Do it Right

Building evidence about services and projects usually requires a lot of interaction between the people delivering services or facilitating projects and those participating in activities. There is an added layer of complexity to this interaction when people from diverse cultural, linguistic and/or religious backgrounds are involved.


This section includes guidance for building evidence with new immigrant and refugee communities, but most of the principles and recommendations apply to any kind of cross-cultural communication and research in Aotearoa New Zealand. This page and recommended resources should be read in conjunction with the Kaupapa Māori and Ethics sections of this website.

The Umma Trust provides services for refugee and migrant communities in Auckland. It specialises in the wellbeing of Muslim women, children and families who are socially and economically disadvantaged. Umma Trust was asked to share lessons learnt working with new migrant communities around building evidence, evaluation and identifying what works, what’s useful and what to avoid.


  • Develop programmes with communities, not for them. Empowering the community acknowledges that the challenges are theirs and they have the means to solve them. Empowerment also means teaching individuals within the community to do this work. For example, to reduce family violence, communities need to know about relevant New Zealand laws, what constitutes family violence and its impact on children.
  • When you work with families from refugee or migrant backgrounds, think about the whole family. Consider their connections to the wider community, their history, faith and cultural traditions. It’s not just about the service you have to offer.
  • Develop programmes that benefit the whole family. A youth group will benefit from parents’ involvement. Women’s empowerment programmes should also consider the effect they have on men in the community.
  • Support families so that they identify and value their strengths, both as a family and as individuals. Use these strengths to help them meet their goals.
  • Celebrate the resilience refugee and migrant families have developed when they resettled in New Zealand. Resettlement is extremely tough. They must learn a new language, understand different social norms and find a job. Racism is often experienced in the process.
    Acknowledge and celebrate the problems these families have overcome.
  • Make sure to talk to families face-to-face. Language and cultural gaps make miscommunication very easy. Share a meal together. It’s a great start.
  • Always consult with a community’s male, female and youth leaders. They understand the complexity of the problems their communities face. Ask them for guidance and support before you work with families or individuals. They know the skills needed to work with people in a culturally responsive manner. There may be sensitive issues like child protection or family violence. A community leader can help you understand the cultural and historical background to problems.
  • Gain the trust of the communities you work with. It takes time to develop close relationships. Don’t make funding or other promises you can’t keep. Always be honest with them.
  • Expect community politics. Agencies working in community programmes often get involved with community disagreements. For example, a community may split into several groups. In this case, continue to work with each group at their own pace.
  • Involve the community when you evaluate your progress. It’s an opportunity for them to contribute to help the programme succeed. The contribution of people who use a programme is vital to its improvement. All of a programme’s users should determine and measure its success. Evaluate your programmes frequently and include participants’ reactions. Social sector programmes often work without enough money and complex programme theories. Getting frequent feedback from participants as you evaluate your progress is very useful. Read the work of Michael Quinn Patton, especially his book: Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use. Another useful book is Youth Participatory Evaluation: Strategies for Engaging Young People, by Kim Sabo Flores. The books describe highly visual and participatory ways to work amongst different cultures and languages.


Typical Evaluation Steps

About The UMMA Trust

The Umma Trust was established in 2003 as a charitable trust to provide social and community services for refugee and migrant communities. It specialises in the wellbeing of Muslim women, children and families who are socially and economically disadvantaged. UMMA Trust takes a strength-based approach when supporting families and works holistically.

They offer a wide range of programmes and services including: parenting programmes, mothers’ groups, a women’s leadership programme, a women’s-only swimming programme, youth development projects, school holiday programmes, mothers’ group for families with children with differing abilities, women’s enterprise, homework centres linked to Umma Trust, learning to drive programmes and a volunteer programme.

They also have qualified social workers who can provide advocacy and resettlement support.

  • Allow extra time to consult with and assess a community’s needs. When you start a new project, allow plenty of time for initial consultation in timelines and budgets. Take time to understand the situation and build relationships. If you dive in too fast your project may fail because you didn’t gain the trust and support of the community.
  • Build good networks across community and government sectors so that resources can be shared.
  • Don’t used children as interpreters for their parents or older members of the family. Use Language Line to find interpreters who speak more than 44 different languages. The service is available six days a week.
  • Consider using a Kaupapa Māori framework to develop programmes for refugees and migrants. Refugee and migrant communities are often familiar with the ideas of Kaupapa Māori because many have grown up in collective rather than individualistic societies. Learn about the E Tū Whānau values of aroha, whanaungatanga, whakapapa, mana, kōrero, ahwi and tikanga. These values commonly resonate with refugee and migrant communities.
  • Learn how to work with different cultures. Many service providers and their employees increasingly work with diverse cultures, reflecting modern New Zealand society. To work effectivity across cultures, service providers and employees must understand the power they bring to any relationship with refugee or migrant communities. Service providers and their employees should learn the theory of empowerment. Read Glen Laverack’s work about power, empowerment and effective practice. Being aware of your power lets you share it with the refugees and migrants you work with.
  • The workforce, including the social sector, has become more culturally diverse. Many New Zealand employees have come from countries with a class system that gives some groups higher status than others. This status might be based on cultural or ethnic differences. It’s vital that all employees understand their own cultural heritage. Employees must understand and recognise the inequalities of the societies they have previously lived in. Across the social sector racism, sexism and power struggles are increasing between employees new to New Zealand and some refugee or migrant communities.
  • It’s important that employees firmly understand the Treaty of Waitangi and the principles of partnership, protection and participation. Employees must also know about and adhere to the principles of the Declaration of Human Rights, The Rights of Child and the Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
  • Develop resources in partnership with refugee and migrant communities. Visual, not overcrowded resources are useful when working across languages. Each page should stick to one, clear message. Pamphlets and resources translated into many languages are useful. Refugee and migrant communities prefer to talk about rather than read your information.


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