Ethics as manaakitanga

This blogpost draws heavily from this brilliant post by my CORE Education colleague Te Mako Orzecki. I am indebted to his unpacking of the concept of manaakitanga. Mauri Ora!

In the past few months, I have been involved in ethics processes around education research. The first context is supporting our wonderful 2019 Dr Vince Ham CORE Education eFellows to gain ethics approval for their action research | rangahau. The second has been completing my own ethics application for my PhD research.

I totally get that people can find applying for ethical consent time-consuming, nit-picky and wordy. Particularly when the research context is low-risk; presenting little opportunity for harm to occur. My own research, for example, involves no youth, I do not wish to pry into anyone’s personal lives, every research participant will be invited and therefore have the opportunity to decline, there is no deception required… etc, etc. And yet, my application needed to be supported with 15 separate documents, and that’s on top of completing a 50 or 60 question form.

Because I have a bit of an eye for detail, and feel completely comfortable in expressing myself in writing, I didn’t actually find completing my ethics application that challenging. In fact, I find it quite interesting to think about issues from different perspectives, in particular, in this situation, thinking about how it might feel to be a participant in my own research, and what barriers / concerns / questions I might have.

But it can be hard to justify the paperwork of an ethics process to a busy teacher / kaiako. Words like ‘risk’ and ‘harm’ seem to imply that research is a painful undertaking and that the researcher has nefarious motivations.

Instead, I wonder if it mightn’t be useful to think about an ethics process as one which ensures that a researcher has truly grappled with all of the ways to embody the values of manaakitanga.

In English we often translate ‘manaakitanga’ to mean hospitality, and certainly, that is one meaning of the word. But in this context, I’m thinking about it more broadly.

As my colleague Te Mako Orzecki says:

Within te reo, a word has many dimensions, layers, and depth. Looking at ‘manaaki’ and the parts that form this word, provides some deeper insights:

Manaaki    (to protect, look after, and care for something or someone)

Mana-aki   (to encourage or to enhance one’s authority)

Mana-a-kī  (to be true to your word and what you say)

I think this is highly relevant to the ethics process of conducting research.

  • How will you invite participation from people in ways that are respectful, invitational, clear, and leave open the opportunity to comfortably decline?
  • How will your research participants know what your research is about, how their role will support your research, how their stories (data) will be collected, stored, analysed and shared?
  • How will you respect the stories that participants share with you? How will you do justice to their words, their voice, their opinions, their worldview, their community?
  • How will you ensure that you are seeking diverse stories, and not just looking to confirm your own assumptions and biases?
  • How will you represent the stories of others in ways that are truthful to the intent of the participant, and the context of their lives?
  • How will you keep yourself honest to your research intentions and questions?
  • How will participants know that they can withdraw from your research, and/or complain about your conduct as a researcher?

And I’m sure there are many other questions that could be added. (Do you have some suggestions? Add them in the comments below.)

As a qualitative researcher, my data are the stories that others choose to share with me. This is an act of trust and mutual respect, and, as such, deserve to be treated with care and attention. How I go about asking for these stories, gathering these stories, keeping these stories safe, analysing these stories, and then sharing these stories as part of the narrative of my research, are all ways in which mana can be upheld or quashed. They are acts of manaakitanga.

Image source: Jeremy Yap, CC0

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