Local technology company, Takiwā, is taming New Zealand’s unruly data to paint pictures for iwi, the health sector and educators

When Mike Taitoko asked hospital clinicians what their biggest challenge was they told him it was extracting rotten teeth from children.

Not only were extractions putting pressure on hospital resources, the clinicians knew tooth decay was often the start of life-long health problems. The challenge was getting health messages to the right places before decay set in.

With anonymised patient information, Taitoko’s company, Takiwā, used their data visualisation software to narrow down where help was needed.

What started out as a possible region-wide issue with information existing in thousands of data records was able to be visualised on a map to show a 30-street “hot-spot” where the bulk of admissions came from.

This knowledge can reduce a region-wide communication project into one targeting areas where it will make the biggest impact. Messages can be taken to schools, sports clubs, day cares and churches in the community.

Acting on the stories data tells us could lead to more efficiency and reduce pressure in the system, said Taitoko.

“As our hospital wards are blowing out, and hospitals are trying to become as efficient as possible what we’re saying is we need to spend much more time outside the hospital. It doesn’t matter how efficient you become, the hot spots are getting hotter, and bigger and there are more of them.

“We need a much more grounded, community-focused view on how we deal with that.”

Taitoko’s software venture, Takiwā, translates data into pictures for District Health Boards, iwi and educators to help them make better decisions.

Currently, data in New Zealand is fragmented. It comes from different sources and is often structured in different ways. Trying to make sense of the big picture often requires the help of a specialist.

“We can give cultural data and information a valid place alongside Western science and information, then hopefully level the information playing field between agencies and iwi.”

Takiwā combines publicly available data with customer data and represents it visually on geographic maps in a way that’s easy to understand.

For Taitoko this makes data more democratic. 

“If we create more transparency and visibility around that [data] and better access to that sort of information to more people, how would that then influence and inform decision-making and policy at a local, regional and central level?”

He said giving people affected by policy decisions a way to understand data without needing a statistician to decipher it puts the power into the hands of the people and can lead to more meaningful discussions around policy.

Working for more than 15 years in Māori economic development, Taitoko saw what he refers to as a policy glass ceiling where the ability to paint a picture of what was going on in communities was needed. He also saw an imbalance in information between people who set policy and those affected by it.

Data mapped as part of the Lakes Resilience Project showing chlorophyll levels in the Rotorua lakes and high-producing grassland (dark green). Photo: Supplied

He co-founded Takiwā in 2015.

“We can give cultural data and information a valid place alongside Western science and information, then hopefully level the information playing field between agencies and iwi.”

Many of Takiwā’s clients are iwi and some are using the software to map fresh water quality in their tribal areas.

The software collates data from government agencies such as Crown Research Institutes and councils, and combines this with data from iwi. Data supplied to the company by partners such as iwi and District Health Boards is kept in New Zealand in an IBM-hosted cloud.

Once the data is combined on a map, iwi can see water quality at sites traditionally used for food gathering, the surrounding land use and irrigation consents.

Depending on the data available, changes such as the reduction of water quality at traditional food gathering sites can be seen as more irrigation consents have been granted.

The data can then be used by iwi when policy discussions take place.

Another project Takiwā is involved in focuses on New Zealand Lakes. The four-year Lakes Resilience project, which receives funding from the Ministry for Business and Innovation, is combining data gathered by scientists. Data includes fish and pest fish stocks, nutrient levels and surrounding land use. Currently in its third year the project aims to provide the data and analysis needed to inform future policy.

Taitoko said the software isn’t rocket science but the way the company has created it to be as easy to understand from a tribal catchment perspective is unique. He hasn’t heard of other software doing a similar job.

He has been approached by people interested in exploring overseas applications for the software but is currently focused on New Zealand.

“There’s only one place in the world I want to be right now. Let’s clean our own stuff up, then let’s look globally.”

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