I’m not in the ‘too hard basket’ – I wove my kete to create my success

Katey Thom, Stella Black, David Burnside and Jessica Hastings

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘He Ture Kia Tika/Let the Law Be Right: informing evidence-based policy through kaupapa Māori and co-production of lived experience‘, part of the Special Issue on Creativity and Co-production.

A kaupapa Māori co-production project that honours the voices of those with lived experience of incarceration

Research often tells us most prisoners have experienced mental distress or addiction within their lifetime but often end up in the ‘too hard basket’. The criminal justice system of Aotearoa, with its strong Westminster roots, significantly contributes to intergenerational traumatic experiences and struggles to get help that is needed. Our project aimed to reject this basket, replacing it with a diverse array of kete (baskets) filled with localised mātauranga (ancient knowledge derived from a te ao Māori worldview), strategies and solutions to improve wellbeing and reduce reoffending.

We wanted the findings to inform policy driven by the rarely sought input of Māori and non-Māori who have lived experiences of the criminal justice system. To do this, we knew we had to draw together a rangahau rōpū (co-design research group) representing diverse ethnicities and experiences of incarceration, mental distress, and addiction. Nā te timata (from the start) we came together at Hoani Waititi marae and followed marae kawa (protocols) and tikanga (values and practices) that set the rules for our ongoing engagement.

Our rangahau rōpū saw a need to focus on the stories from people who have been incarcerated highlighting what worked for them. So often negative statistics inform policy, however, many people who have been incarcerated have powerful stories of self-defined success. They have overcome significant challenges and have first-hand knowledge about changing a life trajectory.

As our kaupapa Māori approach aligned with the broader aims of co-production we rallied against the normal research practice of ‘doing to’ to ‘being and doing with’. This meant we – our rangahau rōpū and participants – came together as whānau (family), creating a culturally safe space that cared and catered for all. We listened, acknowledged, and heard experiences, shared kai (food) and often we reciprocated by sharing our own experiences.

The whānau approach we embraced in our rangahau allowed for voice and protection in a reflexive, mutually beneficial and evolving negotiation of consent. Having a safe space that incorporates tikanga rituals allowed us to speak our truth. This often meant we sat with the uncomfortableness that occurs when collisions between knowledge happen. Our approach was driven by whanaungatanga (kinship) – where we prioritised building and maintaining relationships. As we all continued to strive to relate well to each other, we felt the heavy weight of responsibility to produce meaningful outcomes for our participants.

Our rangahau is a grassroots endeavour that bolstered the safety of the research. Our rangahau rōpū live and breathe te Ao Māori, have experienced incarceration and/or provide community-based mental health and addiction support. We allowed space for experiential and indigenous wisdom, free from the constraints of judgement. Importantly, those without lived experience on our co-production rōpū were willing to take the back seat and trust the process. They recognised what it means to be an ally; to be self-reflexive and open to challenges; to recognise the rangatira voices of those with intersectional experiences of race, gender, sexuality, mental distress, addiction, and criminal justice.  

Our methodology, steeped in the ancient tradition of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), contributes new learnings for co-production, rising to many of the challenges already voiced about the harms that come from Eurocentric ways of doing and seeing. The core principles for practice emerging from years of kaupapa Māori research provide an excellent guide for how we build and maintain relationships and generally do good research that reaps benefits all of us long beyond the project itself.


Research team

Image: Indigenous korowai (cloak) from Aotearoa


You can read the original research in Evidence & Policy:

Thom, K. Black, S. Burnside, D. and Hastings, J. (2022). He Ture Kia Tika/Let the Law Be Right: informing evidence-based policy through kaupapa Māori and co-production of lived experience. Evidence & Policy, DOI: 10.1332/174426421X16432180922551. OPEN ACCESS


If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

The creative co-design of low back pain education resources OPEN ACCESS

Creative processes in co-designing a co-design hub: towards system change in health and social services in collaboration with structurally vulnerable populations OPEN ACCESS

Creative and collaborative reflective thinking to support policy deliberation and decision making OPEN ACCESS


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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