Lies, damn lies and statistics

Tikanga Data


A language can say a lot about a culture. All words are made up, therefore the things and ideas that have evolved to have their own words can provide some insight to the nature of a society.

"Tikanga is an inner form of life that manifests itself in one’s conduct. Good intention is embodied in character traits so the philosophy is neither pragmatism nor materialism - it's the character of a person which is given a primary place in virtue ethics." - Piripi Whaanaga. Related to Tikanga is the concept of Manaaki - which is derived from the word ‘mana’ (prestige) and the word to encourage ‘aki.’ Thus an important component of restoring balance is encouraging or building up mana.

This seems like a good place to start for an ethics framework for data.

English has a very functional dictionary, it's the combination of words which can give subtlety of semantics. The words in the Māori language (Te Reo) have been imbued with far more meaning and there is a beauty and elegance to this feature which lends itself to being used for proper nouns.

Dismissing/substituting a word in an English sentence is usually safe and probably won't affect the intended meaning too much. However, a misunderstanding or oversimplification of a word in Te Reo can profoundly affect the meaning.

Maori philosophies have a common theme of interconnected well-being between the land and everything that inhabits it. Maori philosophy describes a mutual interdependence of living holistically with the environment. This view is an excellent analogy for our data and how our treatment of peoples data is connected to the overall health of our society.

The interconnected nature of data means that it is incumbent upon us to treat it in such a way which does not adversely affect people. This aligns nicely with the Data Management Book Of Knowledge (DMBOK) concepts but is a little more holistic as it implies a Karma like rationale:

  • Respect for Persons: This principle reflects the fundamental ethical requirement that people be treated in a way that respects their dignity and autonomy as human individuals. It also requires that in cases where people have ‘diminished autonomy’, extra care be taken to protect their dignity and rights.
  • Beneficence: This principle has two elements: first, do not harm; second, maximize possible benefits and minimize possible harms.
  • Justice: This principle considers the fair and equitable treatment of people.

Tikanga Data can increase the trustworthiness of an organization and flowing from this is a positive effect on society which in turn reciprocates back to the organisation. This can create better relationships between the organization and its stakeholders. Creating an ethical culture entails introducing proper governance, including institution of controls to ensure that both intended and resulting outcomes of data processing are ethical and do not violate trust or infringe on human dignity.

References & inspiration:

Piripi Whaanaga: Maori values can reinvigorate a New Zealand philosophy

Te Wananga O Raukawa:

Wayne Kingi, Workflow Manager at Westpac New Zealand

Mark Riechelmann, Chapter Area Lead - Data Intelligence

DMBOK: DAMA International

Related important words on ethics


The best insurance for the health and wellbeing of your whānau (family) is to ensure the health of Papatūānuku (the land). Everyone has a right to a healthy existence and everyone has a responsibility to care for the land which sustains us all. Our whakapapa (ancestry) connects us directly with the land.

Mātauranga Māori teaches us that our wellbeing is not born out of individualism. Our wellbeing is dependent upon the wellbeing of the family, the tribe and our whanaunga in the natural world. A key premise of rongoā Māori is that one will not be well for long if others in the whānau are ailing.


Manaakitanga (process of showing respect, generosity & care) provides us with endless opportunities to engage with people, individually and collectively. We need to ensure that all of our activities are conducted in a way that is mana enhancing of all those involved and reflects values such as generosity, fairness, respect and consideration. A favourable view formed by others suggests the presence of manaakitanga. Manaaki which is derived from the word ‘mana’ (prestige) and the word to encourage ‘aki.’ Thus an important component of restoring balance is encouraging or building up mana.


Pūkengatanga dictates the pursuit of excellence in all our activities and stipulates that we should build on the fields of expertise for which we are presently known. We need to contribute to the expansion of mātauranga with confidence, based on our own experiences. We must strive to provide distinctive, innovative and high quality programmes, publications and services.


Kotahitanga values the ethic of working together, with energy and enthusiasm, towards the achievement of common goals. We should celebrate our distinctiveness, as an institution and as individuals, whānau, hapū and iwi; while also revelling in our shared experiences, understandings, philosophies and interests.


Rangatiratanga requires us to behave in a way that attracts favourable comment from others, to the extent that we might be considered to have attributes commonly associated with a rangatira. We must nurture and promote these characteristics. We must be confident and competent in the way that we do our work, exercising control and discipline to ensure the integrity of our pursuits. The literal meaning of rangatira is ‘to weave a group of people together’.


Whanaungatanga reminds us that our achievements are typically the result of collaborative effort. The full potential of our work is realised through working together as a whānau, which encourages us to celebrate our common interests, applaud our diversity and reinforce our connections with whānau, hapū and iwi.

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