Jay O'Brien | Assoc. Director of i3 + Head Person-Centred Design
Anthropology is fundamentally about people and culture. Anthropological research allows us to better understand the health needs and experience of different social and cultural groups. Importantly, anthropology can tell us about the impact of cultural beliefs and values on people’s behaviour, health and wellbeing. It also helps us to understand that cultures are ‘in process’ so people’s understanding of their health and wellbeing changes over time.
Anthropological methods such as participant observation and ethnography are about truly listening, looking deeply, being actively involved with communities in order to better understand their complexity – they tell us something about actual people rather than instituted processes and systems, and they help us to challenge often taken-for-granted notions and practices. Anthropological methods also create opportunities for different cultural and social groups to express their experiences at any given time, so that we can respond to emerging needs through appropriate innovations and improvements.
The increasing diversity of our population is making it even more important to better understand our communities. Auckland’s population is now ‘super-diverse’ with almost 50% Maori, Pacific and Asian peoples, and 44% of people born outside of New Zealand. There are over 200 ethnic groups and at least 160 languages spoken. Waitemata DHB serves the largest population of any DHB in New Zealand, and as an Auckland-based funder and provider of healthcare, we have a responsibility to meet the different needs and health challenges of our district in a culturally competent way. That’s why person-centred design is one of our three principles – so that everything we do is designed with the people who are impacted by any improvement or innovation work. Person-centred design thinking makes sure we are empathetic to our staff and community; that we understand what matters most to them, what we do well (and should do more of) and what we can do better.
We are also fortunate at the i3 to have our eCALD team who run a national training programme about cultural competence for New Zealand’s health workforce. Our eCALD team are leaders in the field of cultural competence and the development of resources to improve cross-cultural interaction between healthcare workers and CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse, migrants and refugees from Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and African backgrounds) patients. You can check out our comprehensive range of online resources at www.ecald.com.
Recently we have been working with the Department of Anthropology at University College London to create a role for a medical anthropology research fellow within our Fellows Programme. This is an exciting opportunity to undertake new and innovative research to improve the health outcomes of the district population and people’s experience of care. There are many international examples of anthropologists working closely with public health services but few examples of anthropologists directly employed by public health service providers. This fellowship provides an opportunity to bring anthropological theory and practice together with clinical service provision, and will help us to make the use of anthropological methods a routine part of how we work.