by Christos Mavraganis
If you visit govt.nz and go to the “History, culture and heritage” section, there is a folder, called “Māori language, culture and heritage”. Sometimes there is neither a need for fancy words, nor jazzy introductions to prove how much a country appreciates the historical importance of its heritage. Sometimes just 17 simple words can do the job: “Māori culture is a big part of NZ’s identity, so respecting, preserving and promoting it is vital”.
For those who are not familiar, Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, who as the website describes, “came to Aotearoa (the most widely known and accepted Māori name for the entire country) from Polynesia in the 13th century and created a new language and culture”.
The goal and the means
A quick search through the official website of the New Zealand government, beehive.govt.nz, can reveal some interesting facts. One of them is that there is a “Māori Development” section, where anyone can get information about the government’s developmental initiatives regarding to Māori people.
Among those initiatives, there is one that has a clear goal: To connect the historical past of Māori with the future and to be more specific with the ICT, always with a developmental approach. This is “The Māori Development Fund” and according to the government “in Budget 2014, the Government allocated $30 million for a Māori ICT Development Fund to support Māori economic development and support access to Māori language and culture through digital literacy initiatives”.
Therefore, in order to “respect, preserve and promote” this heritage, the government is trying to use the digital world and the new media to make the Māori tradition “immortal”.
The gap, the bridging
Let’s put more emphasis in the matter of the language. Undoubtedly, this is a very challenging project, principally because of the chaotic distance between the new digital world and the living conditions of this New Zealand’s part. Nederceen Pieterse, while trying to explain how the digital media policies apply to issues connected to development, is raising the issue of the “digital divide”. He points out that there is a need for bridging this “gap” between developing and developed countries and to do so, he suggests that “the combination of rising educational levels in developing countries… and the business strategies of multinational companies, with ICT as an enabling factor, creates economic opportunities for developing countries” (Pieterse, 2010, p. 167).
This leads us to the purposes of the “The Māori Development Fund”. How exactly will this project help the educational levels to be increased and how will it help to “bridge the gap”? The answer comes from Communications Minister Amy Adams, who explains: “There are a wide range of initiatives that this fund could support, such as projects to improve digital literacy, scholarships to encourage Māori to study ICT, or programmes aimed at increasing the use of ICT by Māori businesses, so we want to see the fund in operation as soon as practicably possible”.
Sharing knowledge is to be a two-way street
A critical goal of this project is the preservation of “Te Reo Māori ” (the Māori language), which has a history of hundreds of years and was made an official language of New Zealand under the Maori Language Act 1987. But how would it be possible for a “dying” language to be saved and transmitted to the next generations? In Carpentier et Al (Researching Media, Democracy and Participation), there is a very interesting input by Luisse Phillips, who is talking about the problematic conception of how the communication of science is transmitted through an “one way” procedure, meaning that the completed research results are just presented to the public, as de facto knowledge. The author is underlying a shift to this perception and highlights some dialogical approaches which “treat the communication of knowledge as a process of knowledge-sharing between the researcher and relevant social actors” (Louise Phillips, at Nico Carpentier et al, 2006, p. 233).
The author presents three fields in which the communication of research has taken this “dialogical turn”. She describes, for example, how the second one takes the form of ‘dialogue with the public’, where “…the aim is to take citizens’ views into account in the decisionmaking involved in policy formation” (Louise Phillips, at Nico Carpentier et al, 2006, p. 234).
Moreover, she underlines how -inside the third field- the communication of research has taken a dialogical turn and she uses the term ‘interactive research’, an umbrella term for a number of other approaches (eg dialogical research’, ‘participatory action research’, ‘co-operative inquiry’, ‘action inquiry’ and ‘autoethnography’) that have a goal to “democratize relations between scientists and other social actors in the production and communication of social scientific knowledge”. Even though the author refers to scientific research, there is common ground with the “The Māori Development Fund”. And this is how the New Zealand government chose form the structure of this project.
The group members
A few days ago, it has been announced that the advisory group members have been appointed for a three year term each. The Māori Development Minister, Te Ururoa Flavell, explained that the 8 group members will provide advice on the objectives and the design of the operational framework and he added that the group “has important work to do to ensure the fund is used to its full potential and the new members bring a broad cross-section of skills and experience to the group”. This procedure is the connection to Louise Phillips’s “dialogical” theory. The government could have just created a website, or a web-based educational system, in order to protect and preserve the Māori language. Instead, they chose to assign this effort to people with different and impressive educational and professional backgrounds. They gave them the opportunity to handle the “building” of the digital literacy and to motivate Māori to study ITC. The interaction with the Māori people holds a dominant place in this project. As Louise Phillips would add here, “the claim is that a better understanding from both science and the public can and should be furthered through an exchange of perspectives in dialogue” (Louise Phillips, at Nico Carpentier et al, 2006, p. 236).
The rules and the outcome
Needless to say, that is a very challenging project. Even if we adopt the most optimistic angle and assume that the outcome would be even better than the original plan, there are still some objections. Pieterse, for example, would immediately raise one and it would be about the core of the ICT for Development thinking.
In the Development Theory, there is a chapter called “ICT4D as a package deal” and the author is pointing the obvious. That the ICT field is working under certain and specific rules which of course are set by the developed countries, in favor of their interests. Therefore, he suggests that the very nature of the “bridging the gap” procedure is contradictory. Quoting Wade, he could not have put it better than this: “‘efforts to bridge the digital divide may have the effect of locking developing countries into a new form of dependency on the West. The technologies and “regimes” (international standards governing ICTs) are designed by developed country entities for developed country conditions’” (Wade 2002: 443, referenced by Pieterse, 2010, p. 169).
To sum up, the New Zealand government has a very promising project, along with a serious financial investment. If this plan succeeds, the benefits will be priceless, as a very crucial ingredient of the Māori culture, the language, will be protected for good. But the question remains: Will the outcome be really beneficial if the “The Māori Development Fund” uses the practices of the developed countries as a “Trojan horse” and ends up to be dependent on the West?
A middle ground solution is always the best solution, but also the most difficult one to be achieved.
Nederveen Pieterse, Jan (2010). Development Theory (Second Edition). London: Sage
Carpentier, N., Pruulman-Vengerfeldt, P., Nordenstreng, K., Hartmann, M. and Cammaerts, B. (Eds.) 2006: Researching Media, Democracy and Participation. Tartu: Tartu University Press.