3. How should I ask? - Me pēhea te pātai ki ngā tangata?

There are many ways to undertake research with the people, and in the places, you've identified in Step 2.

Step 3 is about the research tools and methods you can use to answer your research question. These methods will enable you to walk alongside the people who have journeyed the path you are re-searching, and ask them about your research question so that they might give it their consideration, and provide you with their thoughts. Similarly with visiting places, the tools you use will allow you to gather research information that helps answer your question.

The selection of research methods is about your research question from Step 1, as well as the people and places from Step 2. Hirini Moko Mead (2003) writes that once the kaupapa (matter for discussion) of your research is tika (right), the next priority is finding the right methods and the right people. Getting your research 'right' is often about methodology - deciding the principles that will guide your research, including your choice of methods (see more about this here).

Your task in Step 3 is to decide what method or methods to use to answer your question in a way that is appropriate for the people and places you want to include in your research project. For example, my research question might be

How do Māori whānau (families) make decisions about household expenditure?

There are many ways of gathering information from people, such as talking with them, asking them questions either individually or in groups, or sending them a questionnaire to fill in. Here are some of the methods I might use to answer this question, along with some thoughts about whether the methods would be appropriate.

  • Telephone survey
  • - If I ring people will they be willing to answer questions over the phone? Will talking to just one person give me enough insight into what their whānau is doing and, if it does, who should that one person be? Will whānau who are struggling to afford basics have a landline, or will this method leave them out of my research?
  • Face-to-face interview
  • - How can I make this friendly enough so that people will be comfortable talking with me about financial issues? Where should the interview take place? Should I talk with as many of the whānau as possible? What if a whānau discussion leaves some whānau members vulnerable because of what they talk about?
  • Storytelling
  • - What can I ask participants to tell a story about that will give me insight into their decision-making? Can I get them to tell me stories about times when the decision-making goes smoothly and times when it doesn't? Who in the whānau should I involve in the telling of these stories? 
  • Observation
  • - Is it possible to observe whānau making decisions about how they will spend their income? Would I be able to observe them at home, or could I ask them to re-enact a decision-making discussion that I could record?
  • Documents
  • - What information is available from documents such as bank statements and supermarket receipts? Is it possible to collect this information? What permissions are required?

There are more questions that could be asked about these methods, and some of the questions can be asked about every method that's considered, for example:

  • Will anyone who should be involved be excluded if I use this method?
  • Will people feel comfortable enough that they'll want to be involved in this research?
  • Is anyone put at risk if I use this method?
  • Does this method allow people to give a full account of their experiences or views?

It's important to remember that there is no perfect method. What is important is that your choice of method(s) is made in a thoughtful way so you can tailor the method for the people or place, and get answers to your question that are meaningful.

I remember a few years ago I was advising on a research project being carried out by a government agency in a small community that was experiencing difficulties brought about by a lack of services and some criminal activities. We decided that the Māori researcher should interview people in the community, in their own homes. Our research question was, What support do people in this community want? The first person in the community to be interviewed was a korua (male elder). Following whakawhanaungatanga (the process of establishing relationships) between the korua and researcher, the researcher's first question was, 'What's the best thing about living in this community?'.

There were several decisions made about the research that resulted in this first question being asked of this first person in the community.

  1. Face-to-face interviews allowed those interviewed to assess the trustworthiness of the researcher through both his verbal and non-verbal interactions with them (Pipi et al., 2004). This was important in a community that was mistrustful of government agencies.
  2. The first person to be interviewed was an elder of the community and it was respectful to talk with him first.
  3. The process of whakawhanaungatanga was a culturally-appropriate way of establishing connections between the korua and the researcher, and this was done at the beginning of each interview.
  4. The first question showed that the researcher appreciated that the korua had a choice about whether or not he lived in the community, and that there would be good reasons why he had made the choice to remain.

During this first interview the korua described the positive things about his community. He also talked about the issues and problems that the community had, and what he thought was needed to help the community overcome these problems. He then identified others in the community that the researcher could talk with, and helped the researcher connect with them.

Research ethics

There is a connection between your choice of method(s) and how you use them in your research project, and the ethical principles you developed in Step 2. Your ethical principles will help you think about, and filter, methods that have the potential to help you answer your research question. These principles may also help you wrap a culturally responsive process around and through a method so that it works in a way that is more ethical. In the above example, our use of whakawhanaungatanga and then asking an affirming question first enabled us to use an interview method in a culturally responsive and ethical way. 

The next parts of this Step provide a broad overview of research methods. As in Step 1, when you were deciding on your research question, I encourage you to do a background check on any method(s) that you think have potential to be part of your research project. Find out more about their suitability and adaptability so you can be sure that they will be compatible with your ethical principles. The researchers involved in our project on methods for researching with whanau collectives wrote about their background checks on their chosen method and why they thought the method was suitable for Kaupapa Māori research with whānau. They've therefore done some of this work for you, even if you're not using their method for researching with whānau.

Qualitative or quantitative methods

A distinction is often drawn between qualitative (kōrero - talk, text, participant observation) and quantitative (numbers, population data) research methods.

