Children and young people are experts on their own lives

posted 6 Mar 2019, 20:50 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 6 Mar 2019, 20:58 ]

Kia ora koutou – Greeting to you all. My name is Fiona Cram, and I’m a Māori researcher and evaluator based at Katoa Ltd.

My commentary on measuring the wellbeing of Māori children has just been published in the MAI Journal.

Abstract The Annual Child Poverty Monitor reports on child poverty measures and child-poverty-related indicators. Around one in three Māori children are defined as living in poverty. While the Monitor is a prompt for government action to reduce child poverty, it has been criticised as presenting a negative view of the lives of Māori children and whänau. This paper considers whether a fuller picture of the lived realities of Māori children can be gained from routinely collected data, using a lens of tamariki (children) Māori wellbeing. A mauri (life force) framing for the indicator set is proposed, with three components reflecting the ihi, wehi and wana of tamariki. This paper is intended as a resource that can inform discussion of Māori-centric indicators of Māori children’s wellbeing as individuals, within the context of whānau (family) and wider society.

This paper follows on from my 2014 article in the journal about measuring Māori wellbeing, which in turn builds on Professor Sir Mason Durie’s address to Treasury in 2006 about measuring Māori wellbeing. This background is described more by me in the video below.


My paper is intended to provoke discussion and has been published at the same time that the Office of the Children’s Commission has published its research on children and young people’s views on what makes a good life.

More of my research and writing can be found at the Katoa Ltd website.

Tackling Wicked Problems in Complex Ecologies

posted 13 Apr 2018, 23:20 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 14 Apr 2018, 15:03 ]

The Role of Evaluation

Over the past couple of years I've had the immense pleasure of working with my colleague Prof. Rodney Hopson from George Mason University on an edited book about how evaluation plays out and can contribute to the complex world we currently live in. This book is on the final part of its journey with Stanford University Press and is due for release on 1 May 2018.

This is not a textbook. Rather it's a call for evaluators to step-up and be part of the solution when it comes to the issues the world is facing. The chapter authors demonstrate how they are doing this, and put out a challenge to their evaluation colleagues that they can and they must do the same.

We have gathered together many of our most esteemed evaluation colleagues to write about the evaluation world they know, as all of them are astute about working in complex ecologies (even if they hadn't named them as such before writing for this volume). You may recognise the names of Donna Mertens (transformative evaluation) who has written with Arlinda Boland about gender and disability, and Michael Quinn Patton (utilisation focused evaluation, developmental evaluation) who has written about the evaluation of the Paris Declaration on Aid EffectivenessJill Chouinard and Ayesha Boyce have written about the restoration back into community of those released from jail for sex offending; Robin Lin Miller about the impact of HIV AIDS on young black men; Oran Hesterman and Ricardo Millet (who we remember fondly from his visit some years ago to Aotearoa) have written about food systems; and Andy Rowe about the importance of including environmental considerations in our planning and evaluation. Rodney assembled a wonderful group of his colleagues, led by Crystal Barksdale and including Kimberly Green, Karolina Schantz, Jennifer Kenyon, William Rodick, Akashi Kaul, and Godfrey Jacobs, to write about the importance of evaluation recommendations. And finally, but by no means least, our friend and colleague Linda Tuhiwai Smith who has written about evaluation in Indigenous contexts.

Our focus throughout the volume is on working as evaluators to tackle wicked problems head on, with special regard for the importance of relationships, relevance and responsibilities within these evaluations. Rodney took a lead in introducing these topics in the first chapter of the book, while I took the lead in summing them up in the final chapter and recounting the key themes from what the authors had shared.

The journey was not been without some hiccups. I had to apologise profusely when I accidentally replaced all the shortened 'FFN's in Oran and Ricardo's chapter with Fast Food Network instead of Fair Food Network, the amazing organisation Oran heads. And I had writer's 'block' for way too long, feeling overwhelmed by the fabulously, famous people who had written chapters and the thoughts of 'who was I?' to attempt to sum up their thoughts. But then I remembered to just start at the beginning and write until I get to the end - and at last I wrote an outline for the final chapter so that Rodney could collaborate with me on it.

