This week is the fortieth annual week of the national initiative, Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori and there is considerable discussion as to the on-going viability of Maori as a spoken language for everyday use. Leaving aside questions and debate as to who is at fault for the steady decline of language usage and who has primary responsibility for ensuring the survival of te reo it is interesting to hear the various statistics by which both sides of the debate support their contentions. A relatively simple measure of the strength and vitality of ‘te reo’ could be the number of different mediums by which maori can be accessed in the modern world. Radio and television broadcasts, kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and the internet are all modern sources of te reo which were not available when the first ‘te wiki’ was launched in 1975. Certainly these are debateable measures of the success of the initiative. Are they enough though?
On the economic front an increased per capita income is one of the main ingredients in the menu of successful outcomes sought by the ‘He Tangata, He Whenua, He Oranga’ strategy for Economic Growth of Maori in Tai Tokerau. At present a qualitative estimate of per capita income for Maori in the Tai Tokerau district is a figure of $15,310. Increasing this figure could indicate if implementation of the strategy has been successful in some way.
When the strategy was released, earlier this year, about 12,400 Maori people were in employment. Achieving a numerical increase in the number of employed e.g. another 1000 persons in work, has an appeal due to the simplicity of the statistic but that number may not in itself reveal the more important aspects of the state of Maori employment. For arguments sake an increase of 1000 persons to the baseline figure might be recorded but that increase may be accompanied by a disproportionate increase in the number of unemployed. So while it is always worthwhile highlighting our successes the reliance on a single statistic for understanding success can lead to misguided conclusions.
Even from this simple example it can be seen that a more compelling story can be illustrated by the use of more appropriate measures or as is commonly referred nowadays, metrics. In this case the statistical rates of activity may be considered more valuable information for measuring the effectiveness of interventions. When organisations select their measures of success for an intended audience a trade-off is often required between a single, simple headline statistic and other complex analytical exercises that take longer to calculate, may be more precise but if not fully understood create confusion or increase uncertainty.
Appropriate measures of success need to have the following characteristics. The process to generate the statistic needs to be easily understood and robust. The statistics need to be valid and relate to the data set i.e. they need to stack up. Another desirable feature of metrics is that they should be easily comparable with different populations and within different groups. It is also highly preferable that statistics are constructed independently of the organisation they seek to measure.
In general any measures of the quantity of economic activity should be supported by measures of the quality of economic return or improvements in well-being. This is one of the recognised deficiencies of Gross Domestic Product where the amount of activity is measured but not necessarily the quality of the activity. Specifically suitable indicators of the transformation of the Maori economy that is needed i.e. changing the pathology from being mostly consumers to being producers of economic wealth, will ensure that the message is not diluted.
It is high time that Maori determined for themselves the measures of success that they want for their economic achievements and the contribution to well-being for whanau and hapu. A good starting point is the Human Development Index adopted by the United Nations which includes measures of schooling and life expectancy. Other aspects of being Maori in Tai Tokerau could further enhance our understanding of the long term effects of the strategy, for example, the use of Maori language in everyday business transactions might be valued.