Establishment of the Muslim Community Reference Group
On 13 May 2019, we issued our first Minute setting out the procedures that the Royal Commission had determined it would use for gathering information and evidence and the reasons for adopting this procedure.1
The Minute noted the establishment of a Muslim Community Reference Group:
Work is underway towards the establishment of a Muslim Community Reference Group to ensure the Royal Commission process builds in appropriate and accessible opportunities for Muslim communities to take part in the inquiry.
The Muslim Community Reference Group will be advisory only, and will not have decision‑making powers. The need to ensure that the Group is of manageable size may mean that it may not be fully representative. The Royal Commission will determine membership. The Terms of Reference for the Muslim Community Reference Group will be published on the Royal Commission’s website.
A date for the first hui was set for late July 2019. This was to enable time for us to develop our approach and have initial discussions with the Christchurch Muslim Liaison Group, the Imams of the Christchurch masjidain (Masjid an-Nur and the Linwood Islamic Centre) and some representative organisations. Initial discussions occurred in May and early June 2019. Nominations for Muslim Community Reference Group membership were received from Muslim individuals and organisations from May to August 2019.
The initial discussions helped focus our thinking to ensure that:
- female voices were to be acknowledged and respected and provided equal representation;
- religious diversity within Islam was to be acknowledged and respected;
- around a third of the membership of the Muslim Community Reference Group would be from the Christchurch Muslim community, with the remaining members from across Aotearoa New Zealand; and
- the Muslim Community Reference Group would not speak on behalf of affected whānau, survivors and witnesses. Instead, the Royal Commission would be open to meeting with all affected whānau, survivors and witnesses on their terms.
We developed a set of criteria to guide decision-making as to possible membership of the Muslim Community Reference Group. The criteria we agreed to were diversity of:
- gender, with a desire to achieve a 50/50 gender balance, if possible;
- ethnicity, with a desire to ensure a diverse range of ethnicities were represented;
- age, with a desire to ensure that the Muslim Community Reference Group included a range of ages (including youth, adults and elders);
- religious perspective, with a desire to ensure different religious perspectives were represented;
- potential to contribute to the inquiry, including connections with organisations; and
- geographical location, with a desire to ensure a geographical spread of Muslim Community Reference Group members, while acknowledging that the terrorist attack took place in Christchurch.
Based on nominations from representative groups and individuals and our own research, we settled on a long-list of potential members. All were contacted to assess their willingness to participate.
Some of those we contacted did not wish to be involved. Others were unsure and decided to attend the first hui before making a final decision. One issue that arose was whether we should publish members’ names before the first hui. Some members did not want their name published before the first hui. This was for a number of reasons, including safety concerns. As there was no consensus on publishing members’ names, we decided not to publish their names until after the first hui. This contributed to a perception that our procedures were too closed and lacked transparency. We come back to this later.
Given the nature of the issues that were being considered by the Muslim Community Reference Group and members being directly or indirectly affected by the terrorist attack, we knew that it was imperative to build a culturally, spiritually and emotionally safe environment.
Secretariat staff arranged the hui venue. For the initial hui we wanted a venue that would be private and enable space for:
- separate hui, prayer and kai (dining) rooms;
- breakout sessions both inside and outside of the hui room; and
- reflection to occur if required.
A masjid was considered. However, due to its regular use for prayers and community meetings, and our desire to use a space that would only be used for our meeting and that would not be interrupted and protocols relating to gender separation, we decided to look at other options. A marae was determined to be the best space. After discussions with Te Maire Tau (Upoko for Ngāi Tūāhuriri) and finding out that Tuahiwi Marae was not available for our proposed first hui, we decided to use Ngā Hau e Whā National Marae in east Christchurch. It seemed symbolic that the name of the marae translates to “the four winds”, meaning a meeting place for all peoples from everywhere.
At the first hui it was discussed and agreed with members that all hui would be held in Christchurch. All hui except one, due to a scheduling conflict, were held at Ngā Hau e Whā National Marae.
Supporting members to attend
We did not want travel to be a barrier to attendance at meetings. Secretariat staff made all travel and accommodation arrangements to enable members to attend each hui. Generally, members arrived the night before the hui and departed in the evening after the hui had finished. Once travel arrangements had been made, secretariat staff would contact each Muslim Community Reference Group member a few days prior to the hui to ensure that their travel arrangements were still suitable and see if there were any issues or concerns the member would like to discuss prior to the hui.
