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Research in a Pasifika context

March 27, 2012

Having acknowledged that “Although the peoples of the Pacific represent many cultures, languages, and nations, my remarks here relate to Pacific Islands peoples who have come to live in New Zealand, and I use the term Pasifika to cover them all while acknowledging their unique differences,” Mutch writes:

Diane Mara (1999) has a list of considerations for those wishing to conduct educational research in Pasifika contexts: ownership of the research, methodologies, ethics, the role of the researcher, the participants in the research, and the intended (and unintended) outcomes.

1. Ownership of the research: Although acknowledging that the research often is ‘owned’ by those who fund it, Mara (1999) makes a plea for Pasifika peoples and researchers to be able to own the entire research process – ‘from framing the questions, development of the methodologies, analysing the data, designing the final documentation or presentation and ensuring the outcomes benefit our students and teachers’ (p.5)

2. Methodologies: Mara suggests that face-to-face methodologies, such as focus group interviews, where the participants are able to respond in their own languages, are the most appropriate. Advisory committees, ‘critical colleagues’, and ‘cultural mentors’ are also useful.

3. Ethics: As well as the usual ethical considerations important in any research, Mara suggests that Pasifika research contains the dilemma of maintaining confidentiality (because of the small population from which participants can [-70] be drawn) while simultaneously giving public acknowledgement to the participants.

4. The role of the researcher: After listing the many and varied skills required by all researchers, Mara adds “cultural knowledges and a level of analysis which includes a realism about what research can and cannot do. For our communities the needs are great, the expectations are high and sometimes unrealistic within present constraints” (p.9)

5. The participants of the research: Mara suggests that, for Pasifika participants, provisions should be made for the use of their first languages (if preferred); the use of a prayer for opening and closing meetings; sharing food as part of the process; and some flexibility in time, method, and venue. She also stresses the importance of building mutual respect, trust, and credibility between researcher and researched.

6. The outcomes: The outcomes are usually negotiated at the beginning of the process, but some unintended outcomes (positive and/or negative) that researchers should be aware of include: focusing attention on particular issues or needs; raising questions for further study; facilitating communication; adding knowledge to the body of scholarship; increasing numbers of Pasifika researchers; and altering the perception of educational research in Pacific communities.” (69-70)

Ref: (emphases in bold, blue mine – italics in original) Carol Mutch (2005) Doing Educational Research: A Practitioner’s Guide to Getting Started. NZCER Press: Wellington

Referring to: Mara, D. (1999). Why research? Why educational research for/by/with Pacific communities in Aotearoa-New Zealand. Paper presented to the Pacific Island Educators’ Conference, Auckland, 13-15 April


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