Whānau Ora in the age of social investment: an oxymoron?

Stream: Indigenous policy
Date: Monday, 9 September 2019
Time: 1.30 pm – 3.10 pm


In 2010, the National-led government of New Zealand (2008–2017) in partnership with the Māori Party, launched a ground-breaking initiative aimed at improving outcomes for families. Whānau Ora, which can be understood as the holistic wellbeing of families, is underpinned by Māori cultural concepts and builds upon the strengths that exist within whānau (family) structures. Concurrent to the implementation of Whānau Ora, the National-led government was also developing what would become known as its ‘social investment approach’. Through this approach, the government sought to harness new technologies in data collection and analytics in order to identify effective solutions to complex social issues while at the same time reducing the future fiscal liability of the state.

Drawing upon semi structured interviews with key stakeholders engaged in the social services system in Aotearoa, this paper explores the synergies and tensions that exist between these two approaches to improving outcomes for indigenous New Zealanders. The paper argues that while on the surface both of these policy approaches sought to overcome persistent disadvantage for individuals and families considered to be ‘vulnerable’, there are a number of ways in which the government’s social investment approach is inherently incongruent with Whānau Ora. These include a focus on individual rather than collective outcomes and an emphasis on deficit rather than strength. Given Australian interest in the New Zealand government’s social investment approach, understanding how social investment thinking impacts upon indigenous communities and what alternative approaches may exist is critically important.


Charlotte Moore (Presenter), University of Auckland
Charlotte Moore (Rangitāne o Wairau) is a doctoral candidate and Professional Teaching Fellow at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Her current research examines New Zealand's National-led government (2008-2017) efforts to improve social services and the impact these efforts have had on the funding, provision and regulation of social services in Aotearoa New Zealand. Charlotte's previous research has focused on state policy making in relation to Māori including the evolution of the Whānau Ora approach to social service delivery.