November 25, 2020

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Exploring Māori perspectives on ethical data management

University of Waikato associate professors Māui Hudson, Tahu Kukutai, and Te Taka Keegan have secured funding to pursue new research, Tikanga in Technology: Indigenous approaches to transforming data ecosystems.

The team from the University of Waikato were granted $6m funding over four years in the latest Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Endeavour Fund round. The programme that aims to explore Māori approaches to collective privacy, benefit and governance in a digital environment. The research aims to help increase the benefits to Māori and also reduce data harm.

The indigenous approaches to transforming data ecosystems programme will focus on how Tikanga Māori (customary protocols) and Mātauranga Māori (Indigenous knowledge) can help the shape digital landscape in New Zealand and Māori influence on and its relationship to it. The work will explore how Māori Customary Protocols and Mātauranga Indigenous Knowledge inform the construction of digital identities and create a better understanding of relational responsibilities to data.

The team of researchers will explore tools and processes that can help IT workers understand and incorporate Indigenous perspectives when working on data sets, not only in terms of storage and data processing but also in the creation of algorithms that have the potential for bias. The team’s research will move beyond current efforts to reduce bias in algorithms and explore what it means to ‘decolonise’ algorithms that adversely affect Māori communities.

A founding member of Te Mana Raraunga Māori Data Sovereignty Network and the Global Indigenous Data Alliance alongside Kukutai, Hudson (Whakatohea, Ngā Ruahine, Te Māhurehure) says recent innovations in digital technologies are a double-edged sword for Indigenous peoples.

“Rapid advances in data linkage create a vast potential for improved wellbeing as well as major risks for group exploitation so we need a profoundly different approach to individual data rights and protection – one that recognises collective identities,” says Hudson.

“Our project will look at the tools, processes and mechanisms we can offer the community of developers to enable ethical use and to generate more equitable outcomes for Māori.”

The researchers hope their findings will uncover indigenous perspectives about data management, that can be used to guide data collection, storage, processing and remove unfavourable predispositions from algorithms and programmes.

With research spanning a broad range of population topics from Kiwi demography and census methods to the impacts of colonisation on Indigenous health, Kukutai (Ngāti Tiipa, Ngāti Kinohaku, Te Aupōuri) brings a wealth of knowledge to the programme. She feels it’s more critical now than ever to address the issue of Māori data sovereignty.

“Tikanga in Technology includes projects co-designed with Māori communities, which allows us to help build flax roots data capability and do research that meets their priorities and aspirations,” Kukutai was quoted as saying.

Winner of the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award for Excellence in Tertiary Teaching and an authority on Māori language technologies, Keegan (Waikato-Maniapoto, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Whakaaue) is looking forward to bringing his experience and passion to the research. Research that would help indigenous perspectives to shape technology, particularly artificial intelligence.

The programme also links Mātauranga Māori and data science and has strong support from stakeholders across Te Ao Māori and Government.

“Ongoing discussions about Māori data sovereignty are occurring beyond central government, but even though the private sector appears to be further behind, I think indigenous data sovereignty is an area where Aotearoa New Zealand can lead the way,” says Hudson.

“We have a global advantage in Indigenous research and, with funding for projects like this, we can continue to optimise this edge to transform data ecosystems so that they are beneficial for indigenous peoples.”

The research team plans to make publicly available a range of tools, frameworks and principles that will promote ethical and equitable engagement, with data grounded in Te Ao Māori world views.