Aotearoa Future Shapers: Post Pandemic Transformation

Spanning health, technology, sustainability, creative arts, and education, the University of Auckland's top researchers share their insights into how we can transform society and build a better world.


On 23 September 2021, the University of Auckland will host four online panel discussions to explore the theme Aotearoa Future Shapers – Post Pandemic Transformation | Ngā kaitārai o anamata i Aotearoa - Te whakaumutanga i muri i te urutā through a variety of perspectives. 

The topics will cover sustainability, social justice, education, health and well-being, and ethical innovation and technology, as seen through the lens of the pandemic. Through these sessions, attendees will have the opportunity to learn about the impact of the University’s research in these areas and gain insights into how our top researchers are transforming society and building a better world.

Session 1 – Water is precious, water is life

Watch it on demand here. 

This discussion will focus on identifying the big water challenges facing Aotearoa and the role that different stakeholders can play in tackling water issues. The pandemic has showed us the important role that research can play in shaping government response to a crisis, and with the help of our expert panel, we will look at how this can be applied to solve water related challenges in New Zealand. 

Chair: Kristiann Allen, Associate Director, Policy and International Engagement, Koi Tū Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland

  • Kristiann Allen is a senior policy practitioner-turned-researcher, with specialisation in both ‘science for policy’ and ‘policy for science’ processes. Her research interests include science policy processes in small research systems, particularly how policy discourses are created and embedded, as well as policy making processes that can better engage with the social and ethical implications of new technologies.

Panel members: University of Auckland researchers Kobus van Zyl, Marama Muru-Lanning, David Noone and Jim Graham, Principal Technical Advisor, Taumata Arowai

  • Marama Muru-Lanning is the Director of the James Henare Māori Research Centre. Her research is dedicated to transdisciplinary research with Māori communities that prioritises equity. As a social anthropologist she focuses on the cultural specificity of tangata whenua groups and their unique sense of place and belonging in Aotearoa. Her professional expertise includes: building research relationships with Māori communities, environmental anthropology, commodification, privatisation, knowledge production, kaumātua mauri ora and Chilean intercultural politics. 

Session 2 – Artificial insights: big data for a Covid world

Watch it on demand here.

What role did big data play in New Zealand’s covid response and how can AI be applied to address other local and global challenges? We have seen the critical role that big data has played in the pandemic, from detecting outbreaks to identifying new variants. This discussion will look at the potential for big data to play a key role in tackling problems in a range of other areas, as well as exploring some of the challenges associated with the growing use of big data. 

Chair: Ethan Plaut, Lecturer in Communication, University of Auckland

  • Dr Ethan Plaut is a scholar of computational media with expertise in disconnection and communication avoidance, technology ethics, and journalism. 

Panel members: University of Auckland researchers Andrew Chen, Michael Witbrock, Danielle Lottridge and Bryan Chapple, Deputy Secretary, Macroeconomics and Growth, NZ Treasury

  • Andrew Chen has a technical background with a PhD in Computer Systems Engineering from the University of Auckland. His PhD research focused on the use of camera-based person tracking using AI/ML techniques, as well as how we might use technology to help protect the privacy of people. This led him towards a research area around digital technology and ethics, particularly in the public sector.
  • Dr Danielle Lottridge’s career spans Silicon Valley where she conducted research for Tumblr and Yahoo and released a videochat app lauded by Apple as “new apps we love”. Lottridge completed a PhD in Human Factors Engineering at University of Toronto, migrated South to do a postdoc at Stanford University in California, where she also pursued a credential in art therapy. Now a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at University of Auckland, Lottridge combines these areas of inquiry in new therapeutic AR/VR for creativity, social interaction, and mental and physical health.

Session 3 - Pandemic precarity: Exposing our Inequities

Watch it on demand here. 

Around the world, Covid-19 has exposed and deepened existing social inequities. Frontline workers are typically low paid and often from disadvantaged groups. Women have borne the brunt of caring responsibilities during the pandemic which has had negative effects on their careers. The shift to online technologies has highlighted the digital divide within countries as well as globally. As we look to the future, how can we reduce inequities in Aotearoa? This panel discussion will explore how the pandemic has exposed inequities in Aotearoa and examine how we can bring about change. 