Qualitative research methods are often favoured for collecting quite detailed information about people's lives - their experiences, values, opinions, practices and beliefs. This includes intangible aspects such as the role and importance of wairua (spirit) and mauri (life principle) in people's everyday lives, and the how and why of decision-making. The role of talk and story are important for many Indigenous peoples, including Māori. For example, whaikōrero (formal speeches) and waiata (song) are embedded within formal cultural protocols that establish links between people. Qualitative research methods are therefore seen as a good 'fit' and are often most closely tied to people's understanding of Kaupapa Māori research.

Māori also have empirical traditions that include enumeration or counting, measurement, and comparison; in other words, quantitative research methods. The numerical data that quantitative research methods generate is analysed statistically, and often the aim of quantitative research is to find out information from a sample of people that can then be generalised to a whole population. Quantitative methods can also tell you useful information about a local community or group that informs understanding of their lives.

The distinction between qualitative and quantitative research methods can get blurry when we start counting information from qualitative interviews. For example, in our project on Māori and genetic engineering we counted how often different topics were raised by those interviewed. In this way we found that 22 of our 24 key informants thought that further discussion and debate were needed about genetic engineering, and commented that not all the risks of genetic engineering were known. Similarly, when quantitative data is collected and analysed a story still needs to be told about what that analysis shows. For example, is data about the number of Māori young people leaving school with few if any formal qualifications about the 'failure of the young people' or the 'failure of the education system'?

Interviews or surveys can involve the collection of both quantitative and qualitative information from participants, and this might be analysed using different techniques. Research projects can combine quantitative and qualitative methods, with these answering different parts of a research question or approaching a research question from different perspectives.

Research methods are also often tied to particular research methodologies and paradigms. It is useful for you to have some understanding of these ties as they provide guidance about how to use the methods so that research is rigorous. You may come across these ties when you are doing background checks on methods and screening them for their appropriateness and cultural responsiveness. There has been a lot of argument, sometimes called the 'paradigm wars', in the research world about quantitative and qualitative methods, so you can also mount an argument for why you want to use a particular method in a particular way. In the methods that are described below there are links to some research projects that have used these methods. This may help you think about how you might use the methods in your own research project.

1. Interviewing

Interviewing is challenging and rewarding. It's challenging as interviewing requires a certain discipline from the researcher that moves an interaction from a casual conversation to an interview. And it's rewarding because of the wealth of information - the stories, recollections, opinions and descriptions - that someone being interviewed may decide to share. Within Kaupapa Māori research interviews (as with all research methods) occur within cultural protocols (e.g.,mihimihi (greetings and introductions), karakia (prayer)) that keep everyone safe because they allow people to enter into and then exit out of a sharing, research space. I suggest you read the pages on this website about interviewing and protocols as this information won't be repeated here. Interviews can range from being unstructured discussions about a topic, to structured questioning of interviewees. The type of interview you choose impacts on the type of analysis that you then do with people's responses. In other words, many of the tools for analysing interviews require a certain type of interview to be done. So it's best to think about both interviewing and analysing interviews at the same time (Cram, 2003). Read more about interviews here.

2. Storytelling

The use of storytelling as a research method has long been practiced by ethnographers (that is, anthropologists interested cultural phenomenon). The growth of the popularity of storytelling in other scientific disciplined is, however, relatively recent. For many Indigenous peoples storytelling has been a primary means of knowledge retention and transmission across generations. In Hawai'i storytelling is described as 'talk story', and in Australia it's called 'yarning' (Bessarb & Ng'andu, 2010). In Aotearoa Moana Jackson has called it whakawhitiwhiti kōrero. Storytelling fits with the oral culture of Indigenous peoples and so using it as a research method seems only natural. Stories are told orally, and they are also recorded in written forms as well as digitally recorded in audio or video formats. When I attended an Indigenous Health Institute in 2009 we recorded digital stories, three of which were subsequently played at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meeting. Storytelling is compelling because it engages people and has the power to move them intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. There are many readily available examples of these moving stories on the internet.

3. Surveying

Surveys, assessments and questionnaires allow you to ask many people the same questions, in the same way, in a reasonably cost-effective way. If a person is asked to respond to a survey in an interview setting (e.g., telephone survey, face-to-face survey), then the survey is very similar to a structured interview. Surveys can also be delivered to people for them to fill in independently. The best known survey of this kind is a Census. You may also have been asked to fill in an evaluation form for an event you've attended, or been sent a questionnaire in the post with a request for you to complete and return it. More surveys are now also being delivered on-line and there are many websites that allow you to develop your own on-line survey. Like interviewing there is a close tie between the kind of survey you use and the type of analysis you do with people's responses. A big issue is therefore how survey questions are asked and how people provide responses. In addition, if you want the findings of your survey to be generalisable (i.e., able to tell you something about a larger population than your group of respondents), then you need to be concerned with how your survey sample is selected and the number of people who respond to your survey (response rate).

