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“Outside the box but kinda in the box”: Evaluating with a rural Māori community

Gill Potaka-Osborne, Maaki Tuatini, Roberta Williams, and Lynley Cvitanovic

Mount Ruapehu, locally known as Matua Te Mana, is the metaphorical ancestor of Māori living around the rural community of Raetihi. Matua Te Mana has a significant presence and is pivotal to the health and wellbeing of local iwi. Whānau are leading Te Puāwai o Te Ahi Kaa innovation project, based at Te Puke Marae, in partnership with Te Oranganui. The latter is the Whanganui regional Māori health and social services provider. This Ministry of Health-funded, 3-year, Whānau Ora-focused and innovative model of care seeks to enhance the wellbeing of whānau who maintain Te Puke Marae’s ahi kā. Whakauae Research for Māori Health and Development is evaluating the project alongside the project partners. Using a kaupapa Māori approach to evaluation, this article explores how Whakauae has contributed to project outcomes being achieved. A key challenge to the successful conduct of the evaluation was Whakauae’s lack of an immediately available senior Māori lead evaluator. This challenge, and the strategies adopted to address it, are explored by including a strong focus on both internal and external evaluation capability building. Capability building spanned internal support of an emerging Whakauae lead evaluator by the wider Whakauae team, as well as involving project kaimahi in developing and using whānau-friendly, interactive data collection tools, and in formal evaluation practice forums. We conclude that using a kaupapa Māori approach contributes to “growing” evaluation capability as well as to the sustainability of the marae-based communities that are key to whānau health and wellbeing.

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