about more.

It is widely recognized that the environment is an integrated but also “open” system. As a result, when working with issues relating to the environment we are faced with the unsatisfying fact that we won’t know “truth”. We develop an understanding that is consistent with what we currently know and what we consider state-of-the-practice methods. But, we can never be sure that more observations or different methods would not result in different insights. Continue reading

Storytelling ethnography as a way of doing transdisciplinary research

Community member post by Jane Palmer

Jane Palmer (biography)

Storytelling ethnography is a valuable tool if your research traverses several disciplines and aims for insights that transcend all of them. Stories not only integrate knowledge from diverse disciplines, but can also “change the way people act, the way they use available knowledge” (Griffiths 2007).

The special qualities of transdisciplinarity are:

  • its potential for integrative inquiry and emergent solutions,
  • its engagement with community and other non-academic knowledges, and
  • the breadth of its outcomes for researchers, participants and the wider community.

These are also qualities of what I call storytelling ethnography. Continue reading

Advocate or Honest Broker?

To mark the first anniversary of the Integration and Implementation Insights blog, we launch an occasional series of “synthesis blog posts” drawing insights across blog posts on related topics.

What is our social obligation as researchers to see our findings implemented? And how should we do it? When is it appropriate to advocate loudly to drive change? When should we focus on informing decision makers, stepping back ourselves from direct action? How can we know that our research is ‘good enough’ to act on and not compromised by our own values, interests, cognitive biases and blind spots? Continue reading

Learning through modeling

Community member post by Kirsten Kainz

Kirsten Kainz (biography)

How can co-creation communities use models – simple visual representations and/or sophisticated computer simulations – in ways that promote learning and improvement? Modeling techniques can serve to generate insights and correct misunderstandings. Are they equally as useful for fostering new learning and adaptation? Sterman (2006) argues that if new learning is to occur in complex systems then models must be subjected to testing. Model testing must, in turn, yield evidence that not only guides decision-making within the current model, but also feeds back evidence to improve existing models so that subsequent decisions can be based on new learning. Continue reading