American Evaluation Association Conference, 2016

posted 10 Nov 2016, 15:00 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 11 Nov 2016, 01:02 ]

This year's American Evaluation Association (AEA) conference was in Atlanta, Georgia, in the week of 24 October, 2016. The theme of the conference was Evaluation + Design.

My AEA conference for 2016 began with Nicky Bowman (Munsee/Mohican), Bowman Performance Consulting, and I facilitating a one-day preconference workshop on culturally responsive Indigenous evaluation. Once again we had a group of stunning folks who shared generously of their own knowledge and expertise, and engaged with one another and with us in friendly and thought-provoking ways. Our day began and ended with a talking circle, and we moved from there out into the conference knowing several new people.

During conference I shared accommodation with the lovely Donna Mertens. This may be the only way to share time and conversations with her about her work, her travels, and how she's igniting the world with her transformative research and evaluation paradigm. She's just completed the first draft of her new book about mixed methods research and evaluation - so if you're a nerd like me, you'll be watching out for this. Our night out at the combined TIG (topical interest group - combining Indigenous, Multiethnic, Latino/a, and LGBT TIGS) was especially memorable for the photo booth (see the pic) and great conversations with people dressed up in their halloween best.

The talking circle became a feature of our presentations, with those attending able to share their feedback and questions with the wider group. This has convinced us that what we have to say should only occupy half of any session, with the remainder devoted to audience participation. We were blessed in our workshop, at some of our presentations, and at our Indigenous Peoples in Evaluation TIG meeting to have Mark Parman (Cherokee) open our gatherings. A special treat was the blow-up camp fire he brought to conference for these occasions.

On Saturday afternoon Mark drove us to New Echota, where 16000 Cherokee were forced out of their homeland in 1838 and on to the Trail of Tears. This was an especially moving visit, and reminded me that an Indigenous homeland can be so easily lost to racism and capitalism. This is not history, as it’s playing itself out again and again. See, for example, current events at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. So AEA is always so much bigger than AEA. Mostly it’s an opportunity to connect with friends and colleagues and to find out how the ‘fight’ for social justice, equity and decolonisation is going.

Kia ora Katoa @ Genetic Modification

posted 17 Apr 2015, 15:58 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 18 Feb 2016, 22:43 ]


I am currently a Year 13 student and am doing a research paper into Genetic Modification in New Zealand.

I was looking through some websites on Genetic Modification, and saw that you were representatives of the Maori viewpoint. I would like to ask you, directly, for your opinion of genetic modification now, and I would like to know, if that has changed or adapted since the time of the writing of the Royal Commission Report. I know that there is some stuff about it online, but it would mean a lot to me if I knew how the Māori community really does feel about genetic modification, and hear it from you.


Kia ora

You ask some interesting questions. My own interest in genetic modification arose from a more general interest in Māori decision-making, particularly in the face of contemporary issues that challenge traditional rules and ways of living (e.g., where should we put the composting toilet and what should we do with the compost?). New technologies fit really nicely among these contemporary issues; for example, should we be genetically tested to find out whether we have a gene for breast cancer in our whanau, or should we agree to grow genetically modified trees on our land?

When I think about these types of questions there is information I want, and discussions I think need to happen so that everyone involved can make an informed decision (whether this is yes or no or maybe) about how to proceed. Here are some of those questions:

1. What is known about the science of what's being proposed?

One of the issues at the time of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification was that scientists seemed to be telling us that the science said genetic medication was ‘safe’ whereas we knew that much of the science was uncertain about this. There was a feeling that some scientists were running way ahead of usual scientific precautions in the quest for new knowledge. A lot more is known about the science of genetic modification now and some notable critics have changed their minds as a result of improved science, or at least improved scientific communication (on account of messages being mis-understood before). So I think we have gained more certainty about the science, although I’m not sure we fully understand the implications of genetic engineering on generations to come.

