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Moves to put people before process in reforms

A new Deloitte report highlights how governments can do a better job of engaging the community in reforms like Three Waters

This article originally appeared in Newsroom.

It was in the lead-up to the last election that Linda Te Aho was invited to take part in a TV panel on television, quizzing the candidates in the Waikato-Hauraki seat.

On the panel, the former Waikato-Tainui chair asked Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta what transformational change a Labour Government would effect, if they were able to govern alone? "They've only got a small window of opportunity," she observes.

Now, she laughs. Te Aho and the country's voters got more than they bargained for, she reckons. There has been a massive reform programme in the past year, she says: the health reforms, Three Waters, the future of local government, replacing the Resource Management Act....

"One of the issues I've been hearing from groups that I'm part of is just the overwhelming nature of the engagement processes. Because we carry this responsibility as kaitiaki of our lands and waters, that we identify so strongly with."

Government engagement with iwi Māori, local councils and other communities hasn't been clear sailing.

"It's only in this last week, for example, that the Office of Treaty Settlements actually reached out to some of the smaller iwi to ask, what are the impacts of the resource management changes on your settlements?"

Te Aho, from Ngāti Koroki Kahukura and Waikato-Tainui, is co-chair of the Waikato-Tainui Hamilton City Council Co-Governance Forum - so she sees the challenges for both iwi and local councils in being belatedly engaged with "top-down" government reforms.


"We had to have representation because we weren't involved in the design. But that meant we had to force the issue of being involved in the governance."

– Linda Te Aho, Waikato University

It's an experience she shared with the authors of a new Deloitte State of the State report, Moving mountains – Big change for better futures.

Often, the problems that demand fixing are easy to recognise, but too often the solutions are driven from government and politicians, rather than from the community. Three Waters is an example. In the Ngati Haua area, they'd had boil water notices. And on the Waikato River, non-compliant wastewater treatment plants, with spills and discharges.

As iwi and councils got engaged, she says, everybody saw just how vast and impactful those reforms were going to be. That's when the ideas of co-governance and co-chairs emerged. "We had to have representation because we weren't involved in the design. But that meant we had to force the issue of being involved in the governance."

'A graphic example'

"Establishing the case for reform" is often the first task in any major public reform project. And the sight of sewage running down Wellington's Woodward St and into Lambton Quay was certainly enough to establish the Three Waters case, for Deloitte partners Adithi Pandit and David Lovatt, whose office is just a couple of blocks away.

Pandit recalls the sight and smell: "It's quite a graphic example of why we might need Three Waters reform!

"It happened for about four hours, so you couldn't really avoid it," Lovatt adds. "And it did smell a bit afterwards.

"These problems are preventable, but you have to fundamentally take a different approach and everybody needs to agree that that's valuable."

– David Lovatt, Deloitte

"My perspective is, when you get on a plane you don't expect the plane to fall out the sky. You know that there are lots of people who are focused on making sure that all of the things in the plane keep working until the plane lands - that the engines won't suddenly stop working mid-flight because somebody was not able to maintain them."

He says the philosophy applied by the airline industry, about keeping things working, hasn't been applied to our water supply. "It's not been designed to keep working at the level, and performing to deliver the outcomes that everybody wants. And the Three Waters reform is an opportunity to do that.

"But there's a lot of things in the way the reform has been deployed, which has made it hard to get into the fact that we've all got a stake in a shared outcome here. These problems are preventable, but you have to fundamentally take a different approach and everybody needs to agree that that's valuable."

Their report suggests there's more to embarking on reform than just establishing the problem, then "engaging" with participants and those affected.

Indeed, with at least $2.5 billion budgeted for that reform package, as well as the costs of setting up the four new water corporations, the spending must be justified against other calls on Budget allocations - and that means allowing participants to describe their experience clearly.

"There is distance to travel in doing engagement well," it says. "Authentic engagement takes time; participants voice a strong desire to stay involved but only want to tell their story once. Translating this into more networked and distributed models of delivering reform will take investment outside of the traditional home of the public sector.

"This includes re-anchoring engagement to participants, not reformagendas."

If reform leaders start with listening to system participants, then shift their focus to what is important to them, that can then feed into multiple reforms. Pandit says: "Rather than each reform separately engaging with communities, we can actually build a bit more of an integrated picture and shift it around to actually, what does that community want to contribute across the reform programmes that may impact them?"

According to the report, the true cost of quality engagement is already significant, but is hidden in hours that are not paid for and therefore not accounted for. "It is also hidden in the cost of quality, when valuable kōrero is missed and key stakeholders engaged too little, too late, or with a constrained focus that does not reflect their true value.

"Letting stakeholders participate early and often is the key to saving time and realising greater benefits on the long tail of change."

The report gives examples of the successes and failures of past reform programmes – the neoliberal reforms implemented during the 1980s-90s era; the "world-leading" reform of the Reserve Bank in 1989; the creation of an Auckland Supercity in 2009-10.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says the amalgamation of Auckland would not have happened but for central government's intervention. "Some argued this reform would destroy local government, but it actually worked incredibly well and has been sustained," he says. "You cannot run a third of the country’s population with eight different councils. Reform was necessary on an objective assessment of the facts because the status quo was not working.”

These were all times of big change - and we are now living through another such era. It's characterised by reforms in healthcare, schools, vocational education, housing, resource management, Three Waters, local government, social welfare, justice, borders, the electricity market, unemployment insurance, taxation, public sector, climate and the environment. "By any assessment this is a quantity of reform we haven't seen for many years - or perhaps ever - in Aotearoa," the report argues.

