Collaborating for policy success in Aotearoa-New Zealand

Cityscape image of Auckland skyline, New Zealand taken from Mt. Eden at sunset.
  • Published Date: 22 August 2019

Better collaboration between agencies and with Māori communities are keys to future policy success, speakers have told an ANZSOG event.

The ANZSOG Thought Leadership event in Wellington followed the New Zealand launch of the ANZSOG/ANU Press book Successful Public Policy: lessons from Australia and New Zealand – a book which analyses 20 cases of good policy from Australia and New Zealand to inspire current and future public managers.

The ANZSOG event involved a panel discussion to reflect on shifting from a failure to a success frame, and to profile two New Zealand initiatives with hallmarks of success: the existing Whānau Ora program and the new Family and Sexual Violence Joint Venture.

Monash University Professor Michael Mintrom, one of the authors of the book, said that it was important to recognise the successes of public policy, rather than simply focus on failures.

Professor Mintrom said that while each of the cases of policy was a different response to individual challenges and political circumstances, it was important to understand the common factors that these successful policies shared.

These included:

  • A well-developed initial design
  • Strong political advocacy
  • Well-funded and managed implementation
  • Cross-party support is essential
  • Continuous efforts made to maintain support.

The event also heard from practitioners in New Zealand working to develop better policies and ways of collaborating to solve complex social problems.

Fiona Ross, Director Family Violence & Sexual Violence Joint Venture Ministry of Justice, spoke of the value of collaborating to address complex social problems.

Ms Ross is the newly appointed coordinator of the Joint Venture which links ten agencies to eliminate family violence and sexual violence.

She spoke to ANZSOG after the event and said that while there had been efforts at collaboration in the past, dating back at least to 1985, they had all been temporary and had not been able to progress on their successes.

“We are not going to be able to do all this in 12 months. Unlike my predecessors my role is permanent, not temporary, which is a big change in approach,” she said.

“The siloed accountability model of the public service is one that does not work with these complex problems.

“Family violence is a ‘wicked problem’ which has an intergenerational aspect with systemic causes built up over time, as well as race, class and gender aspects. That means that not only do we need to work together, but we need to take into account all those perspectives.

“This does not just mean getting the ten agencies to work together but also improving the way we all work with the not-for-profit sector and changing our collective approach.

“This time we are taking a Joint Venture approach, and have put more leadership and governance measures around it – the chief executives of the ten agencies meet each month as a board.”

The governance group includes a Te Rōpū Māori (advisory team), and Ms Ross said this enabled the Venture to work closely with Māori communities, and take a more holistic approach to the work.

“This is coming from communities who say we can’t be treated as a ‘slice of education’ or a ‘slice of health’.”

She said that one of the priorities for the project was to develop better data and use that to determine long-term success measures.

Other priorities included giving the family violence workforce the skills to understand trauma and intervene earlier, including the perspectives of people with lived experience, and giving perpetrators better access to support.

She said that the work was backed by New Zealand’s Wellbeing Budget, which tried to look beyond economic measures and make systemic investments in addressing social issues.
Amohia Boulton is Research Director of Whakauae Research for Māori Health & Development, the only iwi-owned Māori health research centre in Aotearoa- New Zealand.

She spoke about her work in undertaking research from a Māori perspective which could hold a mirror up to policy and lead to positive changes.

She said that there were difficulties in translating te reo Māori terms into English, which could cause problems for implementation of policy, even if legislation had tried to include Māori perspectives.

“For example, there are words like ‘whānau’, which is simply translated to mean family, but which has much broader meaning in te reo Māori, referring to a multi-generational and extended family and the rights and responsibilities family members bear,” she said.

“This is linked to culture – in New Zealand we have new legislation around child wellbeing, and there are cultural expectations around wellbeing in Māori. Fundamentally, for example, it’s argued wellbeing cannot be achieved for a Māori child, if he or he has been removed from their whānau.”

She said that there was tradition of Māori research which was based on the belief that research should not sit by itself but required some sort of social change.

“We publish in academic journals, but there is a second set of accountabilities for what we do,” she said.

“A recent project came from a request from a ‘Lawyer for Child’ asking us to research the Family Court and the experience of Māori children going into state care. Our findings were that the experience was very negative, with whānau doing everything that was asked of them by the myriad organisations of the State, and yet still, their children were not returned to them.

“The research was published in an academic journal article, but was also used as evidence in a parliamentary select committee hearing, and formed the basis of a social work textbook, which is now taught in the curriculum for social workers.

“We don’t know yet what the effects of it will be, but we know that the research has gone that step further.”

Dr Boulton agreed that collaboration was important and that agencies needed to do better at working together on social problems, and working with Māori people.

“Complex problems cut across health, justice and other agencies and need a common approach,” she said.

“Māori have become increasingly vocal in advocating that the solutions for Māori people will lie with them in some shape or form, in policy-making or implementation. Māori are the experts in what effects them, and the power needs to shift somehow, and genuine partnerships need to be formed. We need to figure out a way to have that conversation.”

Read more about Successful Public Policy: lessons from Australia and New Zealand at the ANZSOG website.