Many Muslim Community Reference Group members needed to take a day off from paid employment to attend each hui. Where members faced difficulty in getting permission from their employer to take the time off, the Royal Commission’s Executive Director provided a letter for the member to provide to their employer explaining the importance of the Muslim Community Reference Group, the valuable contribution that members make to the group and expressing support for their attendance at the hui.
To ensure that our engagement with the Muslim Community Reference Group was robust, we had to make sure that all members were given opportunities to voice their views at each hui. We decided against having a secretariat staff member as the facilitator for our hui because this would have had the potential to compromise the impartiality of the process and the robustness of our engagement. We therefore decided to engage an independent facilitator.
We contacted several potential independent facilitators with a range of backgrounds and experience. While some of those we contacted had more relevant cultural experience, we settled on an independent facilitator with strong experience in dealing with complex matters who also had cultural competence, although not directly related to Muslim communities.
The independent facilitator was involved in the design of each hui, working with secretariat staff. They also briefed the Executive Director and Commissioners on the design of each hui.
Overall, having an independent facilitator was well received by the Muslim Community Reference Group, but we learned some lessons as set out in chapter 3.
We took into account the International Association for Public Participation IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum2 in the development of the design of the Muslim Community Reference Group. The desire was to use a procedure that would include elements of the “involve” and “collaborate” levels of engagement. The approach would also complement the broader community engagement we designed concurrently.
For example, the Muslim Community Reference Group’s Terms of Reference3 were developed collaboratively with the reference group members over several meetings. The Terms of Reference were finalised by the Muslim Community Reference Group.
Agenda development, note taking
The agenda for each hui was informed by what stage we had reached in the inquiry process and any evidence or thinking that we needed to test with Muslim communities. We generally provided the agenda to Muslim Community Reference Group members four or five working days in advance of each hui but did not always meet this target.
The agenda were developed carefully with a balance of presentations from the Commissioners, question and answer sessions and workshops for members to share their views. We always did our best to provide enough time to be flexible with the agenda. We were also able to make changes on the day to allow conversations to develop as required.
A secretariat staff member was assigned to take notes at each hui. After the hui the draft notes were provided to Muslim Community Reference Group members for their consideration and feedback. Agreement was sought from our Muslim Community Reference Group at the following hui as to whether the notes were an accurate reflection of the hui.
The meeting notes were not treated as formal minutes. We sought to provide a record of what was discussed at hui that would be made available on our website, without compromising free and frank discussion among members of the Muslim Community Reference Group and between the reference group and the Royal Commission. The nature and extent of the notes was discussed and agreed.
As agreed in the Muslim Community Reference Group’s Terms of Reference, we treated information shared by members of the reference group as confidential. Our sharing of information with the Muslim Community Reference Group was with an expectation of confidence, unless otherwise agreed.
Intent to ensure that all members were working from a similar knowledge base
We were mindful that Muslim Community Reference Group members were coming into the process with varying degrees of knowledge on government processes and concepts and relevant subject matter knowledge. We wanted to ensure that members had equal opportunities to engage on the content we were discussing and seeking their views on. To support this, we held several sessions during our hui on the concepts that were relevant to our inquiry, including providing an overview of New Zealand’s national security system and the firearms licensing process.
A key contribution that many members of the Muslim Community Reference Group made to the Royal Commission outside of attending hui was to undertake engagement within their own communities. We offered community engagement facilitation training to those members who wanted to participate.
1. Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack on Christchurch Mosques on 15 March 2019 Minute 1: Procedures for Gathering Information and evidence (13 May 2019) https://christchurchattack.royalcommission.nz.
2. International Association for Public Participation Australasia Quality assurance standard for community and stakeholder engagement (2015) https://iap2.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/IAP2_Quality_Assurance_Standard_2015.pdf; International Association for Public Participation IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum (2020).
3. Terms of Reference for the Muslim Community Reference Group, to support the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack on Christchurch Mosques on 15 March 2019 https://christchurchattack.royalcommission.nz/muslim-community-reference-group/terms-of-reference/.