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Katharina RucksthulThat’s a question University of Otago Business School researcher Katharina Ruckstuhl and her colleagues are addressing.

Her research focuses on innovation and Māori business, including developing science capacity to respond to the growing Māori economy.

A joint project with Otago, AUT, Victoria and Waikato is studying whether and how fundamental science relates to Māori concerns, looking at developing processes that help Māori knowledge, expertise and effort be brought into project planning.

Incorporating a Māori perspective into new products and services developed from science and technology research provides unique opportunities. But there are many questions to answer first.

“Māori think about some things differently. For instance, Māori thinking has a whānau and intergenerational perspective. And impact on the environment is important, given that Māori businesses can be located on traditional lands. Collective forms of intellectual property is also something to be considered, particularly with biologically-based products.

“The project is not just concerned with how scientists consult Māori or provide information to Māori consumers once a product is developed. Rather, the research is looking at ways that the Māori perspective is integrated from the outset.

“We’re therefore studying how academic science entrepreneurs engage with Māori. This helps us to understand how Māori-sourced ideas enable scientists to see new possibilities that might be commercialised for economic or social benefit.”

This has possibilities for brand new innovations. Can new products from oil or farm waste be developed, for example, drawing from the Māori ethic of stewardship? Can Māori knowledge of the environment be used to develop 3D printing using biological products?

“As navigators between science and Māori, we hope this will provide some insight and practical pathways for innovation teams to incorporate the Māori perspective in the future, and to nurture Māori innovation. We would like to find some practical examples of how people are doing this.

“Active collaboration provides different perspectives. We’re looking to see Māori as the innovation ‘architects’ in the high-tech space, maybe even turning the present system on its head - it could ultimately mean a mind-set change across the whole science innovation process.”

Putting indigenous people at the forefront of R & D is not found elsewhere. The team think that incorporating Māori knowledge into science and technology is a unique contribution to the global science effort that should make a difference to Māori and the broader New Zealand community.