Giving effect to the Public Service principles of open government and stewardship: An introduction to long-term insights briefings
In 2020 the Government passed a new Public Service Act. This updated the legislative framework underpinning our Public Service for the first time since the 1980s. The new Act provides a foundation for a public service unified around a common purpose and way of operating, and better able to join up around citizens and the issues facing New Zealand.
The first Part of the Act includes a number of core principles that shape the way the Public Service acts to deliver on its purpose. The Act enshrines the principles together in one place, where previously they existed across various different pieces of legislation or as conventions. Two of these fundamental public service principles are:
- The principle of open government, which requires public service chief executives to foster a culture of open government in their organisations; and
- The principle of stewardship, which requires chief executives to promote the stewardship of public service capability and people, institutional knowledge and information, systems and processes, assets and legislation.
To complement the range of legislative mechanisms that already help to foster and protect these two principles, the Public Service Act 2020 (Schedule 6, clauses 8 and 9) introduced a new requirement on chief executives to publish Long-term Insights Briefings at least once every three years.
The briefings will include information about medium and long-term trends, risks and opportunities that affect or may affect New Zealand and New Zealand society, and information and impartial analysis including policy options for responding to these matters.
The briefings must be prepared independently of Ministers, and must be made public after being tabled in Parliament. They also involve a number of opportunities for public engagement on and input into the topics of the briefings and their content (discussed further below).
Requiring departments to take a long-term view promotes stewardship by ensuring that departments are thinking beyond the current political cycle in terms of the issues that they are facing or will likely face, and how they can best prepare themselves to meet these.
Making the briefings public and engaging the public in their development contributes to the openness and transparency of government and will help to foster a better-informed public and political discourse on the issues identified.
While each department must produce a briefing, two or more departments may choose to produce a joint briefing where there is obvious synergy across sectors about issues that matter for the future wellbeing of New Zealanders.
Development of the first round of briefings – how to have your say
The first cycle of briefing development started in April this year and is expected to be complete around March 2023. The process involves a number of steps outlined in the diagram below, with most departments currently completing initial scoping work on the possible topics for their briefings and identifying opportunities to collaborate on their briefings.
A key component of the process is the public’s opportunity to contribute to the debate and development of the Briefings at two stages – the selection of topics to be covered in each briefing, and the content of a draft briefing once it has been prepared.
This consultation is required in the legislation to ensure the briefings focus on issues that are important to the public, and to promote active citizenship – which is recognised in the Public Service Act as an important element of the Public Service’s purpose.
To ensure the engagement is meaningful and inclusive, the Policy Project at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) developed a suite of community engagement
resources to support agencies with their consultation planning, drawing on best-practice models from the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation.
All the Briefing guidance and supporting resources are publicly available on the DPMC website so everyone has the opportunity to understand the process and timeline agencies are following.
Te Kawa Mataaho’s website provides links where the public can connect to related information on the Briefings, including links to agencies hosting the consultation and subsequent feedback and findings.
About the author:
Hannah serves as Kaikōmihana Tuarua, Te Tohutohu Rautaki me te Kaupapa Here | Deputy Commissioner, Strategy & Policy at Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission.
Hannah’s policy team leads the Commission’s system reform work, providing advice and innovative tools to support the future design of the public sector. Hannah is responsible for the Commission’s data collection and analysis functions, which inform our work on Public Service design and reform.