2. What is the expert opinion of Māori elders and those with deep cultural knowledge?

We should be guided by our own experts, and I think over the past ten or more years there’s been a growing understanding and dialogue among Māori experts about what a cultural view of genetic modification is. Some of those I’ve spoken with say that if we explain what we’re asking to Māori cultural experts then they are not generally opposed to genetic modification, but I haven’t seen this described in a formal publication. I do, however, believe that Māori have safety precautions within tikanga and karakia that can keep people and places safe. So there may well be circumstances were genetic modification can occur with the right cultural safety mechanisms in place.

The issue I have with the RoyalCommission is that they were unable to provide a response that integrated my #1 and #2, possibly because they believed the scientists when they said that only those who understood the science of GM could enter the debate. This is epistemological racism; that is, where one group (scientists) think their knowledge and worldview is privileged / more important than the knowledge and worldview of another group (Māori).

3. Is this a private or a public issue?

One of the things I’ve noticed is that Māori can be all against genetic testing within a group discussion until one person talked about their own, or close friend/relative’s, health experience (e.g., breast cancer) and how genetic testing might have really helped or even saved them. When a personal experience is described the group’s opinion changes to become more in favour of genetic testing. So should we impose blanket restrictions on something for the ‘public good’ when individual and whanau might well benefit?

I think this question is a reason why Māori opinions about genetic modification are most liberal in the health area - we understand the importance of good health and being helped to obtain it through different means. The tricky thing is that often the things that are most helpful are things that Māori cannot afford or cannot access (this brings me to #4).

4. Who will benefit?

There are lots of stories of Māori and other Indigenous groups having blood taken and genetically analysed. Sometimes the result is drugs being developed that Indigenous peoples don’t benefit from and cannot afford. By ‘benefit’ I mean the financial benefit that drug companies get from these drugs and their reluctance to profit-share with Indigenous people. There are probably lots of examples of profiteering from Indigenous bloodlines, plant and medicinal knowledge, etc. This has been happening since the early days of colonisation, and genetic engineering has really just brought a new tool along. This is why Indigenous peoples are sceptical as they’ve seen this form of colonisation in many different disguises.

The issue I have with the Royal Commission is that issues of Intellectual Property and profit sharing weren’t really addressed. The WAI 262 claim was supposed to bring all these issues to the fore but I’m not sure it’s gotten the traction it’s deserved in terms of any government decision about Māori intellectual property and flora and fauna.

We also need to be cautious of arguments about who will benefit that are based on political realities. For example, the argument we heard about GM being needed so the world could be fed was based on the political reality that even though there was enough food being produced in the world for all, it wasn’t getting to those most in need (because of politics, trade barriers, commercial concerns). I wonder if this is still the case, as it there are now more people in the world and arguments about food running out (especially in light of global warming) may have gained some truth to them (but I haven’t looked in to this closely).


There are probably other questions that might be asked. Some of the ethical concerns are also addressed in Te Ara Tika, although its mostly focused on health research.

My main point is about trying to understand what Māori (and people more generally) need to know so they can make good decisions based on the best information they have available. And there needs to be room for people to be able to put off decision-making because not enough is known about the answers to one or more questions to make a good decision right now.

So I hope this provides a little response to your questions. 

Ngā mihi, nā Fiona

Related Posts

Kia ora Katoa @ Kaupapa Maori Research

Māori and Genetic Engineering - Research Project

Kia ora Katoa @ Kaupapa Māori Research

posted 9 Apr 2015, 19:08 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 17 Apr 2015, 16:25 ]

Hi there, I am an Honours student doing my Honours in Psychology. I was just wondering if you could please answer a question for me? The question I have pertains to Kaupapa Māori research and Smiths Statement: 

Kaupapa Māori research is:

  • Taking for granted the validity and legitimacy of Māori,
  • Taking for granted the importance of Māori language and culture

Please could you be so kind as to elaborate on this for me as I read through the entire article but I am not too sure how these two points relate or exactly what they mean? Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.


