An MBIE Endeavour Smart Ideas Fund project
Investigators: Tatjana Buklijas, Anne Bardsley, Kristiann Allen, Rochelle Menzies, Jacquie Bay, Matire Harwood

In the coming decades, Aotearoa New Zealand will face major challenges and transitions that will have significant social and economic impact. Policy decisions on how to deal with these challenges will often be contentious. For example, the transition to a low carbon economy and the digital transformation bring forth issues of technology adoption and data use. These will confront different perceptions of risk and precaution, and challenge firmly held beliefs and differing world views. Political institutions do not have a good record of public discussions around such complex issues, particularly as they relate to contentious new technologies, data sovereignty and sustainability tradeoffs. The challenges are compounded in the global atmosphere of decreasing trust and growth of populist antidemocratic movements. Internationally, there is recognition that models of engagement based on open and ongoing dialogue are needed.

Overall aim

We aim to develop a novel deliberative democratic model to assist government, the public, Māori/iwi/hapū, and innovators to reach mutual understanding on public policy issues involving emerging technologies that are of high potential social and economic consequence for Aotearoa New Zealand. The model will provide an inclusive, adaptive and broadly useable approach to addressing many complex societal issues that New Zealand faces and will face in the future. The model will be tested on drawing consensus around contentious technological issues.


The research will be organized in two phases. In phase 1, we will co-design in partnership with key stakeholders a ‘Complex Conversations Laboratory’ model. In recognising Māori as tangata whenua, we will incorporate tikanga Maori and matauranga Māori into our research processes wherever possible to promote cultural-responsiveness. We will draw upon extant participatory, education, post-normal science and deliberative democracy research,  experience in knowledge brokerage and transformative educational processes, as well as Aotearoa-specific forms of cultural dialogue. In particular, we hope to gain understanding around Māori forms of consensus building, including contemporary variations on traditional hui processes.

In phase 2, we will recruit participants and test the model (including pre- and post-surveys) in three groups: group A going through the process, B participating in the process and receiving module on complexity and uncertainty, and a control group. We will use two scenarios reflecting two major areas impacting the New Zealand society and economy (life science technology related to climate change mitigation and adaptation in agriculture, and digital technology and data use in public policy).