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Conducting excellent research with indigenous communities: Balancing commitment to community and career

Heather Gifford, Amohia Boulton


There has been a growing trend in New Zealand/Aotearoa for health research involving Māori (the indigenous people) to be conducted in partnership with Māori communities, iwi (tribes), hapū (sub-tribes) and whānau (extended families). Achieving excellence in indigenous health research which meets the standards both of the indigenous communities who partner in the research and the standards set by the academy, is often a complex and demanding objective. In this paper two Health Research Council Māori Postdoctoral Fellows explore the various challenges and tensions they have faced as researchers committed to undertaking excellent indigenous research in community-based settings, while at the same time growing their professional careers as academic researchers. The paper begins by briefly introducing the researchers and summarising the critical success factors they have shared in their respective academic journeys and the values they hold that have led to their involvement in community-based research. Two case studies of engagement in community-based research are then presented to illustrate the types of challenges faced by indigenous researchers who work both with communities and within university settings. The first case study is an iwi-based health and social services research centre while the second involves growing a research culture within an urban Māori community setting. The concept of indigenous research excellence is explored with particular reference to excellence as described by the communities themselves and to the criteria for excellence used by the Health Research Council of New Zealand to assess Māori health research proposals. The authors argue that while tensions do exist in trying to meet differing standards of excellence, managing the interface between these differing standards is a crucial activity undertaken by indigenous academic health researchers. The paper concludes by outlining the lessons and implications for the academy and the community of attempting to meet a set of dual aims, noting that while both aims can be realised, this requires researchers to skilfully balance their obligations to career and to community.

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Print ISSN 1177-1801 Online ISSN 1174-1740