We need ways in which the values and lived experiences of diverse social groups can be brought to the table alongside the necessary technical knowledge to inform the issues. We need this done in formats that work for Aotearoa New Zealand communities, because we know that current large-scale consultation approaches miss or side-line some voices. We also know that attempts to fix this can still miss the mark if they don’t align with communities’ own practices and traditions.
From digital tools to citizens’ assemblies, our research is committed to making public engagement more inclusive, informed and constructive.
Aotearoa New Zealand is facing many complex problems: from the current pandemic to the growing threat of climate change, as well as housing and mental health crises. Solving them requires complex scientific and technical knowledge but acting on them without taking account of lived experiences risks perpetuating, or even worsening, current inequities. And even the best solutions require political will: while decision makers at all government levels may have the authority to act, to do so they need to know where their electorate stands.
The public is regularly asked for its views via surveys, town halls and written submissions to select committees, royal commissions and boards of inquiry. Yet these forms of engagement have also been seen to reinforce inequality (because participation implicitly requires education, money and trust). Social media has opened up new and ostensibly direct communication channels between citizens and decision-makers. And while it may appear democratic, it is based on algorithms that favour frequent, short engagement and strong reactions. Rather than building understanding and consensus, social media groups lead to deeper polarizations.
Finally, there is also the question of who does the work of engagement and how does this person or group build and maintain the necessary trust?
While decision makers may have the authority to act, to do so they need to know where their electorate stands
In response to this problem, we have assembled a multidisciplinary team from the University of Auckland, with expertise in politics, science, science and technology studies, and education to develop and test a range of new approaches and methodologies adapted to the Aotearoa NZ context.
Our project draws upon all of these fields, together with scholarship on deliberative democracy, and from local knowledge, worldviews and practices (mātauranga and tikanga Māori). We will test elements of an approach using questions of high public importance today.
Tatjana Buklijas has a background in social studies of science and medicine. She is interested in the ways in which scientific knowledge is created and deployed in changing political and social circumstances.
Anne Bardsley has a background in science and expertise in synthesising evidence for use in policy and public decision-making. Her work is highly transdisciplinary, involving systems thinking and futures methodologies, as well as innovations to support public reasoning and deliberation.
Kristiann Allen has a background in anthropology and has worked at the intersection of science and public policy in multiple contexts internationally, including provincial, federal and multi-lateral systems, through which she has come to appreciate the intricate dance between evidence, political decision-making and public opinion.
Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal (Marutūahu, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngā Puhi) is the Strategic Advisory Māori for Koi Tū. He has written and advised extensively on aspects of mātauranga Māori and iwi histories and traditions. Previously he was Professor of Indigenous Development; and Director, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, University of Auckland.
Jacquie Bay comes from an education background and has experience in developing learning programmes that help people explore their frames of reference with regard to socio-scientific issues.
Campbell Guy is a Masters student writing a dissertation outlining the potential of deliberative democracy to improve water governance.
Jenny Wigley is a researcher working at Watercare, tasked with encouraging public participation in key infrastructure and investment decisions.
Julia Büdler is a Masters student whose project explores the politicians’ views of deliberative engagement processes.