Rachelle Martin receives Emerging Reseacher First Grant

Dr Rachelle Martin is one of nine recipients of this year’s Emerging Researcher First Grant offered by the Health Research Council (HRC). 

Rachelle will receive $249,000 over three years to fund her project, Flourishing together: including tāngata whaikaha in health policy development. 

The research project emerged from Burwood Academy’s Flourishing scoping study she conducted with Cate Grace, in which they interviewed 40 people living with the experience of illness, injury, or long-term health conditions. 

“It became really clear that many of the things that needed to change to allow them to flourish, were about societal changes,” says Rachelle. 

It’s more than people having a voice. “It’s about allowing them to decide the focus and scope of discussions— allowing them to talk about the issues that most matter to them rather than just responding to policy that has already been developed,” she explains. 

While the application process centred around her skills and achievements as a researcher, for Rachelle, this project is all about others. 

“I want to research a way that makes space for disabled people—tāngata whāikaha.” 

Rachelle uses this Māori phrase as it aligns with a strengths-based approach to disability and lines up with the affirmative language that New Zealand disabled-led organisations and strategy documents use. 

“People in search of empowerment rather than people with deficits, difficulties, and problems,” she adds. 

This study aims to develop strategies and tools to allow tāngata whaikaha to equitably contribute to policy discussions and planning.  To do this, issues related to housing and home (kāinga) will be used as the exemplar for the project. 

“Kāinga in the broader sense of housing—a home that allows play and recreation and relationships and connections with the community, is a fundamental issue for people,” says Rachelle. 

In her many discussions with disability advocacy group representatives, Māori health providers, and policy advisors within governmental departments, kāinga was a priority. Challenges with genuinely and meaningfully including the voices of tāngata whaikaha were also highlighted. 

“It’s a really significant space to work in, and I feel very privileged—part of my role will be creating the space but not determining the direction,” says Rachelle. 

Rachelle has conceptualised the projects to explicitly improve health outcomes for Māori – directly in terms of housing policies, and in the long term, by ensuring tāngata whaikaha Māori are empowered to participate in and influence the planning of other health-related policy. Her consultation and collaboration with tāngata whaikaha Māori, and Māori researchers and organisations have contributed significantly to the development of this research. 

The grant enables her to employ a lived-experience research assistant as well as two summer students. One of these students will complete a scoping review of Māori models that can feed into how best to include tāngata whaikaha Māori in health policy development. Another student will work on disability advocacy engagement models in general, internationally. 

The long-term goal is to produce data and recommendations that can directly impact social determinants of health through the development of housing policies that better address the needs and aspirations of tāngata whaikaha. 

In the short term, the research team will produce resources that will support tāngata whāikaha to articulate their concerns and recommendations, ensuring the voices are meaningfully included in future health-related policy and programme development. 

Staff members Te Ao Marama, Rachelle Martin and Cate Grace standing together

Te Ao Marama, Rachelle Martin and Cate Grace


Rachelle has developed the research around two ‘co-production teams’. The first team will comprise tāngata whāikaha Māori, will focus on Kaupapa Māori methods and will be led by Dr Kristen Smiler (Victoria University) in collaboration with Burwood Academy’s Te Ao Marama Apiata and Cate Grace. Rachelle will lead the second, non-Māori tāngata whaikaha team, which will also include the research assistant and Burwood Academy Director, Jo Nunnerley.  

Dr Lesley Middleton, Professor Jean Hay-Smith, and Professor Nic Kayes will provide additional research support and expertise.  

The project reflects the various spaces that Rachelle occupies within the disability and rehabilitation space. Funding was applied for through the University of Otago, Wellington where Rachelle works as a lecturer with the Department of Medicine. 

The Burwood Academy team will do a large portion of the work, and the Academy will mainly sponsor her time. 

We congratulate Rachelle on receiving this prestigious grant, the culmination of 12 months of work, and look forward to the next three years as the project flourishes.