Creativity communication helps empower whānau, communities

HPF recently welcomed Dr Karyn Maclennan, a lecturer in Hauora Māori at the Ngāi Tahu Māori Health Research Unit at the University of Otago, to its Board.

Dr Maclennan whose background is in pharmacology and psychology has worked in teaching, research and regulation related to medicines safety and optimal use of medicine. Her current mahi is focused on improving communication about medicines and health, and her research is primarily in the area of Māori health and health equity

Hauora was delighted to catch up with Dr Maclennan for an indepth interview to find out a bit more about her mahi and work with
whānau and communities.  We were also keen to find out more about her passion for using creative, accessible, and engaging methods of communication to empower communities to have confident discussions and make informed and positive decisions about their health and well-being, and what new projects are on the horizon.

HAUORA:  We would love to know a bit more about you? Can you share with us a bit about yourself and your background?

KARYN: Kia ora, I whakapapa to Taranaki iwi through my mother, and I have Scottish ancestry through my father. My whānau have lived in Dunedin for several generations, a place that has close connections with both Taranaki and Scotland. I have lived and worked in both Wellington and England, but my husband and I returned to Dunedin nearly 15 years ago and are raising our three children close to whānau. I have a background in pharmacology and psychology and have worked in teaching, research and regulation related to medicines safety and optimal use of medicines. Since returning to Dunedin, my work has focused on improving communication about medicines and health, working with communities and, with my colleagues in the Ngāi Tahu Māori Health Research Unit at Otago University, a commitment to understanding and improving Māori health outcomes.

HAUORA: On the professional front can you tell us about what your mahi as a lecturer in Hauora Māori, at the Ngāi Tahu Māori Health Research Unit at the University of Otago entails and about what your current research is focused on?

KARYN: I am fortunate to work closely with Professor Sue Crengle in teaching hauora a iwi, Māori public health, to undergraduate students at Otago University. We’re grateful to experts in our community who at times join us as guest lecturers to share their knowledge and mahi. It is always hugely appreciated and inspiring; sparking conversations, encouraging deeper understandings of context, and stimulating creative thought about sustaining change. For some, I hope this ignites a career in Maori health, but for everyone, I hope this is woven into whatever they choose to do and how they live their lives.

My research at the moment is primarily in the area of Māori health and health equity. Most recently, I have been privileged to work with whānau and communities on issues including cancer supportive care, hauora rangatahi – the health and well-being of our young people, and health equity for Māori in the Southern Health System.  I am also very much enjoying leading an Unlocking Curious Minds funded community engagement initiative, which aims to generate community conversations about medicines.

HAUORA: You are passionate about using creative, accessible, and engaging methods of communication to empower communities to have confident discussions and to make informed and positive decisions about their health and well-being. How did this passion evolve?

KARYN: I definitely enjoy spending time thinking about, talking about, and attempting to use creative, accessible, and engaging methods of communication to support whānau and communities in making well-informed decisions about their health and their use of medicines. Underlying this is the belief that, more than ever, rangatahi, whānau, and communities need access to culturally relevant, accessible and engaging information that is grounded in science, not mis- or dis-information. This is imperative in enabling young people and their whānau to have confident conversations and make well-informed decisions about their use of medicines, in building greater capacity to actively participate in addressing health issues in their communities, and in taking part in societal debate about important national and global issues, such as vaccination and antibiotic resistance. Everyone has the right to accessible health and medicines information they can use to navigate towards well-informed choices for themselves and their whānau. It is fundamental to promoting health, managing illness, and living well with chronic disease.

HAUORA: Part of your work at the community level involves leading a kanohi-ki-te-kanohi community engagement programme. How does this programme use these methods of communication, how effective are they and what are the aims of the programme?

KARYN: Framed by an overarching waka and wayfinding analogy, we have collated and created a suite of hands-on and interactive displays, demonstrations and activities through which tamariki and their whānau can journey into the science of medicines. Each paddle of our waka steers to a different part of this journey – exploring and discovering where medicines come from, how they work to prevent or treat illness, how to use them safely to protect ourselves and our planet, and putting our minds together to tackle current and future challenges related to medicines and health.

We take these resources to schools, marae, community hubs, and cultural festivals or events and have had overwhelmingly positive feedback from communities across Otago and Southland. As you might imagine, we have seen a huge desire for dialogue about Covid-19, vaccines, and community immunity over the last year, and have been privileged to support some of the incredible work being done in this area by NGOs and community groups in the Southern region. It has highlighted both the importance of kanohi-ki-te-kanohi engagement with our communities and a huge appetite for conversations about medicines – no te whitiwhiti kōrero i mohio ai, it is through shared conversation that I understand.


HAUORA: You’re also a member of the Taranaki iwi ki Ōtepoti ohu. Can you please elaborate on your role and what the aims of the group are?

KARYN: For all sorts of reasons, many Taranaki iwi uri live outside of the rohe, with some disconnected over many generations. In recognition of this, a key aspiration of Taranaki iwi uri is to strengthen our iwi cultural identity and bring us together as whānau. The Te Kāhui o Taranaki engagement team has done amazing work over the last year, travelling around and connecting with uri across the regions, and helping to establish a number of regional ohu. The purpose of these ohu is to facilitate connection, or reconnection, of Taranaki iwi uri with each other, and with Taranaki iwi kaupapa.

I am a member of the Taranaki iwi ki Ōtepoti ohu and, while Covid-19 has meant we have not yet come together face-to-face, we have an online space where uri living in Otago and Southland can connect. It’s a wonderful opportunity for new growth and the weaving of strong connections between uri and to our Taranakitanga.


HAUORA: Aotearoa New Zealand’s health system is changing the way it will structure and deliver health services to New Zealanders, with the new bodies, Health NZ and the Māori Health Authority, to come into effect in early July. How optimistic are you that this will improve services and achieve equitable health outcomes for Māori?

KARYN: The potential of the current time is energising and I am definitely cautiously optimistic! There is a long way to go and the details to come will be important. Having said that, we know what doesn’t work and can learn from what has gone before. I think we are poised at the cusp of tremendous opportunity.

HAUORA: What prompted you to join the Board of HPF?

KARYN: Working for, and alongside, others who share a common commitment to improved hauora through health promotion, giving effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and the central positioning of whānau and communities is a wonderful opportunity and a pleasure.  

HAUORA: Have you got any new projects/programmes lined up for the near future?

KARYN: I am excited to be continuing our community engagement work by taking Whakatere Waka, an extension and expansion of our Science of Medicines mahi, more widely across the Southern region and into provincial North Island communities such as Taranaki and  Central North Island. We’ll also soon be launching a D-Bug digital game design challenge for rangatahi, where they can work in teams or go solo mode to design or create a game about viruses and how we can defend against them. I hope this will both create exposure and excite interest in potential careers combining creativity and science, such as through digital storytelling.

For Whakatere Waka, we are particularly excited to be partnering with the fabulous science communication team at Otago Museum, who are also continuing their award-winning climate change mahi by taking an interactive suite of resources to remote communities across mainland NZ, and to the Chatham and Pacific Islands. The connection and collaboration with communities is definitely the highlight for me – it’s both extremely rewarding and a whole lot of fun!