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Does New Zealand have what it takes to navigate uncertainty?

Our State of the State 2023 report paints a challenging picture of what lies ahead for Aotearoa – climate change, chronic inequities, and other global challenges feel like they are at our doorstep. Our typical approaches for managing significant change in our country have long lead times, with investment lifecycles measured in years rather than months. We need a more accelerated fit-for-purpose approach. Otherwise, how will we survive, let alone thrive, over the next few years?

The uncharted territory ahead may paint a bleak picture, but New Zealand is no stranger to crisis management. We've navigated several over the past decade, including earthquakes, floods, a terrorist attack, volcanic eruption and a global pandemic.

When the situation arises, we have found ways to cut down on bureaucracy, improve collaboration and make quick decisions, including investments that aid recovery efforts across a wide range of areas, such as infrastructure, housing, education, healthcare, and technology.  

New Zealand is respected internationally – often punching well above our weight across many domains such as sports, film, agriculture exports, trade, environmental conservation, and clean energy. We have great talent and are known to be entrepreneurial, collaborative, and innovative, and our exports are sought after worldwide.

Does New Zealand have what it takes to navigate uncertainty?

Whether it's policy development, standing up operational capability, technology, or physical infrastructure, we have demonstrated our ability to deliver in challenging times.

We have also increased collaboration across government departments, iwi, community providers, private sector and international partners to achieve rapid progress in times of crisis.

We have rallied together in times of need, bringing together our unique skills and experiences to collectively solve tough problems, and delivered game-changing operations and technology such as those seen in public health during COVID-19.

In 2021, the COVID-19 Care in the Community framework provided a basis to improve data sharing across the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Health, District Health Boards, welfare providers and others to enable more joined-up support for the wellbeing of vulnerable people and their whanau during self-isolation. New operational and technology capabilities relating to COVID-19, such as national contact tracing, booking and vaccine administration, were deployed in a matter of weeks, which could have taken years to establish under normal circumstances.

So, do we have what it takes to navigate uncertainty ahead? I believe we do, and we have demonstrated in the past that we can when we are forced to respond to a crisis. However, it comes down to how we apply the lessons learned from our recent experiences and how we work together as a nation moving forward.

Who is going to do it?

Identifying others who must bring this all together is often easier than taking ownership. The reality is that many of us are in positions of influence in our families, communities, and workplaces. If we are all aligned on the key outcomes, we could use that influence to make a difference. Some big decisions need to be made, but small, agile choices and investments can also progressively grow capability and deliver benefits along the way.

Making decisions is hard in uncertain times. Our State of the State 2023 report suggests seven strategic capabilities to help navigate our future. Below are some examples of successful practical enablers I’ve seen that are worth considering: 

  • The increasing diversity of voices for greater benefit. Going beyond the usual set of governance stakeholders and working group members may help you make better decisions and give you access to additional capacity and resources that would otherwise remain untapped. For example, these include local community groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private sector organisations willing to invest time and effort for common outcomes.
  • Data sharing beyond common boundaries to achieve better outcomes. As we’ve observed through the pandemic, connecting and sharing relevant data across agencies and organisations for specific purposes can help achieve better outcomes. Privacy rules and data sovereignty restrictions are often perceived as a barrier to better collaboration in this area when they are, in fact, a safeguard. Privacy impact assessments are a practical tool to help work through privacy implications, and technology advancements have enabled disparate data sources to be joined up effectively to achieve shared outcomes.
  • Tech enablement to get quicker results. Smaller technology-enabled investments can deliver impact more quickly and provide a basis for data insights, feedback, and refinement before considering something more substantial requiring more significant investment. Artificial intelligence is becoming a game-changing enabler that has massive potential to accelerate progress.

Winston Churchill once said that “perfection is the enemy of progress.” Sometimes the expectation of perfect answers causes “analysis paralysis”, fear and doubt, division and even conflict. Our best defence against the headwinds ahead is to be united, value the contributions of others, and learn from our experiences to accelerate decisions and delivery.

Our State of the State Report concludes with sage advice for us all: 

As the kuaka take wing each year, relying on the strength of the flock to make a most courageous journey, we have the opportunity to take flight into the wind together.

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