Kia ora

Great query. We so often use these statements and think they’re self-evident and I like that you’re pointing out that they’re not.

For me the ‘taking for granted’ part of each bullet point is about accepting that a distinct Māori worldview exists and, more than that, exists alongside a non-Māori worldview. Bear with me while I get a little circular in my exploration of this some more.

My understanding of Roland Barthes' concept of ex-nomination is that what’s ‘normal’ often goes unnamed within a society, and simply gets accepted as what ‘difference’ is compared to. We are now more explicit about a normal that’s ‘white, male, heterosexual, etc.’ but not so long ago this ‘normal’ went unnamed in a way that women, Māori, gay men, etc. were seen to deviate from. Feminists, gay rights activists, ethnic and racial minorities, religious minorities, etc. and Indigenous peoples - Māori included - have all fought hard (and continue to fight) for the right to be ‘different’ or ‘themselves’ and to also be ‘normal’. So in this picture there are many ‘normals’ and room in the world for many worldviews.

Taking for granted the validity and legitimacy of Māori, is an assertion of this right to be different but normal, and stems from the Hui Taumata held in the 1980s where Māori leaders recognised that the assimilation and integration agendas exerted during the colonial history of this country had marginalised Māori and created Māori-non-Māori disparities in many areas: health (Māori in worse health than non-Māori), education, income, etc. The solution asserted by these leaders was the normalisation of being Māori - that Māori needed to be able to live as Māori. Hence the double up from Graham Smith that this was about ‘being Māori’ being seen/known as a valid and legitimate ‘reality’ / ‘worldview’ / way of being.

Graham also wrote that being Māori, as Māori, needed to be sourced within the Māori language and culture - that it was only through this pathway that the survival of the Māori as a distinct cultural people could be guaranteed. Otherwise Māori might ’survive’ but we would revert to the assimilationist or integrationist agendas of the past - where survival meant becoming more like non-Māori.  I think this second bullet point links most clearly with the six Kaupapa Māori principles Graham then wrote about: Taonga Tuku Iho, Ako, Whānau, etc. I think what he was attempting to distill through these principles were the core components of a Māori cultural perspective, particularly applied within the education space.

Does this help? I find it useful to also remember that Graham was writing during a time when people who spoke the Māori language out loud on the street or at the side line of a netball game were abused. It was a time when little of other languages were heard on the street. On Queen Street now there are multiple languages heard and perhaps te reo (the Māori language) is now more acceptable, so perhaps some of what Graham wrote is now embedded within ‘normal’. I know we worked hard through the 1990s and to the present for the acceptability of Kaupapa Māori - in service delivery, and in research and evaluation - and we have a good foundation for it now. That’s not to say we should be complacent.

Related Posts

Kia ora Katoa @ Genetic modification

Kaupapa Māori Research, Katoa webpage

Evaluation - Local Knowledge

posted 4 Jan 2015, 20:21 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 17 Aug 2018, 23:46 ]

This initial post first appeared in 2012 as part of the American Evaluation Association's Thought Leaders discussions. It's reproduced here to set the scene for a planned series of posts during 2015 on the value of local knowledge and how we can take this into account and value it within evaluations of services and programmes.

Let me tell you first what’s been occupying my thoughts lately and then give you some background about why. I’ve been thinking about what needs to be taken into account from the local context when evaluative recommendations are made about programme scalability, transferability, and/or sustainability. For example, are there aspects of organisational capacity that are pivotal to decisions about scalability? What start-up lessons are important for organisations to experience to ensure the successful transfer of a programme to another local context? How important is the local legitimacy of an organisation for sustainability?

Now some background...

