Weave the people together to nurture well-being.
This commentary describes development of a cross-cultural museum exhibition by a class of science communication postgraduate students in Aoteoroa New Zealand. Museums have an important and reputable role in providing life-long learning opportunities [Falk and Dierking, 2012 ]. Yet the role of the museum in providing stories of indigenous knowledge is not without controversy [Conn, 2006 ; Gondwe and Longnecker, 2015a ], especially given mechanisms of collection of many cultural objects displayed in museums which may then be presented out of context or in a way that implies the culture itself is a relic [Cruikshank, 1995 ]. There is a lack of consensus on the meanings and representations of western science and indigenous knowledge or the relationships between them [Gondwe and Longnecker, 2015a ; Gondwe and Longnecker, 2015b ]. This exhibition explored collaborative research projects that incorporate both indigenous and western scientific perspectives.
Compared to many countries around the world, there is a relatively respectful relationship between Aoteoroa New Zealand’s government and its indigenous people. There is legislative recognition of the right of Māori to self-determination in the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840, and a resurgence of te Reo, one of Aoteoroa New Zealand’s official languages. The ambitious mission statement of Aoteoroa New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is that Vision Mātauranga ‘unlocks the science and innovation potential of Māori knowledge, resources and people.’ [Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, 2018 ]. The Vision Mātauranga policy recognises the potential of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) and its value to current research projects.
“…mātauranga Māori includes knowledge generated using techniques consistent with the scientific method, but explained according to a Māori world view. Acknowledging this extends the history of scientific endeavour back to when Māori arrived in Aotearoa and Te Wai Pounamu, many centuries ago.”
[Hikuroa, 2017 , p. 5]
While New Zealanders are positive about science, many have low awareness about mātauranga Māori and its scientific value. In a nationwide survey by Nielsen [ 2014 ], 91% of respondents agreed that ‘science is important for improving human health’, 87% that ‘science is important for the preservation of New Zealand’s environment’ and 82% that ‘science is important for addressing key challenges affecting our society’. Yet only 39% of respondents agreed that ‘mātauranga Māori has a role in science’ and 25% disagreed with that statement. This is a problem since people’s values and attitudes affect how they receive new information [Longnecker, 2016 ].
One aim of the
2 The Wai ora, Mauri ora (Healthy environments, Healthy people) exhibition
In 2017 and 2018, a class of postgraduate students at the University of Otago’s Centre for
Science Communication, the University’s Te Koronga Māori Science Research Theme and
the Otago Museum collaborated to plan, create and display the
Students were tasked with identifying a local research collaboration that involved both
mātauranga Māori and a western science approach and planning one exhibit that
related to that research collaboration. Students pitched ideas for their exhibit orally to the
class, a Te Koronga representative and Museum designers for feedback and discussion.
After class sessions and discussion, the exhibition theme was refined, exhibits were agreed
upon and each student was then responsible for research, planning and sourcing
materials for their one exhibit in
Mataatua is a carved wharenui (meeting house) built in the 1870s that was returned in 1996 to the Ngāti Awa tribe after being taken without permission and housed for many years in other locations. The exhibit about this taonga (treasure) told the story of Mataatua and described Sir Mason Durie’s analogy of the four pillars of health in the four walls of a wharenui: physical health, family health, spiritual health and mental health. A video interview describing the significance of taonga enhanced this exhibit.
The Takaroa exhibit showcased the work of a local waka club, Hauteruruku ki Puketeraki, whose focus is on cultural connectedness and water safety. For this exhibit, a student contacted Te Koronga researchers who work alongside Hauteruruku ki Puketeraki and the researchers then contacted members of Hauteruruku ki Puketeraki to determine whether they were comfortable having their work shared in a public forum.
(Museum Staff 1)
The Rongoā exhibit highlighted traditional uses of native plants, some of which are
being studied to better understand their effects and potential applications. An interactive
aspect of this exhibit included samples of perfume which includes taramea (
3 Lessons learned
3.1 Māori/ pakehā communication
Cross-cultural communication adds complexity to any project and requires mutual respect and time.
Similarly, there is generally low awareness in society of the value of indigenous knowledge. The waka pictured in the Takaroa exhibit raises awareness about the currency and relevance of mātauranga Māori.
One can argue that the essence of what science communicators do is to quickly get a
handle on a complex topic and communicate about that to a wider public, generally with a
deadline in mind. In previous years, classes similarly handled topics about which they had
little understanding, ranging from seed science to Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.
