There has been some internal discussions with my home iwi, Te Ātiawa recently over issues of representation and engagement between the newly mandated post-settlement governance entity and the Hapū and individual members of the Iwi. My impression of these discussions is that there is a degree of disillusionment amongst Māori over the lack of real engagement between our institutions and the people. The real, and potential, economic, political, and cultural strength of these institutions vis-a-vis the wider New Zealand society cannot be doubted. That said, I am of the opinion that unless changes are made to how we engage with our communities, the perceived disconnect between our institutions and the people they represent will only increase.
The current engagement process is top-heavy, and sporadic. For many, monthly newsletters and the once a year AGM are the primary sources of information about the activities of the Iwi at the institutional level. Decisions are made by the elected Trustees and communicated down to Hapū and individual members. The net effect of this process is to shut out iwi members from the decision-making process and completes the move within Te Ao Māori from a collective decision-making entity to a representative democracy model whereby we elect our leaders to make decisions for us.
This does not need to be the case. New technology, especially community-driven technology, has been at the forefront of community-driven movements around the world. From the Occupy movement through to the Arab Spring, participants have been using social media, and specially designed technology platforms to communicate in real-time across a large number of individuals – all of whom are able to contribute to the decision-making process and, ultimately, be part of the making of the final decision. We should learn from, and implement these models in our interactions at the Iwi level.
My initial proposal comprises two components: increasing the reporting from the Iwi Authority to members; and making better use of online technologies to facilitate discussions.
1: Increased Reporting
As noted above, the primary means of communication between Iwi Authorities and members is through occasional newsletters and the AGM. The problem with this approach is that by the time the AGM rolls around, it is too late to do anything other than complain about the activities of the previous year, and elect new Trustees who you hope will do a better job. The rise of cloud-based accounting platform Xero and other management reporting platforms allow for the provision of up to the minute financial information and other material that can be communicated to iwi members on a monthly basis.
A monthly management report should, therefore, be a minimum requirement for our Iwi Authorities. By setting out the financial performance and a run down of key decisions and activities undertaken each month, and communicating these to iwi members via hui on a monthly basis will strengthen the accountability of Iwi Authorities, and improve the lines of communication between the Authority and its members.
Furthermore, monthly hui will provide for the greater involvement of iwi members in the decision-making process. Currently, a lot of decisions are made by the Iwi Authority behind closed doors, and members have a simple yes or no vote to make. A community-driven process will allow for greater input by members into both the options available and the final decision. By tabling a proposal at a monthly hui, inviting discussion on a range of options, and coming to decision based on consensus is a decision-making process more in line with tikanga than the current model. Controls will still need to be in place to ensure financial sustainability, but that should not be used as an excuse to deny Iwi members from contributing in a meaningful way to the decision-making process.
2: Online Collaboration
The second stage in my proposal to increase engagement is through the greater adoption and use of online social media and community collaboration technologies. Some Iwi and Hapū use social media such as Facebook and twitter to communicate and discuss issues with their members, and do so in an effective way. Yet, given the enormous power of such platforms to connect communities their adoption by Iwi is less than ideal. And while most Māori – especially Rangatahi Māori – have a Facebook or twitter account, these platforms are just the beginning. Online collaboration platforms such as Loomio offer groups the space to discuss issues and ideas in a private online setting, and come to a consensus-based position.
The power in these technologies is that they have essentially modernised the historical practice. They provide a space for those outside the rohē to discuss issues and provide for a continuous discussion on the issues that are important to the Iwi or Hapū – not just a one-off discussion at a monthly hui or an AGM.
Online collaboration allows for a 24/7, 365 day discussion on Iwi activities and progress. Perhaps this is why some of our leaders are fearful of wider engagement with the communities that they are elected to represent.