4. Observing

Observational methods are what you'd expect from the name; that is, they're about observing peoples' behaviour or 'watching people do stuff' (Dickie, 1997). Like interviewing observations can be quite unstructured with the researcher observing and making field notes (during or after their observations) about what they see, feel, and the impressions they form. Other data collected might include video or still photography, or audio recording. More structured observations might involve the use of checklists and timers, with the researcher observing or paying attention to activities at set intervals and scoring what they observe against a checklist of possible actors and behaviours. The researcher can also observe from outside or inside the setting being observed. When the researcher just observes and does not participate they are said to be doing naturalistic or nonparticipant observations. When they are 'inside' both participating and observing then they are doing participant observation. A key issue in observational research is gaining participants' consent for an observational study, as people's behaviour may well change if they know they're being observed. These changes may wear off once people become used to being observed and they revert to their 'normal' behaviour patterns.

5. Reading

Documentary research methods are about gathering information from documents (i.e., written texts, pictures, videos, etc), that have been produced by individuals (e.g., letters, medical records, diaries), groups (e.g., meeting minutes, photo albums, reunion booklets), and organisations (e.g., newspapers, policies, advertisements). Documents range from the private and personal to public documents. There might also be local, national and international documents that relate to your research question (e.g., contracts for sexual health services, national policies about sexual health, international declarations and covenants related to sexual health). Once documents have been determined to be authentic and credible they can be subjected to analyses related to content and meaning (Mogalakwe, 2006). Qualitative analyses may, for example, be about common themes that emerge from reading and re-reading the documents, while quantitative analyses may be about counting the occurrence of particular words and phrases.

Moving around Steps 1, 2 and 3

While Steps 1, 2 and 3 have been presented here in a linear, one-after-the-other fashion, research doesn't necessarily always flow like this. When you think about methods you may want to go back and think about where you're looking for information or the question you're asking. For example, you may start looking into a particular method and realise that it opens up an opportunity for you to engage with a group of people that you hadn't though about involving in your research until now.

In other words, getting to Step 3 may make you want to go back and reconsider Step 2. Or Steps 2 or 3 may make you want to go back and reconsider your research question. The diagram on the left presents Steps 1, 2 and 3 as a cycle that you may travel around more than once before you're happy with your choice of question, the people and places you want to engage with in order to answer it, and the methods you want to use to do this.

Along the way involve others in the decisions you're making - whether this be an informal discussion with whānau (family) members to see if what you're planning makes sense to them, or more formal consultation with those who'll be involved in some way with your research (e.g., community or tribal leaders). Then, when you're ready to learn-by-doing, use the methods you've chosen, with the people and in the places you've selected, to gather answers to your research question.

Next step

Once you've gathered your research data, what should you do with it? In Step 4 we'll begin to look at how to re-present the people and places you've been re-searching with. Step 4. What should I do with the answers? - Ka aha ahau ki ngā whakautu? is here.

Questions about Step 3

  1. What methods did you consider using to answer your question?
  2. Did you decide not to use any of the methods you considered? If you did, why did you decide the methods weren't appropriate?
  3. How did your ethical principles influence the background check(s) you did on the method(s) you looked in to?
  4. Will you use the same or different methods for different sources of information (people, places) you want to go to for an answer to your research question? Why have you made this decision?

Writing for your research report

The section of your research report that you can write now is the Method section. This section includes information about:

  • Participants. Who participated in your research, including, the number of people and any useful demographic information (e.g., ages; number of males, females; location).
  • Process. This section describes how people participated in your research and should describe this process in a way that another researcher could do more-or-less exactly the same process with another group of participants. If you looked at documents or visited places, you should also write enough detail about what you did so that another researcher could replicate your process.
  • Ethics. In Step 2 you described your ethical principles. Here you can provide more detail about how you put these principles into practice. For example, what was your process of whakawhanaungatanga (establishment of relationships)?
  • Analysis. This section outlines the way you analysed the information/data your collected.


Cram, F. (2006). Talking ourselves upAlternative: an international journal of indigenous scholarshipSpecial supplement 2006 – Marginalisation, 28-45.

Dickie, W. (1997). Seven rules for observational research: how to watch people do stuff. Quirk's Marking Research Media.

Mead, H. M. (2003). Tikanga Māori. Living by Māori values. Wellington: Huia Publishers.

Mogalakwe, M. (2006). The use of documentary research methods in social research. African Sociological Review, 10(1), 221-230.

Pipi, K., Cram, F., Hawke, R., Hawke, S., Huriwai, TeM., Mataki, T., Milne, M., Morgan, K., Tuhaka, H. & Tuuta, T. (2004). A research ethic for studying Māori and iwi provider success. Journal of Social Policy23, 141-153. [Project information]

Helpful links

Aboriginal Education Research Centre. Indigenous research methods and perspectives. At http://aerc.usask.ca.

Native American Science Curriculum. Indigenous Research Methods.

University of Manitoba Centre for Human Rights Research. Indigenous research ethics and methods. Suggested readings and podcasts.

Weber-Pillwax, Cora (2004). Indigenous researchers and Indigenous research methods: Cultural influences or cultural determinants of research methods. Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigneous Community Health, 2(1), 77-90.


From: Cram, F. (2013).  He Rangahau Kaupapa Māori: A guide to undertaking a Kaupapa Māori research project. Auckland: Katoa Ltd. Available from www.katoa.net.nz.