Ending with impact: Creating new mātauranga with virtual/ immersive wānanga

SfTI researchers are creating a tikanga guided framework and prototype virtual space which is fit to hold wānanga that can communicate, share, teach and create new mātauranga.  

This project builds on the learnings and technology developed during our $4.2 million Spearhead, Ātea, which successfully created an immersive experience of the wharerau Tahu Pōtiki (Te Rau Aroha Marae in Motupōhue/Bluff) that enabled whānau to connect remotely back to their own stories and mātauranga. This project will take a combination of existing technologies and those developed during the original Spearhead to build a framework as well as tools to enable wānanga in a way that honours their true meaning and function.

Image: Te Rau Aroha Marae

This project is part of a new suite of SfTI funding to enable our most promising Spearhead research projects to ‘end with impact’. All National Science Challenges, including SfTI, will draw to a close in June 2024 and it’s vital that every drop of practical impact from our research is delivered. In a 2022 funding round, our Spearhead projects were invited to put forward ideas that have germinated during their work of the past few years, and that with more time and investment could reap impactful rewards. 



Leading tikanga experts to decide how wānanga translates to tech space

This ending with impact project is led by Professor Hēmi Whaanga (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mamoe, Waitaha). Hēmi says they are building on the strong relationships developed in the original Spearhead and working with some of the most experienced tikanga experts in the country as well as Te Rūnanga o Awarua community as users.

“We have an opportunity for future generations. We are laying down a foundation about how the future looks and how to safeguard our tikanga and reo within new technologies and virtual reality. Rather than waiting for the next Silicon Valley wave and risk our tikanga and reo becoming tokenistic or hybridised. ”

Safeguarding mātauranga Māori in the virtual realm 

Wānanga can mean a forum or educational seminar. They are used for many purposes, from high-level discussions and learning by experts, to strategic issues. 

Hēmi says that wānanga vary in duration, but can go on for days and at times include very little to no sleep. Although online forums such as zoom have been used to hold wānanga especially since the pandemic, the virtual space has challenges to deliver on the intricacies of wānanga. 

Image: Three dimensional tele co-presence from the original Spearhead, Ātea.

“It is an important time for Māori to consider for themselves how their culture translates into virtual spaces. With the big companies like Facebook currently looking at what the ground rules are around these virtual spaces and what it means to make them safe places, it is a great time for us to consider how tikanga is applied in these spaces appropriately and to ensure that we can navigate these spaces safely.” Says Hēmi. 

“The whole idea of wānanga is that there is a kaupapa and you are focussed on that. When you’re on zoom - people inevitably multi-task and they’re on their phone checking another screen.”

This 'ending with impact' project aims to prevent the concept of wānanga from being diluted by technology, rather it will be enhanced. Existing technologies will be configured to better support wānanga, including the three-dimensional tele co-presence approach which was developed as part of the original Ātea spearhead.  

Rangatahi to link the tohunga to the tech 

An important feature of the ending with impact phase of funding, is a commitment to early career researchers, women and vision mātauranga. This includes pathways for Māori into technology. This project provides the perfect opportunity for rangatahi to have an integral role. Project partner, Te Rūnanga o Awarua will identify rangatahi to fill the technical mentoring role to act as a kaitakawaenga, as a liaison between the computer science technology and the specific needs of the iwi. This intergenerational approach will see the tohunga bringing the mātauranga and the rangatahi bringing their experience from growing up in a technology-enabled and connected environment. Together these two perspectives will inform technology that upholds wānanga into the future.

The project is funded for $1,570,564 to March 2024. Find out more about our 'ending with impact' projects.