Matada Research

3 important reasons why Pacific research teams matter

3 important reasons why Pacific research teams matter

5 minutes to read
Two Pacific males conducting research

Since the early 2000s, Pacific research has made its way into government policy and programming. Ministries have even adopted Pacific specific research guidelines such as the Ministry of Education’s teu le va report. This growth in demand and implementation of Pacific research shows that both the government and private sector are beginning to value Pacific knowledge.

What is Pacific Research?

Pacific research is about centring Pacific people’s diverse understandings of the world. Pacific research considers Pacific experiences of the world and then asks what Pacific solutions to this may look like. We see Pacific research in health, education, climate change, and so many more other areas. Pacific research methodologies are a resurgence practice that empowers Pacific people to define ourselves and critique the world we live in. 

Pacific research includes but is not limited to vanuakakalatalanoaula, and fa’afaletui. The shared values within Pacific research such as respect, reciprocity, communal relationships, and service etc. demonstrate our connections across the Pacific. While regional and country-specific research approaches such as masi methodology showcase our uniqueness. Within Aotearoa New Zealand, Pacific research guidelines have also been developed for government research such as Teu le va and the Health Research Council’s Pacific Health Research Guidelines. Pacific research is continually evolving as more Pacific people enter the research sector and develop research styles that suit the communities we work with and are part of. 

Why is Pacific Research Important?

For too long solutions to Pacific issues were framed from outside of the Pacific. This resulted in ‘solutions’ that just focussed on Pacific deficiencies that were actually a result of systemic discrimination as opposed to considering how the system is experienced differently by different groups. When we create research that misunderstands and misrepresents Pacific people, then we develop solutions that will never address the issue at hand. Instead, the solutions we develop are likely to further entrench systemic inequities. Pacific research offers an opportunity for us to shift the critical lens to the system and formulate rich solutions to an inequitable system.

Pacific research is also a decolonising practice. Pacific people have always been scientists, we navigated the worlds largest ocean repetitively and intentionally to maintain a complex economic, political, and relational world. In many ways, Pacific research developed in response to an education and research sector that undermined and ignored Pacific ways of knowing and being. The reclamation and increased use of Pacific research show that as a community, Pacific peoples are speaking back to a space which has actively ignored and belittled them for many decades.  

Pacific research isn’t only useful for Pacific issues. Pacific ways of engaging in solution-based and relational knowledge construction have been utilised outside of the Pacific. A recent example of this was the use of talanoa (both a research method and cultural practice) within the United Nations response to climate change. By utilising talanoa, the United Nations was able to open up the dialogue about Climate Change that was solutions focussed and productive.

How do you do Pacific Research?

There are many different types of Pacific research, the main thing is that it is research that centres Pacific understandings of the world. There are Pacific research methods that are considered Pan-Pacific as they cross multiple Pacific nations and their understandings of the world, such as talanoa. There are also nation-specific research approaches, such as the Fijian Vanua method. When conducting Pacific research, you begin with the community that you are researching with: 

  1. What story does the community want to tell? 
  2. What is the community trying to find a solution to? 
  3. How does the community envision the project working? 
  4. How does the community share their stories now?

Pacific research is a long-term commitment, it is research built on relationality. Suppose you are planning on using Pacific research. In that case, you must understand that the community comes first and that you are in it for the long-run. 

Three reasons to use a Pacific team in your research and/or engagement solutions.

1. Community solutions

Pacific research centres the community as a primary focus in both design and solutions. This approach ensures that the opinions, needs and perspectives of the local population are taken into account when creating reports, plans or strategies to address issues. By incorporating their views from the start, more effective solutions can be developed that reflect how people within the community engage with and experience those issues.

The method employed by Pacific research takes advantage of local knowledge and understanding, including information on cultural norms, behaviours and preferences. The involvement of the community is also essential for developing feasible and relevant options for addressing problems in need of attention. Solutions arising from this process have been shown to be more successful than those created without input from those most affected by them. Additionally, this approach to research builds trust between the community and those researching as it ensures that their opinions are valued. By centring the community in both design and solutions, Pacific research puts people first.

2. Relationships are key

Pacific peoples have a worldview that is centred on relationality. This means it is important to take a relational approach when engaging in research with this community, so they feel heard and included. By using a relational approach, researchers can ensure the Pacific community feels respected and valued.

This could include developing strong relationships with key leaders in the community, such as elders or church leaders. It’s also essential to listen to their stories and experiences, offering to share your own if appropriate, while providing them with opportunities to discuss any issues they may have with the project. Acknowledging their knowledge and expertise is also essential. Showing respect for the culture of Pacific peoples by incorporating cultural protocols into research activities will be appreciated by participants. Researchers should also be prepared to engage in activities that are meaningful for the Pacific community and use appropriate language when discussing their research. By taking a relational approach, researchers demonstrate that they value their participants’ input and nurture relationships with them. This is essential for any successful research project involving Pacific peoples.

3. Innovative solutions

Diversity in research teams can have a huge impact on the outcomes of projects. Studies indicate that having a diverse team results in more comprehensive and successful solutions, as different life experiences offer different ways of thinking and seeing problems. This is especially true when engaging with communities from the Pacific, whose culture and understanding of the world offers valuable insight that you may not be aware of. By including these voices in your research, you will be able to uncover more varied solutions which could otherwise go unnoticed. Through this process, you can create an even better product or service for all involved.

Involving Pacific communities in your research project or engagement can be incredibly beneficial; they are experts in their culture and experience, so it makes sense to include their perspective. Additionally, it is important to remember that representation matters and giving these communities a voice shows respect. What’s more, you may even discover new opportunities or potential for collaboration that can open up pathways for further growth and development within the Pacific communities. Ultimately, by valuing the diversity of voices involved in research projects, you are able to create better outcomes and solutions that benefit everyone.


Pacific research involves a unique set of considerations that must be taken into account for successful outcomes. It is essential to understand the cultural norms and behaviours of Pacific peoples and use a relational approach when engaging with them. Additionally, having a diverse team can lead to more comprehensive solutions by including different perspectives. By centring the Pacific community in both design and solutions, we can create better products or services while preserving their culture, stories and experiences. Ultimately, by valuing diversity and putting people first, researchers can foster meaningful relationships with those they are studying while creating innovative solutions that benefit everyone involved.

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Matada is a social enterprise that specializes in transformative research, evaluation, consultation, knowledge dissemination and program development to improve the health and wellbeing of communities in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our mission is to create solutions that enhance the wellbeing of individuals, communities, and society. We are backed by highly qualified and experienced researchers with both international and domestic experience. We lead with core values (relationships, respect, reciprocity, community and service) that shape our goals and vision which helps us create positive change.

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By: Gerald Naepi