In 1990 I took a job teaching social psychology at the University of Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. My background was in experimental social and developmental psychology and quantitative methods, but my horizons were soon widened in three interwoven ways. First, students requested that I advocate for the Psychology Department to become more responsive to, and welcoming of Māori (Indigenous New Zealand) students. Second, this advocacy brought me into contact with Graham and Linda Smith who were promoting a Kaupapa Māori (literally a Māori / Indigenous way) theory that was closely tied to Māori immersion education initiatives such as Kōhanga Reo (Māori pre-school language nests). Third, I began to pursue an interest in qualitative research methods. The link between these three was a questioning of whose knowledge and ways of knowing were valued, by whom.

I then became involved in my first evaluation, which was of a Māori programme aimed at preventing domestic violence. This was a time when research was a dirty word in Māori communities, understanding of Kaupapa Māori research and evaluation was in its infancy, and the evaluation of Māori initiatives by Māori evaluators was very rare. As evaluators working within this context we assessed and translated the value of Māori services so that government funder accountability requirements could be met. Our evaluation work needed to be proscribed in cultural terms, acknowledge context, location and history, and facilitate the reflection, adaptation and growth of those providing services and programmes within their communities.

In the 1990s Māori-delivered services were also newly possible because of legislative changes. Many Māori therefore took the opportunity to provide services that, in their view, their communities were not receiving from mainstream (whole-of-population) services. These Māori services embodied cultural values and practices, and operated on a platform of kinship and non-kinship relationships that Māori organizations had within their communities. This is what David Turnbull describes as performativity; that is, cultural knowledge and locality combine to co-produce bottom-up, grassroots services to meet local needs.

Now, twenty years later, there is more understanding about evaluation within Māori organizations and communities. Our context is still one of entrenched Māori inequalities although there is more governmental support for Māori services that assist Māori families to identify and address their own needs, and achieve their own goals. The evaluations I’ve been involved in have confirmed for me that Māori knowledge is performative and local. There are implications of this for the scalability, and transferability and sustainability of Māori services and programmes that I think we’re only just beginning to touch upon. Over the course of the coming year I'll be giving this issue some thought and writing commentaries that I hope will provoke some interesting conversations.

December 2014 Newsletter

posted 23 Dec 2014, 14:38 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 17 Feb 2015, 01:15 ]

Kia Ora and Season Greetings

It’s been a busy year at Katoa Ltd and we thought we’d take a quiet moment for review to let you know some of what’s been happening.

A lot of our work this past year has been about finding out what works for Māori across a number of different contexts, including health and education. The initiatives that work range from improving what happens in face-to-face interactions between individuals to changing policies and institutional settings so they are more welcoming and culturally responsive.

We are a small country. If we don’t know people, we know people who know people. This brings with it a caring and sense of responsibility for those who are vulnerable. Our hope is that our work will help feed those who are working hard in different settings to improve things for Māori whānau (families), and that together our work will contribute to the elimination of Māori disparities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Ngā mihi mahana ki a koe me tou whānau – Warm greetings to you and your family, Fiona Cram, Director, Katoa Ltd

Māori Access to Health Services

Māori wellbeing is the foundation of Māori development

In June this year a project funded by the Ministry of Health culminated in the release by Katoa Ltd of five reports examining Māori access to cancer, cardiovascular, and cancer health services. Literature reviews of what works to improve access for Māori, Indigenous, and other minority people in each of these areas were conduced, along with interviews with Māori and non-Māori health practitioners and other health informants. The Research Report provides an overview of the information collected.

The reports informed the Ministry of Health’s framework for Equity of Health Care for Māori.

Measuring Māori Wellbeing

Fiona’s commentary on Measuring Māori Wellbeing was published this year in the MAIJournal. This paper follows up on Mason Durie’s 2006 exploration of Māori-specific measures of Māori wellbeing. The role of population-based statistical measures of Māori wellbeing as well as more personal measures of how people are getting on are examined. Fiona concluded the paper with a haka written by Timoti Kāretu, and by saying that “It may well be that the cultural responsiveness of hapū and iwi wellbeing measures can only be assured when the development, implementation and analysis of measurement tools rests with hapū and iwi” (p.28).

