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From collect to connect – rebalancing our collections and databases

Manaaki Whenua is the custodian of a number of Nationally Significant Collections and Databases (NSCDs) on behalf of everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand. These biological collections comprise: the Allan Herbarium, Te Kohinga Harakeke o Aotearoa (the living National New Zealand Flax Collection), the Ngā Rauropi Whakaoranga (previously Ngā Tipu Whakaoranga) ethnobotany database and the National Vegetation Survey at our Lincoln site, as well as the International Collection of Micro-organisms from Plants, the New Zealand Fungarium and the New Zealand Arthropod Collection in Auckland.

Each of these collections and databases is of great national and international value and underpins a broad range of scientific research on biodiversity and biosecurity.

In November 2021 we undertook a review of our biological collections and databases to explore how we can deliver greater value from them for Aotearoa New Zealand. The review was co-chaired by Jason Tylianakis and Aroha Mead and comprised two parts. First, we held a hui to explore how Manaaki Whenua can be a better Te Tiriti partner in the way we use our collections and databases. This was followed by discussions with an international review panel to consider best practice overseas.

The review culminated in a report with a series of recommendations that were presented to and approved by the Manaaki Whenua Board in December. To implement all the recommendations in full would take far more funding than is available, so some hard strategic choices will need to be made. A key finding of the review was that our collections are an important taonga and that a “significant rebalancing” is required to give our Te Tiriti Māori partners greater oversight of, and connection to, the collections. This rebalancing was summarised by the notion that our collections approach needs to expand from one where we simply “collect, curate and classify” to include moves to also “connect, create and collaborate” with our Te Tiriti partners.

We are now establishing a Te Tiriti Partnership Group to help us determine priority actions we need to address while implementing the review recommendations. The role of the Group will be to:

  • Consider the recommendations of the review and develop, in conjunction with Manaaki Whenua staff, a strategic plan for their implementation and agree on priority actions and the allocation of funding from the Strategic Science Investment Fund (SSIF) to support them
  • Engage in periodic reviews of progress of the priority actions, future priorities and funding allocations
  • Act as a bridge into existing and new end-user communities (with a priority focus on iwi and Māori communities) to help raise the profile of the collections and databases.

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