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Forums explore Well-being and Open Government

Anne Gilbert

Anne Gilbert, TINZ Public Sector Project Manager

Open Government – Do we hear the people sing?

Open government is built on transparency, participation and accountability- it’s a cornerstone of good government, supporting New Zealanders to have their say on what matters to them.  

The theme of the October Leaders Integrity Forum was Open Government and effectively listening to the people. Andrew Kibblewhite, Chief Executive, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) and Paul James, Chief Executive of Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), spoke. Then followed an in-depth discussion very ably chaired by Catherine Williams, Deputy State Services Commissioner, Integrity, Ethics and Standards.

Andrew described the key elements of Open Government as:

  • Listening
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Participatory democracy.

He referred to the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum to illustrate how far we’ve come and how much more needs to be done to ensure New Zealand citizens have real opportunities to contribute to decision-making.  He suggested that New Zealand public servants are doing well at informing and consulting with the people, but have room for improvement in involving, collaborating and empowering. 

Andrew referred to the Policy Project frameworks and tools co-developed across the policy community to improve performance. He suggested the need to better manage expectations and ensure transparency of process. Important also is to close the loop, back to all participants.

To meet Commitment 5 ‘Public participation in policy development’ in New Zealand’s third Open Government Partnership National Action Plan 2018-2020 (OGP NAP3), different and new skill sets will be required to manage open conversations. This applies to both executives and ministers to be better at being really open. 

Paul James, Chief Executive of Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), could easily draw the comparisons between the work of DIA and his previous role in the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.  “Being custodians of our nation’s precious taonga and public records is a role common to both DIA and MCH. Preserving our memories and conserving our documents ensure we pass on our heritage for future generations.”

DIA is building more openness and transparency in the way it operates and is leading three commitments within the current OGP NAP3 namely: Inclusive service design, Monitoring effectiveness of public information management, and Authoritative dataset of government organisations.  

Listening is key to openness. As society becomes more open, the public will expect to be listened to. It is thus important that government departments listen actively if they are to stay relevant and responsive.

Paul acknowledged that:

  • there are cultural challenges to be overcome before we are truly open and transparent,
  • breaking down silos between and within agencies may not be easy
  • there will be tensions between agencies as they are required to work together.
  • but all of this can be achieved when everyone stays focused on the common objective of providing good public services to all.

For more on this forum see the Office of the Auditor-General blog and presentations by Andrew Kibblewhite Listening to the People and Paul James Integrity and transparency .

CE of DPMC, Andrew-Kibblewhite, addresses the Leaders Integrity Forum on 16 Oct 2018
Deputy State Services Commissioner, Catherine Williams, chairs the Leaders Integrity Forum on 16 Oct 2018
CE of DIA, Paul James, addresses the Leaders Integrity Forum on 16 Oct 2018

Well-being from two perspectives

LGNZ CEO Malcolm Alexander, Auditor General John Ryan, and Treasury Deputy Secretary Tim Ng during Q&A at November 2018 Leaders Integrity Forum
Q&A discussion at November 2018 Leaders Integrity Forum
TINZ Chair Suzanne Snively concludes the November 2018 Leaders Integrity Forum

The November Leaders Integrity Forum offered valuable insights into central and local government’s respective thinking on well-being. With the Government’s commitment towards people’s well-being, there was keen interest to hear the perspective of senior officials from The Treasury and Local Government.

The Forum Chair, Auditor-General, John Ryan, identified that proposed reporting on well-being is a real opportunity to better measure how we’re doing as a country. It will enable a whole discussion on what works and how.

Tim Ng, Treasury Deputy Secretary and Chief Economic Advisor, described central government’s development of the Living Standards Framework (LSF) based on the four indicators of future well-being:

  • Natural capital
  • Human capital
  • Social capital (rules, norms of behaviour that bind us together)
  • Financial/physical capital.

The LSF is intended to support Treasury’s advice about prioritisation living standards improvements. In addition, it aims to strengthen coherence, transparency and evidence within its advice process.  

Malcolm Alexander, Chief Executive, Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) indicated that local government has a big role to play in the well-beings conversation because it “talks at the community level”. He argued that local government needs to be more closely engaged. From LGNZ’s perspective, centralised policy development deadens democracy, is costly, and constrains the ability of local government to respond to the well-being needs of their communities.

I came away wondering how a balance between to two perspectives can be found to ensure all people receive an equal level of good public services that fit the local context. As John Ryan said in his introduction, this conversation isn’t for the faint-hearted.

For more information see the Office of the Auditor-General blog and presentations by Tim Ng’s The Treasury Living Standards Framework and Malcolm Alexander’s Localism and Well-Being .

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