A Digital Portal To Aotearoa: Reconnecting Māori Landowners With Their Whenua At A Click

 |   Microsoft New Zealand News Centre

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Across Aotearoa, connections with the land have been disrupted as Māori move to cities and larger towns, seek opportunities overseas and families grow. Meanwhile, large tracts of Māori land are crying out for caring guardians – kaitiaki – to nurture them and in turn, support landowners’ families by realising their potential. When Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development, was seeking a technology partner to reach more landowners and help them understand their rights and opportunities, user experience specialist NV Interactive heard the call. The result is Tupu.nz, a platform that empowers Māori communities to make the most of their natural assets and reconnect with their roots.

Aotearoa is a land that doesn’t stand still. The landscape is ever changing, as our towns and cities grow and the earth itself moves beneath our feet. Connection to the land is one of the cornerstones of what it means to be Māori, even as people themselves move around and beyond our shores. A tūrangawaewae, or place to stand, is a precious anchor to the past, to ancestors, to whānau and culture.

Across Aotearoa, 1.4 million hectares of land are under shared Māori ownership, passed down from generation to generation. However, the number of landowners rises with each passing year as families grow – some blocks have more than 100 owners – and many Māori are unaware of their rights to land or where it is, let alone what they could do with it. As a result, a lot of Māori land is not managed effectively or at all.

Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development, was acutely aware of the need to help Māori understand their rights and give them the tools to grow the wealth of their whānau and hapū through better management of shared land. It had a vision for a centralised web platform where people could find information to help them understand whether they might be a landowner, where they could get funding for improvements and even see a map of all Māori land blocks with useful information suggesting ways to use their natural resources.

An undertaking of this size doesn’t come easy, however. Making the vision a reality would require data from all kinds of agencies and sources to be pulled together, sorted and turned into a single platform that even the most inexperienced tech novices could easily use. A project like this would require whoever took on the task to have outstanding technical abilities, collaboration between dozens of stakeholders and a keen understanding of the issues and cultural nuances.

And of course, there was a hard deadline. There was just 18 months to get the platform ready by Waitangi Day 2020, when the then-Minister for Māori Development, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, was due to launch it.

Looking through different eyes

In the words of Matt Pickering, Managing Director of NV Interactive: “You don’t get these opportunities every day.”

Pickering’s business, a creative digital agency specialising in delivering user-centric digital experiences, was chosen to help bring the website to life. NV Interactive’s genius was focusing on the people who’d be using the resource and how they would typically engage. Some landowners lived in remote places with limited connectivity, so the website had to be easily used on a range of different devices or even in public libraries.

NV’s team also identified the core demographics they were designing for, creating “personas” to help make the experience of using the platform as relevant as possible to the people who would be using it. These personas ranged from a young urban professional in their 20s who knew they had a family connection to land but didn’t know where it was and wanted to know more, to an expat living overseas who wanted to reconnect with their whenua, to a local kaitiaki living near or on the block of land, who wanted to understand how to help their community make better use of the resource.

Forging solid connections – land, people and technology

The NV team were woven into a dedicated project team from all the various government agencies involved, including Te Puni Kōkiri, working hard to aggregate all the information. NV was instrumental in shaping a clear phased approach to the development, helping break down the mammoth project into three easy stages.

First was the part of the platform that helps people understand their rights to land, identifying the resources that could help them and bringing them all together in one place. The next focus was helping people understand what they could do with their land to ensure it was managed sustainably, in keeping with local climate conditions and topography. Finally, the project tackled tools to help landowners grow their wealth, to support more of their community by realising the land’s potential. Everything was benchmarked against best practice in governance.

On the technical side, NV Interactive wove an open-source content management system, Umbraco, into Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to create a database that could easily grow with the huge amounts of data being fed into it. The aim was to build a database that could evolve along with new and changing data and technologies over the long haul. Azure’s scalability and in-built security to deal with evolving cyberthreats and protect users’ privacy made it the perfect choice.

Power BI was also included to make it easy for the site’s users to generate reports on everything from rates on the land to soil type and potential uses for the land that reflected local conditions. A click of a button means even computer novices can create simple and easy to understand documents, transforming all the information on the website into a PDF for printing and sharing.

Maori women

“When the whenua thrives, the whānau thrives”

Despite the truly monumental size of the task, Tupu.nz was born and ready for deployment by February 2020, in time for Waitangi Day.

The Tupu site means Māori landowners everywhere can not only find their whenua – with maps and photos for easy reference – but they’re also connected with a huge array of resources and advice on governance, business plans, setting up a trust and how to monitor and measure success. The site also explains how the Māori Land Court works, who is eligible to become a landowner (and the succession process) and where to apply for funding to develop the land.

A part of the Tupu site also tells the stories of people who are kaitiaki of their whenua, what they’re doing and what they’ve achieved, bringing landowners into a supportive community that not only solves problems, but shares people’s success.

As Minister Mahuta said when it launched: “When the whenua thrives, the whānau thrives”. Since launch, 88,000 recorded people have visited the site, and this only a small subset of all those who have accessed the website. New case studies continue to be developed about those who are forging stronger connections with their land.

Whenua in the future 

Meanwhile, the project has won NV Interactive recognition for its outstanding approach to working alongside Te Puni Kōkiri and all the other agencies involved in making Tupu.nz a success. At the 2020 Microsoft New Zealand Partner Awards, NV Interactive was named winner of the Engaging Customers Award.

Matt Bostwick, Partner Director at Microsoft New Zealand, says: “The core focus of our Awards each year is not the technological prowess our Partners demonstrate, but how they transform their customers’ organisations and help them achieve more. With its work on Tupu.nz, NV Interactive has not only provided a masterclass in cross-agency collaboration and project management, it’s helped create a resource that’s transforming entire communities and the lives of the people who use it. Tupu.nz is literally reshaping the land of Aotearoa and strengthening both cultural and financial wellbeing as a result, and to re-quote Minister Mahuta, when our customers thrive, our whole Partner ecosystem thrives.”

As befits its content, Tupu.nz is constantly evolving. NV Interactive and Te Puni Kōkiri continue to work together to bring new enhancements and expand the service further.

“In more than 20 years working in technology, we’ve never had a project that’s been as rewarding, empowering underserved communities to make the most of their assets,” Pickering says.

 

 

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