Māori and Pasifika Higher Education Horizons

This year saw the release of an edited volume on Māori and Pasifika tertiary education, as part of the Emerald Insight series on book series on Diversity in Higher Education.

Fiona, Hazel Phillips, Clark Tuagalu and Pale Sauni edited the volume. We also authored the opening and closing chapters of the book. It was a great experience to work with a collection of talented authors and to gather together their insights into what works for Māori and Pasifika students in our tertiary education institutions.

Kaupapa Māori and Culturally Responsive Evaluation

The writing that’s been happening about Kaupapa Māori evaluation as a local variety of culturally responsive evaluation will come to fruition early in 2015 with the release of ‘Continuing the Journey to Reposition Culture and Cultural Context in Evaluation Theory and Practice’. Fiona and her colleagues have three chapters in this book:

  • Being culturally responsive through Kaupapa Maori evaluation
  • Beginning a conversation about spirituality in Māori and Pasifika evaluation
  • Culturally responsive methods for family centred evaluation

The volume can be ordered from Information Age Publishing.

Culturally Responsive Indigenous Evaluation Workshop

In September my friend and colleague Nicky Bowman and I presented our very first workshop on culturally responsive Indigenous evaluation, at the CREA Conference in Chicago. This was a really exciting time for us both as we shared about our work and heard from others about how they were doing Indigenous evaluation.

‘E Hine’ – Journeys of Young Māori Women into Motherhood

Fiona Cram is collaborating with colleagues the Women's Health Research Centre on this Kaupapa Māori longitudinal qualitative study of young Māori women (<20 years) being pregnant and becoming mothers. This year the babies of the women in this project turned 2. The Ministry of Health funded us to undertake another round of interviews with the women. We also continued to analyse and write about what they and their whānau had been sharing with us. This year a paper about the care these young women received when they first found they were pregnant was published.

Kia Ora

Katoa Ltd

We’re on the Web!

Tapestry Institute - First Occasional Paper

posted 22 Dec 2014, 19:02 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 22 Dec 2014, 19:08 ]

From the Tapestry Institute's Dawn Hill Adams:

The Tapestry Institute Occasional Papers series begins publication in January of 2015. The series offers an alternative means to disseminate knowledge outside the peer-reviewed journal system of Western academia. “Papers” will include text, image, and video, integrated or as stand-alone materials that convey information authentically, striving to make it possible for those who access the papers to learn in a participatory way.

An important goal of the Tapestry Occasional Papers is to discover means of information dissemination that approximate the original process of learning by the author. Sources of information and means of dissemination should include and integrate different ways of learning and knowing. Wherever possible the role of the Land and of relationship to the learning process is to be acknowledged and elucidated rather than hidden or rendered invisible. Exceptions are of course made for situations in which the natural source of information specifically requests anonymity for its own reasons. Citation information for each paper will be provided for scholars so that the information presented may be used in academic and scholarly publications.

This system of dissemination is experimental and exploratory, driven by the difficulty of getting truly Indigenous knowledge in press in mainstream academic journals. Details on what is meant by this statement and the story of how 35+ years of personal experience led Tapestry founder Dawn Hill Adams to start this journal series may be found in this blog post. For now, authorship is restricted because of the exploratory nature of the medium, but it is hoped that as the process develops it will be possible to accept submissions from the larger community of persons — regardless of their ethnicity or culture of birth — who genuinely seek to acquire knowledge and understanding through relationship to the Land, and who integrate many different ways of learning and knowing to process that understanding into something that can be shared with others.

The first Occasional Paper, 'A Turning Point: Solstice Thoughts on Believing What We Know', can be found here.

