“No surprises” is misleading – “earning warning” is preferable
“No surprises” is a misleading term. It is impossible to avoid all surprises for governments, and it is definitely not the job of public servants to protect ministers from political embarrassment. IPANZ believes the “no surprises” nomenclature has passed its use-by date and should be replaced by “early warning” which captures the essence more accurately. Read IPANZ’s Op-Ed here.
The new government plans to update the no surprises policy. They have noted that it needs clarification to better respect the privacy of individuals. While the trust between ministers and public servants matters a lot, so does the trust of New Zealanders in their government and public service.
Another step to improve accountability for performance
The Auditor-General has won changes to Parliament’s standing orders so public agencies will face closer scrutiny – including regular three-hour “grillings” by MPs, at which the minister must also front.
The Auditor-General is particularly concerned about performance reporting. He finds three weaknesses that need to be “urgently” addressed:
- measures that aren’t meaningful or comprehensive;
- gaps in measuring what difference is being made; and
- poor measures for assessing the stewardship, oversight, and monitoring functions of departments.
He also hopes to see integrity measured in a meaningful way.
This is all excellent news. Read more here.
The crisis of expert-based policy systems
The Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) reports on the perceived crisis of expert-based policy advisory systems. There are a number of explanations for this. The authors see some of the causes as politicisation of the system, populist denigration of experts and hollowing out of policy bureaucracies.
Two approaches have been identified to better respond to the challenges to evidence-informed policymaking:
- The first approach strongly reaffirms the need for evidence-informed policymaking in liberal democracies; in other words the explicit protection of the special role of expert knowledge.
- The second approach addresses the legitimacy deficit by broadening the knowledge base and by valuing the perspectives and experience of citizens and stakeholders, in other words, more lived experience.
Persistent disadvantage in Aotearoa New Zealand
An article by Jo Smith published in Policy Quarterly has important messages, including for the new government. In the view of IPANZ, it is of greater value than the report recently completed by the Productivity Commission on the same subject.
Overall, income poverty and material hardship has declined over the past decade (this may surprise you). As one example, between 2013 and 2022, the proportion of children in material hardship during this period dropped from 18% to 10% and the proportion in severe material hardship dropped from 8% to 4%. However, this masks the fact that a small proportion of the population continue to experience multiple, complex, deeply-damaging disadvantage over many years and generations. They must be better supported.
The author contends increases in the real value of income is vital. But that this small group of deeply disadvantaged people struggle to convert the resources into improved well-being and they need additional support to address serious physical and mental issues.
Once again, the recommendation is to devolve greater funding and decision making to organisations and initiatives based within local communities – place-based initiatives. We have so frequently heard this recommended, will it now happen?
Establishing entirely new settings for big decision-making
This piece is an interesting argument for the creation of a designed physical space to assist governments to debate the most difficult decisions required of them. Not for every decision – not a permanent room – just one set up for a specific timeframe, to grapple with a big issue.
They argue that current meeting places are not conducive to creativity or engagement, instead these rooms offer “formal seating arrangements with power dynamics, written and unwritten protocols”. Also, that linear prose is ill-suited to handling complex realities.
They suggest creating a room with four walls to embody the dimensions that are critical for good decision-making. The room would foster dialogue between the teams working on each area (wall):
- The patterns – data, strategy and intelligence people.
- The proven – the analysts and evaluation people.
- The promising – the innovation people.
- The possible – the foresight team.
This is not a ‘war room’ to manage through a crisis. It is for longer term, slower burning crises. They also talk of incorporating video interviews to keep decision-makers connected with the reality behind the numbers.
Can you imagine this?
The positive results from integrating health and education in primary schools
The inequities in health and education are both cause and symptom of lasting socioeconomic disadvantage. There is extensive evidence of the positive impact of better interconnection between health and education. International research has consistently shown that access to health services in schools supports collaboration between the education and health sectors and promotes improved outcomes for children. School nurses contribute to student learning outcomes.
Will the new government build these interconnections between the health and education sectors to achieve better outcomes for children? Read more here.
Independent institutions to advise government
The demise of the Productivity Commission (NZPC) leads to some interesting questions from a public administration point of view. We have independent Commissions, such as the NZPC, to bring an “outside-in” view on long-run and complex issues, doing in-depth research on some of the most pressing issues facing governments.
There may be many reasons for the NZPC being abolished, but the author of this article, David Heatley, reflects on the regard given to the unwritten convention around appointing Commissioners – while Commissioner appointments are the Minister’s prerogative, they need to appoint people who are able to work with alternative governments.
As the author says, this issue is worth discussing, mainly because of the importance of expert views on long-term challenges, independent from the public service and government.
Are we ready for AI in the public sector?
In the latest issue of the Public Sector journal, Stephen Clarke has written a very straight forward account of AI in the public sector. He makes some interesting observations about the current state and about handling risks and opportunities, including:
- The general lack of underlying information and data governance has been exposed in many organisations.
- The public sector must bring AI in-house to mitigate ‘Shadow AI’ and external reliance.
- There will be some job displacement but, for example, domain expertise, critical thinking and stakeholder engagement skills will always be in demand.
- We can use the helpful international standards but must beware of bias especially for Māori and Pasifika, which must be rectified.
- There must always be a human in the loop when using AI.
Effective Engagement with Māori - Monday 11 and Tuesday 12 March 2024, all day, Wellington
Do you want to build your knowledge and confidence for engaging with Māori? If so this workshop is for you!
Day one focuses on deep historical and cultural accounts to set context, including Te Ao Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi with its obligations and legislative requirements for government agencies. Day two sees participants apply this knowledge to inform their planning for engagement with Māori.
For more information or to register for this event visit our website.
Westpac Financial Wellbeing Series - Online
If you missed Westpac’s Managing Your Money November series, you can find the recordings below (they will expire Thursday 29th February 2024):
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