Building software in Aotearoa

Starting foundations :

  • Tino Rangatiratanga : Iwi never ceded sovereignty and as such possess Tino Rangatiratanga1
  • New Zealand is a settler-colonial nation
  • Māori ways of knowing are multiple, diverse and not less than other ways of knowing
  • IT is neither objective nor neutral

I am not going to talk about the decolonisation of software development, because decolonisation must start with the repatriation of Indigenous land and life. Or in the parlance of these times “Land Back”. There are much smarter people than I working on this massive topic, so what I am going to attempt to do is suggest some few small ways we can start to build software better here in Aotearoa.

1. Data must remain on our whenua, and with a NZ owned company.

We simply can’t achieve any level of Māori data sovereignty if data is stored outside of NZ’s legal jurisdiction. It’s hard enough to get NZ law to recognise Te Tiriti o Waitangi, let alone others.

2. Co design is not a real thing unless practiced under an equity lens.

Every project is a product of the society it is built in. We live in a racist society that is actively hostile towards Māori in a lot of ways. Unless this is accepted and factored in, no amount of participatory design will guarantee a project that doesn’t serve to reinforce existing systems. As Angela Davis said “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

3. Not about us, without us.

If you are building something that touches on anything Māori, Māori need to be involved. This, like the other points to be honest, isn’t specific to software projects but is a general rule for any work in Aotearoa.

4. Names are important, get it right

Māori names may contain tohutō (macrons) so storing, displaying and searching of them must handle them. Macrons are important, just ask weta. Māori names may often contain more than one word. A first name could be one, two, three or even more words. Assuming each part of a name is split by a space is a false assumption and will result in your system assuming there are hundreds of Māori called Te.

5. If you are collecting data about Iwi/Hapū affiliations, there is no limit on the number of Iwi a person can belong to, don’t put arbitrary artificial limits in your software.

6. On a related note, New Zealander is not an ethnicity.

7. The software you build is a built on the foundation of your, and the people you work with, biases, life experiences, language and so on. This is not always a bad thing, but pretending that you are able to be objective in design decisions is. Verbalise, or write down, your assumptions, check them with your peers and more importantly with the intended audience of your software.

8. Finally, maybe don’t build it at all. Not all ideas are good ideas and not all clients are good people. This is probably the hardest one to put in place because in the society we live in we have to get paid to be able to live. But if you are in a place where you can say no to implementing bad ideas, or working for bad people, please do.

1 –

Further reading.

Dussel, E. (1995) Eurocentrism and Modernity (Introduction to the Frankfurt Lectures). In: Beverley, J., Oviedo, J. & Aronn, M. eds. The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America. Durham, US: Duke University Press: 65-77.

Mignolo, Walter D. 2000. ‘The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference,’ South Atlantic Quarterly 101 (1): 57-96

My work bookshelf

Perhaps not the average selection for an IT place, but it should be