Working with you, not on you

posted 13 Dec 2014, 14:22 by Fiona Cram

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Nicole Bowman, of Bowman Performance Consulting, and talking with her about culturally responsive evaluation. Here are the YouTube clips that capture our conversation.

YouTube Video

YouTube Video

YouTube Video

YouTube Video

YouTube Video


posted 24 Nov 2014, 21:26 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 25 Nov 2014, 11:52 ]

How often have you been in a retreat or other meeting when the facilitator has sparked a discussion of the 'rules'. These rules are inevitably something to do with the Chatham House - something I've always associated, for some unknown reason, with boxing.

I've just come back from a Women in Philanthropy leadership retreat organised by Philanthropy New Zealand and the Centre for Social Impact. The facilitators, Akaya Windwood from the Rockwood Leadership Institute and Louise Marra from Spirited Leadership, introduced us to Agreements. (At an earlier occasion Akaya had mentioned that if they were called 'rules' she immediately went to a place of thinking about how to break them - so Agreements it was.)

We had 8 Agreements for this leadership retreat.

listen / speak from heart

We agreed to listen attentively and truly and, when we spoke, to speak authentically from our heart. This is more difficult than you might imagine. While some of us are great listeners and some of us are great talkers, we all need to balance both parts of ourselves so that we can take part in real engagement and sharing. I've heard this real engagement and sharing described as whitiwhiti kōrero and also as mutual thinking. Both terms are about us coming together to gather our thoughts, share ourselves, and learn about each other.

practice spontaneity

When we are truly listening we don't have the opportunity to rehearse what we will say when it's our turn to speak. This means we have to be open to speaking and acting in a way that is spontaneous and more connected with our true self. This can be challenging when we're so used to being in places and spaces where we have to guard our true self and keep it tucked away from inspection by others. In stepping in to this agreement we are promising to be that safe place for each other. This extends beyond speaking to holding safe spontaneous dance, song, tears, and remembrances. So we agreed to practice spontaneity.


We agreed to breathe and be to courageous, knowing that others were there to vouchsafe for us and whatever we wished to offer to the circle. It's surprising how beginning a sharing, even about a small piece of yourself, can be an act of immense courage. An agreement that encourages and supports courage is an acknowledgement that to both speak and listen is sometimes difficult and that, when someone steps up in courage, we should celebrate this and support them.

share time / brevity

It can be difficult for some of us not to want to be centre-stage, just as it can be difficult for others of us not to want to stay in the shadows at the edge of the circle. Sharing time is not just an agreement for those who usually take time, it is an incitement for those who normally take no time - encouraging them to share the time. The agreement to be brief reminds us that while it's important that we are heard, it's also important that everyone gets an opportunity to speak.

7 generations

We agreed to remember that there are seven generations of ancestors on whose shoulders we stand, and that we need to speak and act in due considerations of the seven generations to come who'll be standing on our shoulders. This is an acknowledgement that we are a moment in time, in a long line of people who came before us and a long line who'll come after us. This agreement added gravitas to our conversations and sharing as we opened ourselves to our place of responsibility as one layer of many generations.

kindness, not niceness

Hard conversations can take place when they are undertaken with kindness. Kindness is about being authentic, whereas niceness is superficial and of little substance when it comes to supporting each others' journeys. An agreement to be kind is an agreement to chose authentic, heart-felt words that speak to the substance of issues rather than to superficialities. This agreement was also about hearing words and listening knowing that things are being said in kindness. It was also a reminder that we should listen with kindness.


This is, of course, the Chatham House Rule. We are a small country, with people not far removed from one another. So while we might speak to others outside the circle about what we ourselves might have said and shared, we agreed not speak of or for others, or to seek to represent them or their views in other forums.

be present

And finally, we agreed to be present. Even though we might drift off this agreement encouraged us to re-focus on being present as a listener, a speaker, an observer. This is sometimes hard in a fast-paced world where we might always be moving toward the next thing. We needed to hold fast to the 'now' so that authentic engagement had a firm foundation.

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