Te Au | The Current – Te Papa’s nature debate

Te Au | The Current – Te Papa’s nature debate

Should we ban all petrol cars? Should we limit tourist numbers? Should rubbish collection always include a separate food waste bin for composting, even if we all have to pay more? Exhibition Experience Developer Murphy Peoples and Digital Producer Amos Mann discuss Te Au | The Current, a forum for fresh ideas around Aotearoa New Zealand’s toughest environmental challenges. Te Au | The Current aims to collect and reflect diverse opinions that could spark real-world change. See how others feel and add your voice to Te Au | The Current to help solve New Zealand’s toughest nature challenges.

One of Te Papa’s goals is to be a forum for the nation and to hold important conversations. Te Au | The Current opened in May 2019 as an interactive digital experience within the Te Taiao Nature exhibition and asks you to add your voice to the discussion. It presents diverse perspectives from Te Papa visitors and illustrates how participation can create change.

Now, after 3 years, with over 100,000 responses, we are sharing some insightful and creative approaches to analysing how our visitors feel and what they’ve said.

People standing in front of a digital screen in a museum. It's quite dark and the large screen has two circles on it with the word Excited in one circle and the word Hopeful in the other.
Te Au | The Current, Te Taiao | Nature, Te Papa, May 2019. Photo by Jo Moore. Te Papa, CC BY 4.0

“New Zealand is not a theme park”

The topics are usually very timely and often already being discussed publicly. For example, the following topic ran on Te Au | The Current in the weeks leading up to Aotearoa New Zealand borders reopening in 2021 after a period of being closed as a protection response to the Covid-19 pandemic:

When our borders reopen, we should limit tourist numbers to protect the environment. How do you feel about this idea?

A screenshot of a digital illustration of a question and the percentages of how people answered in five different-sized circles/
Screengrab from Te Au | The Current showing percentage responses to the limiting tourists idea, with 20% Excited, 37% Hopeful, 12% Don’t care, 15% Worried, and 11% Angry. Illustration by Te Papa

When we analysed the comments, we found:

  • 44% were concerned about Protecting nature/the environment
  • 11%  wanted to keep the border closed or limited and COVID out
  • 9%  want a balance of economy, environment, and safety
  • 6%  said the economy needs tourists.

There was a diverse range of responses to this topic, similar to the range of responses seen in public discussion around the topic elsewhere. Examples of visitor responses include:

“I’m hopeful for large numbers to come and enjoy our beautiful country”
– Te Papa visitor, aged 25-44, from Bay of Plenty

“We should protect our world because it’s the only world we have and there’s no planet 2”
– Lexi, aged under 15, from Wellington

“Not my problem”
– Hannah, Te Papa visitor, aged 25-44, from Wellington

“It is important to protect the environment but also we need tourism atm to bolster the economy so it’ll be tricky to strike that balance. So I have conflicting feelings on the topic.”
– Te Papa visitor, 15-24, from Wellington

“Tourism is one of our biggest national incomes… we need the money now more than ever”
– Te Papa visitor, aged 15-24, from Taranaki

“New Zealand is not a theme park”
– Nick, Te Papa visitor, aged 45-64, from Wellington

Data as poetry

Some of the data has been used in unexpected ways. The following topic was developed in partnership with the Department of Conservation, drawing on research and public discussion on the importance of connecting to nature during Aotearoa New Zealand’s 2020 Covid-19 protection response lock-down:

Nature helps us get through lockdowns – workplaces should give back one day a month for nature

Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research analysed 1,558 meaningful responses from young people (24 and under) and collated them into poems reflecting different types of relationships to nature, some positive, some negative…

Our ecosystems,
natural environment –
unique, wonderful!
I hope we preserve
them. We are nature.
Aotearoa nature
is so beautiful.


I do not care!!!!!!!!
cos, I am not doing it. I
am happy to go to the mall.
I just
don’t care!
I just don’t care!


What’s not to love?
Great for mental health, great for
te taiao, great for

Add your voice

Unable to visit Te Papa in person, but want to contribute?

You can!

Te Au | The Current is also available online in a version similar to the experience in Te Taiao | Nature and also available as an accessible form.

Have a great idea to suggest for Te Au | The Current?

Submit your own ideas for environmental topics by choosing the Submit a topic button on the online version, or filling out this form.

Tāpirihia tō reo ki Te Au ka āwhina hoki ki te whakamāui ake i te taiao o Aotearoa.
Add your voice to The Current and help solve New Zealand’s toughest nature challenges.

National Digital Forum Lightning Talk

Watch this 10min presentation given at the recent National Digital Forum 2022 conference for more results from Te Au | The Current.

There is also a more comprehensive presentation of our analysis here.

What’s the data on that?

Interested in using the open data for analysis? Interested in using the open data creatively? One of the goals of Te Au | The Current is for the visitor response data to be used by researchers, environmental groups, and policymakers.

The Te Au | The Current project generates Open Data which holds potential for insights into communities’ relationships with the environment, environmental issues, and attitudes towards proposed solutions. All anonymous responses are shared as open data via data.govt.nz.

Great thanks go to

  • Te Au | The Current Working Group
  • Te Papa Writing Team
  • Jane Harris, and the Digital Channels team
  • Caitlin McLean, Masters of Science and Society Intern, Victoria University Wellington
  • Department of Conservation, Conservation Partnerships
  • Manaaki Whenua Environmental Social Science team: Alison Greenaway, Robyn Kannemeyer, Gradon Diprose
  • Data.govt.nz

Many of the topic questions for Te Au | The Current were developed in partnership with a range of Government organisations and NGOs. If your organisation would like to develop a topic for Te Au | The Current with Te Papa, email thecurrent@tepapa.govt.nz for more information.


  1. Is tourism sustainable? Is tourism a profitable myth or a cultural drift? We need to examine the real costs of tourism alongside the income it brings. If there is a profit what happens to it?

  2. I knew nothing of this Te Au, its great. I’ll look out for it next time I’m at Te Papa.

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