Supporting Māori researcher development

Māori have a higher incidence of health needs that haven’t been met by existing programmes, but a partnership between Te Whānau o Waipareira and Precision Driven Health (PDH) is aiming to harness the power of data to play a part in addressing these needs.

Partnering with Māori is an increasing area of focus for PDH, recognising both its role as a Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi) partner, and the historical inequities that Māori have experienced through Aotearoa New Zealand’s health and disability models of care.

One such partnership is through supporting Te Whānau o Waipareira and its subsidiary, Whānau Tahi, to undertake the Best Practice Pathways to Achieve Priority Outcomes for Whānau project, researching an appropriate artificial intelligence (AI) solution – otherwise known as ‘Whānau Like Us’.

Alana Harris is the Measurement, Insights & Impact Manager at Te Whānau o Waipareira, and has been introduced to data science through working on this project. Here, she shares her thoughts on the potential that data science offers Te Whānau o Waipareira.

What was your experience with data science before starting in your role?

“I’m actually an accountant, so my background is managing financial data. I did a couple of different roles and I ended up managing the Outcomes Measurement team [at Te Whanau o Waipareira], which just so happened to have data science within it.

“I’m very inquisitive, very curious. I’m third generation at Te Whānau o Waipareira [and have been here for 13 years], so I’ve grown up in this environment. I’m passionate about my community, I’m very passionate about what we do here at Waipareira.

“I know most of the services here and the kaimahi [workers]. And a lot of the time I know my own whānau or friends, or people in our community, who accessed our services… I’ve been able to do my own research on their experiences, informally, of course.

“In terms of the actual data science though, working on this project was my first time understanding what predictive modelling was. But I’m totally sold on data science and how it’s going to achieve better insights on the data that we have. Data science is going to be the future of how we analyse, predict and evidence outcomes in our particular environment.”

How will data science help Te Whānau O Waipareira achieve better insights?

“Data scientists can unpack words (including Te Reo Māori) to see patterns, relationships and trends. We attempt to analyse this data by transforming it into something quantitative, so that together with the qualitative data it tells a more accurate story. [Data science is] becoming so much more important, because the data that we’re starting to see in this world is a lot more unstructured; it’s photos, video stories. Gone are the days when we’ll only see data in the neat Excel spreadsheets, with columns and rows.

“We want to create a space where whānau can tell their story and share their goals and aspirations without the limitation of some traditional forms, survey and questionnaires. But these ways of recording conversations don’t restrict the person in telling their story…And that’s actually where you’re going to find the gold.”

“We like to talk a lot at Te Whānau O Waipareira about what the journey is for our whānau; what does everything else look like in their situation, in the generations before them and in their future to truly assess their needs and the best course of action forward’.

“Sometimes it’s actually digging through some of those layers [of what whānau are telling us] to actually go, ‘there’s something else here’… And that is what I really like about data science, is [the ability to] pull out all these different words and phrases and analyse the story they are telling; you can start unpacking a whole lot of different stuff that helps us support whānau.”

How have you found the process working with PDH?

“With PDH, what I appreciate about them is that they’ve let us do it our way. I really appreciate that and I know the whole team here have said they’ve just been so easy to work with. I think if there’s one thing that we should sing their praises for, it’s they’ve let us do things our way.”

What’s next in your data science journey with Te Whānau o Waipareira? 

“What we’re doing here with PDH, we want to actually get some live deployments going. Our project is still very much a test environment. I see us looking at expanding our learnings from PDH within our network of data analysts, data scientists and tech experts.

“We’re building up our data science team. We want to have a lot more projects in play [where we can] process data a little bit better and faster, to surface insights back to our whānau, back to our kaimahi, and other key stakeholders.

“Data scientists are researchers at heart, so are always curious about what else is in the data. What else can we transform or analyse to produce something meaningful for the user?

“And then I get the lucky job of actually trying to translate that down to layman’s terms, which I love because I can do it really well. As long as everybody understands what’s going on, I think they’ll definitely keep seeing value in data science.”