While there are many clear benefits to reform, it is also costly and disruptive, time-consuming and distracting. It is easy to think of reforms that have failed to live up to their initial objectives, as well as those that took longer and cost more than originally planned. It is much more difficult to recall successful reforms where outcomes for citizens, businesses, sectors, and Government were exactly as promised.

"The political clout generally lies with the majority and any assertion of indigenous rights or perceived special treatment of Māori or Pacific people is often met with vitriol and sometimes seen as contrary to the democratic principle of equality by some New Zealanders."

– Moving mountains: Big change for better futures, Deloitte

That's why people and communities need to steer and drive the priorities for change, particularly as some of the large scale reform we will see over the coming years will come in waves.

The authors and their team interviewed more than 20 senior politicians, public servants, Māori, business and social sector leaders, academics and researchers. A particularly strong message from through from the Māori contributors, re-emphasising the importance of a Māori voice embedded in reform, particularly where there is a political persuasion. Indeed, sometimes the Māori perspective provides the leverage needed to move through “sticking points” in the process.

"The political clout generally lies with the majority and any assertion of indigenous rights or perceived special treatment of Māori or Pacific people is often met with vitriol and sometimes seen as contrary to the democratic principle of equality by some New Zealanders."

The unequal, longstanding poor outcomes speak for themselves. Their report cites the example of New Zealand's housing system, which has failed to deliver affordable housing.

This failure is inequitably experienced by certain groups - that's empirically true. Yet just because the problem has been clearly stated doesn't mean that the answer automatically follows. "There are still challenges. For example, whether you view the purpose of the housing system to be creating homes or creating wealth generates different views on the case for reform."

Ka ora kainga rua

Kararaina Calcott-Cribb is the deputy chief executive and tumuaki for Māori housing at the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development - but her background is very much in the community, progressing her career and developing her insights through the Māori education sector, especially Te Kōhanga Reo movement.

When she was interviewed for the Deloitte report, she was able to bring contrasting and complementary perspectives: public and community sector; Māori and Crown.

The Government, the Ministry and Kainga Ora have been leading a massive programme to home the homeless, and address the housing crisis - but the projects she's been working on have often been led by the community.

Just two weeks ago out in Te Tai Rāwhiti, she joined Irene Hitaua, her partner Tahi Hiroki, their five children and three mokopuna for a very special culmination of one such project.

For more than four years, the family had been living in a rundown two-bedroom house in Whatatutu, a small community inland on the East Cape. “It was pretty tight but we learned to be able to work together as a family,” Hiroki told the Gisborne Herald.

But in a partnership with government agencies and Toitū Tairāwhiti, a grouping of four iwi, they were able to build a new home on their ancestral family land, next door to the old family homestead.
Hiroki said the whānau now had an asset to secure their future. “We can actually sit in the house and feel comfortable. The reality is here.”

Ka mate kainga tahi, ka ora kainga rua When one home dies, a second lives

– Whakatauki

The couple will live with some of the youngsters in their new home; others will live in the older house.

It's the first of 51 new houses in the Toitū Tairāwhiti pipeline, built offsite in Huntly then shifted onto whānau-owned land.

Hiroki said the Government was starting to listen. “They’re starting to hear the calls from the people. They’re understanding that whenua is there to be used."

Irene Hitaua talked about what it was to be financially capable, understanding what prohibited them from owning a home, and what they had to do to actually make those changes. "It was phenomenal," Calcott-Cribb says.

It was an emotional day, she says. Indeed, every new home was an emotional occasion. "Home ownership is an emotional time for all involved, because it's another whānau that has an opportunity to a future, where they're back on their whenua.

"The narrative and the korero that goes with this is particularly important because families have history and they have memories that they bring through. It's a healing of the past - but it also enables them to see their future, from looking back at the past."

"I don't know if there is a right pace for reform. Change is a constant."

– Kararaina Calcott-Cribb, Ministry of Housing and Urban Development

The Deloitte report cautions against too much reform, too fast, putting undue pressure on participants. But Calcott-Cribb takes a more forthright approach.
"I don't know if there is a right pace for reform," she says. "Change is a constant."

Colonisation 200 years ago happened pretty fast, she notes. "Was that reform too much? That was a big change in the nature of how people were living."

She quoted a whakatauki: "Ka mate kainga tahi, ka ora kainga rua." When one home dies, a second lives.

Her point being, reform can happen when it has to happen, and at pace, when the one situation transfers seamlessly to another. Like Irene Hitaua and her family, you move from one house to the other, but both houses are available.

The Deloitte report says increasingly, people want to be more engaged in the process of reform, and in the active governance of public resources, rather than delegating to politicians and public servants an exclusive right to oversee important decisions.

"Reform doesn’t follow a smooth path," the report says. "There are dead-ends, unexpected complications, difficulty in aligning participants and actions, and often new priorities that may arise. A system resists simple fixes and which means that many attempted reform efforts will suffer short-term failures or setbacks."

That's certainly been true of some of the big reform programmes underway at present, like the resource management reforms, or the transfer of management of the Three Waters infrastructure from councils to the four new water corporations.

"Solutions may require dismantling of long-held structures of power, funding and decision-making. This requires courage of reform leaders - to call out the things that need to change, admit to failure and accept learnings, and to continue to stay the course and push forward a reform agenda even with head winds.

"There is personal risk involved in leading reform - taking on a reform agenda can result in spectacular and high-profile failure. While we need reform leaders willing to take those risks, placing the outcomes ahead of their career trajectories, we also need to create an enabling environment that values courage and vision, and places these above short-term successes."