Community Scoop

Waihoa ko ōku whengu Mauria mai ko ōku painga: Heed not my weaknesses, Nurture my strengths.

Anya_ComVoices (1)Anya Satyanand
Executive Officer
Ara Taiohi

Alongside the smorgasbord of natural disasters we’ve experienced as a nation over the last 6 months, a tectonic shift is quickening across our policy landscape. Social investment has been getting real. Yesterday we heard that a predictive risk index may form the centrepiece in the redesign of the school decile system. The community sector is being rocked to the core at organisational and professional level by MSD’s new contracting requirements which include individual client level data to support their social investment approach.

According to MSD, “predictive modelling is the use of automated tools to help identify people at risk early enough to allow for effective intervention.” Young people are disproportionately affected by this methodology. Firstly, social investment’s interest in making the earliest, most effective and least costly intervention from central government level means that young people are placed squarely in the crosshairs of the state’s algorithms. Children and young people are the logical place to start if you’re looking for good information on early intervention. However, when the only way we talk about young people in public policy is the risk they pose or the potential cost they present the state, something really bad happens.

We stop focusing on the protective factors that are present in every young person’s life that can provide a much needed counterbalance to the stress and challenges of growing up in Aotearoa in 2017. Youth 2000 data shows us that having strong connections with whānau is consistently the most protective factor in young people’s life. The reality of family life in 2017 is that families are stretched, with adult whānau members struggling to make ends meet, working long hours to ensure there’s a roof over everyone’s head and food on the table. Families offer young people protective factors that are under pressure. Big data doesn’t ease this pressure on families.

We obscure the solutions and knowledge which sit within communities. Big data, at best, reproduces knowledge that is present in the ‘system’ at grass roots level. Talk to any youth worker or primary school teacher about which kids are at risk in their programme or classroom, and they will be able to name the young person, but chances are they won’t talk about them in terms of risk. They’ll talk about them as human beings. They’ll be able to identify the protective factors that exist for that young people, and have practical ideas for how those strengths can be built upon and wrapped around that young person. Big data doesn’t have practical ideas for building on protective factors.

We stop thinking of young people as the holders of rights, our greatest national assets, or the architects of a future that is brighter than the one they will inherit. We see them instead as vulnerable children to be cured, supported, intervened upon, we see them as costs to be controlled, potential crises to be averted. Predictive risk modelling is a deficit and reductive way of thinking about human beings. Big data doesn’t match up with the evidence, from here and overseas, about what young people need to thrive.

Young people thrive when they are connected to their families, communities and culture. Young people flourish when they’re perceived by society in terms of their strengths. Young people’s wellbeing is nourished by quality relationships. Young people gain confidence and self belief when they are able to participate meaningfully in decisions that affect them.

Social investment’s asking good questions but I firmly believe that predictive risk modelling doesn’t have all the right answers.


[1] Berryman, M. (2015). Akoranga whakarei: Learning about inclusion from four kura rumaki pg. 52 In Bevan-Brown, J., Berryman, M., Hickey, H., Macfarlane, S., Smiler, K., & Walker, T. (Eds) Working with Maori Children with Special Education Needs: Hi Mahi Whakahirahira, NZCER Press


 This blog has been contributed by a member of ComVoices

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1 comment:

  1. Anabel, 14. April 2017, 8:35

    All people thrive when they are loved.
    Implying that children( or adults) are predictable conditioned robots, that children are incapable of evolving or being aware beings and so are “predictable” (nothing but past data algorithms )is a grave mistake by the govt.
    This negative govts “minority report” or “data mining gone mad” can become part of the child’s ‘environment ‘ that they will negatively effect children that are already in difficult situations.