Chair: Jennifer Curtin, Public Policy Institute Director, University of Auckland

  • Jennifer Curtin is Professor of Politics and Director of the Public Policy Institute at the University of Auckland. Jennifer's research focuses on gender analysis and public policy, trans-Tasman policy innovations, elections, politics and sport. She has published widely on topics related to this theme and engages with community organisations and government agencies in the process of her research. She was an NZ-Fulbright Senior Research Scholar in 2012 and regularly speaks about issues connected with her research at national and international conferences and in the media.

Panel members: University of Auckland researchers Ian Lambie, Carol Mutch, Tracey McIntosh and Hugh Webb, Principal Policy Analyst, Ministry of Social Development

  • Professor Carol Mutch is an academic in the School of Critical Studies in Education in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland. She is also the Education Commissioner for the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO. Carol has held roles across the spectrum in education from primary teacher and educational leader to teacher educator and policy advisor and now university academic. 

Session 4 - Is Aotearoa ready for the long-term impact of Covid? 

Watch it on demand here. 

It has now become apparent that the impacts of Covid-19 will be felt for many years. Emerging research highlights the serious health effects of ‘long covid’ as well as the impact of lockdowns on mental health, well-being, and education. The growing acceptance of ‘working from home’ also has implications for both individuals and broader society. This panel will look at how the pandemic will continue to affect us into the future. 

Chair: Helen Murray, Research Fellow, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland

  • Helen Murray is a post-doctoral research fellow funded by the Health Education Trust. She completed her PhD at the University of Auckland with Professor Maurice Curtis, and her thesis investigating how plasticity is altered in Alzheimer’s disease was nominated as one of the top 20 for the University of Auckland Best Doctoral Thesis Award in 2017. Her subsequent post-doctoral fellowship was a collaboration between the Centre for Brain Research in Auckland and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, USA.

Panel members: University of Auckland researchers Chris Bullen, Collin Tukuitonga and Margaret Wilsher, Chief Medical Officer, Auckland District Health Board

  • Professor Chris Bullen is a public health physician and Professor of Public Health at the School of Population Health. His research has for over 15 years focused on building an evidence base for effective tobacco control interventions in New Zealand and low and middle-income countries. From the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, he has been active in international research on the impacts of Covid-19 on health care, digital tools to track the impact of interventions, surveys of attitudes towards public health measures and the relationship between smoking cessation and Covid-19. In 2020 he was a member of the Epidemiology Advisory Subgroup on Covid-19 to the Ministry of Health and provided public health oversight of contact tracing for Auckland Regional Public Health Service. In addition to his teaching and research, he is currently co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Covid-19 Task Force on Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions.
  • Associate Professor Collin Tukuitonga is the inaugural Associate Dean (Pacific) and Associate Professor of Public Health at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences in the University of Auckland. He is a Public Health Medicine Specialist with extensive experience in leadership, management, public policy, research and public health in New Zealand, the Pacific region and internationally. He was the Director General of the Pacific Community based in New Caledonia for seven years until December 2019. He is also the New Zealand Heart Foundation Chief Advisor Pacific, government appointee to the NZ Health Quality & Safety Commission board and member of the NZ College of Public Health Medicine Council.  He has previously led the NZ Ministry of Pacific Affairs and worked with the World Health Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland. He is a Niuean New Zealander and strong advocate for improving health and wellbeing of Pacific people in the region.
  • Margaret Wilsher is Chief Medical Officer at Auckland District Health Board and a practising respiratory physician. A graduate of the University of Otago, she completed doctoral research at the National Heart and Lung Institute, London, UK then returned to clinical and academic practice in Auckland. Her current research interests lie in the field of interstitial lung disease and lung structure function relationships. She has held a number of leadership and governance roles both locally and nationally including being a member of the National Health Board, a ministerial Crown Monitor, member of the expert advisory groups for both the NZ Health Strategy and NZ Health Research Strategy, member of advisory boards for the Auckland Region Tissue Bank and the MedTech CoRE, and reviewer for the Australian Dept of Health, Rapid Applied Research Translation programme. She is the accountable ADHB executive for research and innovation, and the academic relationship with the University of Auckland.