Coastal and Freshwater news

Dr Marc Tadaki
7 November 2019

Cawthron Institute to investigate how river science is valued by environmental decision-makers

Cawthron Institute has been announced as one of 74 Marsden Fund recipients for its proposal to investigate how different types of environmental knowledges, specifically mātauranga Māori and western scientific knowledges, are valued in environmental decision making. The inclusion of Māori perspectives in this research is critical to understanding how decision making about freshwater might be improved.

Over the past decade, agricultural intensification and urbanisation have taken their toll on the water quality of many rivers in Aotearoa. Human activities are pushing ecosystems, including rivers, to the brink of collapse and scientists have conducted much research to help understand the degradation of rivers. However, not all scientific knowledge is considered, valued, and used equally.

Dr Marc Tadaki and Dr Joanne Clapcott

Cawthron Institute Post-doctoral researcher Dr Marc Tadaki will examine how river science is valued in the courts, in regional planning, and in freshwater monitoring. By identifying which knowledges are dominant and which are marginal, Dr Tadaki will consider the consequences of these arrangements for ecosystems and communities. Drawing on documentary materials, interviews, and observations of scientists and policy makers, he will investigate how river science is formatted to serve organisational agendas, how institutional drivers constrain what is known about rivers, and how competing river knowledges are adjudicated in court.

“I’m interested in how different systems of knowledge, including mātauranga Māori and various fields of western science such as ecology, chemistry, or geomorphology, are considered in decision-making contexts, and whether we as a society might wish to value knowledge differently,” says Dr Tadaki.

“As New Zealanders continue to express stronger aspirations for our freshwater, it is worth examining whose knowledge counts in various decision-making processes.  If we want to foster reciprocal relationships between humans and their waters, we will need to think to think differently about which knowledges ‘count’ in decision making”.

By exposing the often invisible practices that favour certain sciences and biophysical aspects of rivers, this project will inform public debate about which knowledges should be used to govern rivers. The research will make an important contribution to determining what type of science-policy arrangements can help society incorporate the value of diverse sciences and knowledge systems to ensure better outcomes for rivers.

Dr Tadaki will undertake this research with associate investigators Dr Joanne Clapcott, Freshwater Ecologist at Cawthron, and Associate Professor Rebecca Lave, University of Indiana – Bloomington.