Empowering Kaitiakitanga & Environmental Stewardship (EKES)

We're striving to empower New Zealanders to demand and enact environmental stewardship and kaitiakitanga (guardianship).

Matua James Waiwai, Matua Kevin Prime and Matua Tohe Ashby in Northland forest. Image by Whaea Aroha Mead.

He Pao

Pua te kōwhai ngawhā te kōrari

He tohu Kōanga

Tau mai e Tui ki tō kāpunipuni honihoni kohikohi

Hei oranga hei rongoa pania te kiri ki te kōwhai kura

Haurangi e Tui i te tākoha o te Atua

Rere atu hoki mai

Parea te ua ki te kōwhai kura

Ka whiti mai te rā e …

Image: Helen Bucksey

The blossoming kōwhai and the bursting flowers of the harakeke

Sure signs of Spring

As the Tui flock to the kōwhai, nibbling and collecting, partaking in the nectar

Obtaining sustenance and wellbeing as they brush against the precious kōwhai

Tui becomes satiated and intoxicated on this treasured offering of the Atua

Flying away and returning

The precious kōwhai warding off the rain

Giving way to the shining sun …

At A Glance:

Unless New Zealanders are inspired to act and work together for a common goal, the risk is that the response to our biological heritage crisis will be disjointed – and potentially counter-productive.

At the same time, supporting our bioheritage relies on activities that happen at different scales. There cannot be a one-size fits all solution. Issues vary and require different interventions by people, depending on situation, location and context.

The goal of this team is to ensure positive actions to protect and restore bioheritage are connected, well-informed and committed to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The EKES team will be working across all other investments within the BioHeritage Challenge to achieve this goal – including the Mobilising for Action team in the Ngā Rākau Taketake SSIF Platform.

Interim Co-leads:

Dr Will Allen 

Will Allen & Associates – Learning for Sustainability

Dr Shaun Ogilvie 

Te Arawa (Ngāti Whakahemo), Ngāti Awa (Ngāti Pukeko) 

Eco Research Associates Ltd

This team have taken a ‘systems view’ to go beyond business as usual and have developed a Theory of Change framework (Figure 1) that characterises the different elements involved in managing the integration and joined-up action required to support kaitiakitanga and environmental stewardship on the ground.

The ‘system view’ framework is designed to assist diverse stakeholder groups to work together and plan for outcomes in complex settings by envisaging a ‘big picture’ view of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context.

Figure 1: A Theory of Change framework showing the different elements and feedback flows required to support kaitiakitanga and environmental stewardship on-the-ground.

The framework illustrates some key elements which recognise:

  1. Effective environmental stewardship requires a range of activities happening at the same time.
  2. Stakeholders manage our bioheritage to achieve positive bio-physical, social and cultural outcomes.

This is not a linear process; rather, it’s like baking a cake, where all the elements come together and each plays its part. These elements can be seen as ‘leverage points’ in which we can support or enable stewardship potential and improve outcomes.

Leverage Points

Leverage points are places in a system where strategic interventions can lead to relatively major changes in the wider system.

Key leverage points include people, behaviours, capacities and actions. We need to take care that we have the right people involved and that we manage cross-sector partnerships and collaborations effectively.

Supporting the right behaviours is important, and care needs to be taken to encourage the right change at a range of different decision-making levels and scales.

Capacities invites us to look at the range of skills, capital, infrastructure, and tools that can support interventions, including the ways we bridge knowledge systems and cultures.

Finally, actions encourage us to think strategically about how we integrate these elements into our work using tools that document and communicate complex goals, activity strategies and intended outcomes to a diverse set of stakeholder groups.

The Theory of Change framework supports learning and adaptive management through strong feedback loops.

The bottom feedback loop encourages us to see that planning, monitoring and evaluation lie at the heart of learning-based approach to conservation management. The top feedback loop highlights that many elements influence themselves, as well as the elements that come afterwards.

Collectively working on these areas supports the development of activities that build stronger relationships and trust across the wider community.

The EKES team has shared this theory of change across the Challenge and found it provided a good basis for discussion and helped to highlight the shared connection across all investments.

As part of developing this framework, the team undertook evidence-gap modelling through a literature review, and interviews with other BioHeritage investments and stakeholders to identify critical areas for this investment to concentrate its efforts.


1) Improving cross-sector partnerships

Cross-sector partnerships and collaborations in biodiversity and biosecurity are essential.  In this project we are looking at how to overcome the many challenges faced in these partnerships and how improved assessment measures can empower those involved in them.

2) Exploring practice change

The research in this area looks to move beyond a focus on messaging and other one-way communication approaches. The team are exploring constructive engagement with social learning, practice change, co-design and system-based approaches to adaptive management.

3) Exploring integrating planning and assessment

As the Theory of Change model indicates, it is not enough to focus on just one area within the system. Because many of these complex situations require a range of concurrent actions to solve real-world challenges, problems can arise when stakeholder expectations are focused only on their own specific contributions.

Often, too little time is spent planning and evaluating during the development of multi-stakeholder interventions, and guidelines for developing multi-stakeholder processes are often inadequate.

To address these issues, the team will explore the use of a ‘program theory’ approach, with associated tools to support multi-stakeholder planning and assessment. 

4) Cross-linkages

We are linking with tool and framework development in other BioHeritage investments to ensure that design and implementation protocols, including related engagement processes, take account of the social and cultural considerations that underpin kaitiakitanga and environmental stewardship.

Upcoming Activities:

  • An initial workshop with other BioHeritage investment teams will build relationships and shared agreements on interactions and engagement. Subsequent meetings and hui will be held as research progresses.
  • The team will then identify how this investment can support and enhance other BioHeritage investments to advance socially and environmentally progressive futures.
  • Run co-design processes and discussions with potentially interested and affected stakeholder groups to identify social and cultural considerations. This will involve interviews, focus groups, design workshops and hui.
  • Investigate the use and efficacy of digital communication methods, e.g. virtual reality, augmented reality, videos, web and social media platforms, as well as develop future-proofed communication tools.

Updated May 2020

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