Keeping an Eye on the Algorithm: Transparency and Trust in AI for New Zealanders

By Irina Ermeneanu

Headlines worldwide are buzzing about Artificial Intelligence (AI). And rightly so - AI is reshaping industries, economies, and societies. It's revolutionising how organisations deliver services. It is transforming healthcare with personalised treatment plans and early disease detection. In finance, AI algorithms are optimising trading strategies and risk management. Transportation is being transformed by autonomous vehicles, while manufacturing is becoming more efficient through AI-driven automation.

New Zealand is working towards a future where AI automates tedious tasks like tax return processing, streamlines applications for social programs, and individualises interactions with government agencies. 

AI shines because its algorithms act as a key, unlocking a staggering amount of data - 80% of which is "unstructured" and thereby unusable by traditional computer systems - and extracting meaning from the chaos. 

New Zealand's enthusiasm for rapid AI adoption is driven by several key factors:

  • Vastly improved data-driven decision-making: AI can analyse vast amounts of data, uncovering valuable insights that improve services and decision-making.
  • Efficiency and cost savings: Automating tedious tasks like tax processing frees up public servants and saves money.
  • Improved safety and accuracy: AI can contribute to safer work environments and more evidence-based decision-making.


Despite the excitement surrounding AI, there are also concerns. The New Zealand Government recognizes the need for responsible AI development that reflects New Zealand's social values. 

AI could be problematic for already disenfranchised Māori communities. A key challenge is ensuring that these communities aren't further disadvantaged but have a voice in shaping AI development so that it is specifically designed to consider Māori contexts.

How NZ is fostering trust and inclusivity in AI

Three key resources looking to help foster trust and inclusivity in AI:

  • The New Zealand ‘Interim Generative AI guidance for the public service’ is a resource created by the Government to help public service agencies responsibly use generative AI (GenAI) tools. Public service agencies are encouraged to be cautious when adopting GenAI and to ensure they understand how it will be used before implementing it by delving into the unique considerations and risks associated with this specific type of AI.
  • The Algorithm Charter sets clear expectations for government agencies using AI, focusing on transparency, accountability, public benefit, and data privacy. This is a broad document that covers  algorithms used in various contexts, not just GenAI. It emphasises citizen's right to understand how algorithms are used, ensuring fairness and addressing potential biases. The Charter acknowledges that it cannot fully address important considerations, such as Māori Data Sovereignty, as these are complex and require separate consideration.
  • Te Mana Raraunga Charter specifically addresses Māori data rights, promoting Indigenous data governance and ensuring benefits for Māori communities. It acknowledges that Māori data belongs to Māori and should be controlled by them, respecting their cultural values and traditions.

In addition, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) AI Forum has identified 11 New Zealand policy areas that address the use of AI.

These charters and policies work together to create a framework for responsible AI development that respects all New Zealanders.

AI Created by Māori, for Māori, and controlled by Māori

The concept of AI aligns with the importance of knowledge (Mātauranga) in Māori culture. Data security, ownership, and access are crucial considerations, mirroring the importance placed on these aspects of Mātauranga. 

However, we must consider the alignment of how AI is being used with Māori values. Doing so requires ensuring Māori speak for themselves- no framework will solve for that. This is why true co-creation/ innovation means working with Māori as partners.

This presents challenges to organisations built on western cultural concepts. Especially as Māori engagement requires relationship building first and foremost, conversations that take as long as they take and fundamentally conflict with western concepts of time and delivery. Furthermore it also requires a true reciprocal understanding of how both parties benefit, with a commitment to the relationship beyond any short term purpose. 

This is radically different from the one-sided transactional nature of organisations formed on western cultural values. 

Challenges and the road ahead 

Fostering a paradigm for AI development in Aotearoa that recognizes our unique cultural fabric is crucial. By understanding Te Ao Māori perspectives and not just blankly utilising frameworks, we can ensure more responsible AI development, fostering trust and a brighter future for all New Zealanders.

This requires a shift towards a collaborative approach that prioritises whanaungatanga (relationships) and rangatiratanga (self-determination) for Māori communities. 

  • Establish long-term partnerships: Move away from transactional one-off engagements and build trust through ongoing relationships with Māori Iwi .
  • Culturally appropriate co-creation: Develop AI solutions alongside Māori, ensuring their knowledge (Mātauranga) and values (including Mauri) are embedded throughout the process.
  • Data sovereignty and governance: Empower Māori to have control over their data, who can access it, and how it's used. This aligns with the importance placed on data security and ownership in Māori culture.
  • Building capacity: Support Māori participation in AI development by providing training and resources. This fosters a more inclusive ecosystem.

How can individuals make a difference

Active participation by Māori and all New Zealand cultures is essential to ensure AI development reflects diverse perspectives and societal implications.

Public participation is crucial. Here's how you can get involved:

  • Learn about the Algorithm and Te Mana Raraunga Charters.
  • Educate yourself about AI concepts.
  • Discuss AI and data governance with others.
  • Support advocacy groups promoting responsible AI.
  • Be data-savvy by managing your online privacy settings.

By working together, New Zealand can ensure AI development is not just inclusive, fosters trust, and benefits all its citizens, but together, we can ensure AI development can become a powerful tool that respects and incorporates Māori values, ultimately benefiting all of Aotearoa.

About Irina Ermeneanu

From Resilience to AI-Driven Humanity. A former refugee, Irina defied odds to become an award-winning leader in human-centred design. Her global perspective, shaped by living across four continents, is further enriched by AI expertise. Irina guides governments and organisations through digital transformation with AI solutions that prioritise the human experience.

Blog Post written by:
No items found.