Our greatest challenge, it seems to me, is not so much the problems we hope to solve, daunting though they may be, but rather the way in which we intend solving them. We are human; we are creatures of habit… “Change can be good,” we agree. “You go first.”

Our shared goal—the physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing of our people—is accepted. So, too, the reality that significant health, education, and social disparities persist in New Zealand and that Māori and Pasifika populations are the most affected.

But we understand that problems cannot be solved with the same level of consciousness that created them. And so—if we are to improve the wellbeing of our people—we need a new approach. We must somehow find the will—the courage—to work together in ways that we are really only just beginning to explore. We must collaborate more.

Unfortunately, collaboration is not as easy as it sounds. Nobel prizewinner Craig Mello says it’s hard because of fear: fear of being wrong, fear of being ‘scooped’. It seems to me it’s hard because it requires us to discard, or at least diminish, our familiar definitions of ourselves: our field of expertise, the institution we work for, our cultural backgrounds. We feel secure in these personal identities— comfortable in our silos—but this new level of consciousness requires us to accept that the benefits of what we can achieve by working together far outweigh the attractions of individual success: for ourselves, and our institutions.

We know, for example, from researching matters concerning Māori, that we achieve far better outcomes if we blend the (what are considered) conventional methodologies of science with kaupapa Māori: using what Professor Angus Hikairo Macfarlane, Professor of Māori Research, University of Canterbury, refers to as he awa whiria, the ‘braided rivers’ approach. We also know from our Māori research that environment matters: it is when we create and use spaces that are welcoming, inclusive and where people feel comfortable, that ideas flow and creative solutions emerge.

To improve the wellbeing of our people, we need new solutions. Above all, though, we need new ways of working. To shape the future of healthcare, we must encourage and enable collaboration. Greater collaboration between those in education and those in health. Greater collaboration between those employed by our District Health Boards and those in universities. And greater integration of Māori and indigenous knowledge within our collaborative practices.

Professor Gail Gillon, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, College of Education, Health and Human Development, University of Canterbury.