All of these previous exhibitions were created within a western paradigm and caused less
apparent anxiety for the students involved. In those previous class exhibitions, sponsors
provided a background briefing to the class. That briefing did not happen for the
The need for extensive communication and discussions around approval and ownership of the exhibit led to additional challenges.
(Student 3 report)
3.2 Communication between Students and Museum Professionals
Another cross-cultural communication in production of this exhibition involved that between students and museum professionals. An exhibition done to a professional standard usually takes longer than a semester to plan carefully and execute. The time challenge of incorporating an exhibition design into one semester leads to frustration. In this instance, a project manager was hired to consolidate, supplement and edit the student assignments. This was particularly useful for this exhibition because of the extra need for consultation.
(Museum Staff 1)
While the quality of the exhibition was improved with the addition of a project manager, this provided an additional layer of editing and change that had not happened in previous exhibits.
Additional material provided through consultation meant that one exhibit was changed significantly. While the exhibit was improved, the student was left out of the process and was understandably disappointed. It was a challenge to communicate with and include students in the development process after the semester finished.
A weakness of the exhibition was the paucity of interactivity. A number of factors led to less development of interactive elements than had occurred in previous exhibitions.
After the exhibition was dismantled, the collaborators presented an overview of
Involvement in the exhibition was an opportunity for deep learning on the part of the students.
4 Changes implemented
Since the subsequent class’ exhibition also involved mātauranga Māori, the first author organised provision of an overview of research in a Māori context for all students and staff at the Centre for Science Communication. This class was also given more briefings earlier in the semester. While students in this class still exhibited uncertainty, at the time of writing, they seemed more confident about their plans and the potential exhibition. For the upcoming exhibition, more time has been allowed for cultural consultation and development of interactive elements after the students submit their exhibit assignments and before the exhibition launch.
This commentary was developed after presentation at PCST-2018. We acknowledge contributions to planning and production of the exhibition by Sierra Adler, Ashleigh Beales, Lucy Coyle, Guy Frederick, Aaron Heimann, Rachel Leeson, Gini Letham, Jess McLean and Alysha Painter. Research and project participants who shared their knowledge and experience included Phil Bishop, Corey Bragg, Javiera Cisternas, Brendan Flack, Anne-Marie Jackson, Ngahuia Mita, Ranui Ngarimu, Catherine Smith and Jeanette Wikaira. Te Koronga Māori Science Research Theme provided financial support for the exhibition. Thanks to Andrea Liberatore and Daniel Solis who helped with research activities.
Conn, S. (2006). ‘Science museums and the culture wars’. In: A companion to museum studies. Ed. by S. Macdonald. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, pp. 494–508. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470996836.ch30 .
Cruikshank, J. (1995). ‘Imperfect translations: rethinking objects of ethnographic collections’.
Museum Anthropology19 (1), pp. 25–38. https://doi.org/10.1525/mua.19220.127.116.11 .
Falk, J. H. and Dierking, L. D. (2012). The Museum Experience Revisited. Walnut Creek, CA, U.S.A.: Left Coast Press.
Gondwe, M. and Longnecker, N. (2015a). ‘Objects as stimuli for exploring young people’s views about cultural and scientific knowledge’.
Science, Technology, & Human Values40 (5), pp. 766–792. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243915577452 .
— (2015b). ‘Scientific and cultural knowledge in intercultural science education: student perceptions of common ground’.
Research in Science Education45 (1), pp. 117–147. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-014-9416-z .
Hikuroa, D. (2017). ‘Mātauranga Māori — the ūkaipō of knowledge in New Zealand’.
Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand47 (1), pp. 5–10. https://doi.org/10.1080/03036758.2016.1252407 .
Longnecker, N. (2016). ‘An integrated model of science communication — More than providing evidence’.
JCOM15 (05), Y01. URL: https://jcom.sissa.it/archive/15/05/JCOM_1505_2016_Y01 .
Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (2018).
Vision Mātauranga policy of ministry of business, innovation and employment. URL: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/info-services/science-innovation/agencies-policies-budget-initiatives/vision-matauranga-policy (visited on 6th November 2018).
Public attitudes towards science and technology. Full report for Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Wellington, New Zealand.
Nancy Longnecker is Professor of Science Communication at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. She is interested in factors that affect peoples’ attitudes about science-related issues and about different sources of knowledge. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Craig Scott is Head of Exhibitions and Creative Services at the Otago Museum in Dunedin, New Zealand. Under his leadership, exhibitions at the Otago Museum have been nominated for international awards and been recognised nationally. E-mail: Craig.Scott@otagomuseum.nz .