Credit: Chris Williams

NZ’s reputation: perception or reality

Rebecca Smith, Director, New Zealand Story

Rebecca Smith

Director, New Zealand Story

Corruption Perceptions Index

New Zealand has again been ranked as having one of the least corrupt public sectors and judiciaries in the World. New Zealand ranks second after Denmark in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (TI-CPI) released in January 2019. The TI-CPI measures comparative levels of corruption as perceived by those who have dealings with governments at any level.

It might seem easy to just write this result off as yet another “perception index” that doesn’t necessarily fit with our own individual versions of reality.

The TI-CPI is a composite index; combining of 13 surveys and assessments of corruption, collected by a variety of reputable institutions. As reported in the January issue of Transparency Times, the drop in New Zealand’s overall score and ranking in 2018 is largely attributable to one survey of 66 New Zealand business executives. 

Whilst the TI-CPI does not consider corruption in the business or non-profit sectors, the results of this particular survey should cause us to pause and understand whether this is a reflection of overall business sentiment at the time or if it’s the beginning of a trend.

Ranking 2nd certainly doesn’t mean New Zealand is corruption free but it does give us a valuable benchmark and more importantly, a sense of obligation and commitment to maintain this position. After all, it’s our reputation on the line.

Reputation Index

New Zealand also ranks well in the Reputation Institute’s Country Reputation Index. This is the largest normative database on country reputation in the world. It encompasses 58,000 individual ratings from an informed general public in G8 countries, who ranked 55 of the world’s largest countries.

Reputation Institute Country RepTrak Survey 2018

The reputation of a country is built on perceptions across three core areas:

  • Appealing Environment,
  • Effective Government,
  • Advanced Economy.

Perceptions of Appealing Environment and Effective Government account for over three quarters of a country’s reputation.

As with the TI-CPI, Northern European countries share the top with New Zealand at 5th leading the Pacific Rim countries. Notably Australia has dropped 2 ranks from 2017.

New Zealand maintained its position and perceptions of it have been on the improve over the past four years. In line with the global trend, the score did drop slightly. According to the Reputation Institute, underlying feelings of geo-political tension, nationalism, and social unrest has resulted in an overall reputation decline for all nations.




Being welcoming, safe, beautiful and highly principled drives a country’s reputation accounting for 51% of a country’s score on the RepTrak index.

Key attributes

The above statement is largely why New Zealand has universally excellent scores. It will come as no surprise that New Zealand’s strong reputation foundation is the ‘Appealing Environment’ dimension where we rank 1st out of all 55 countries.

Four out of the five most important individual attribute drivers are from this dimension (friendly and welcoming, beautiful country, appealing lifestyle, is an enjoyable country). New Zealand received excellent results on each of those measures, ranking first on ‘beautiful country’ and ‘friendly and welcoming’.

Moreover, New Zealand is also perceived favourably on the most important attribute within the ‘Effective Government’ dimension, ranking 5th for ‘is a safe place’. What’s more, our overall reputation is positively influenced by perceptions of our performance in the following three attributes:

  • ‘is an ethical country with high transparency and low corruption’
  • ‘has adopted social and economic policies’
  • ‘is a responsible participant in the global community’

It’s important we maintain these positive perceptions as they are key to our overall ranking of 8th on the broader ‘Effective Government’ dimension.

The reputation of a country has a direct impact on it’s ability to attract people, talent, investment, and open doors for exporters. It also opens doors and support for New Zealand to influence and impact environmental, societal, and human progress domestically and globally.

In short, being an ethical country with high transparency and low corruption is the 6th most important area to drive country reputation. Perceptions of our performance in this area are undeniably driving global favourability and consideration for New Zealand.

A weak link

Unfortunately, we rank only 16th on the third dimension, ‘Advanced Economy’ – which is about average according to RepTrak. Perceptions in this area have been consistent over the past seven years. We simply don’t have that many well-known brands. We’re not seen as a particularly important contributor to global culture. We’re not perceived as having high quality products & services. Nor are we considered technologically advanced.

Those of us living inside New Zealand know that there is a gap between perception and reality. We definitely need to share with the world that we are a progressive and creative nation, that our tech sector is our fastest growing sector, that we have some great brands. You just need to read the book Number 8 Rewired to be reminded of the ingenuity that exists in New Zealand. There is no question that we need to share these stories with the world. But the research tells us that touting all those ‘Advanced Economy’ attributes doesn’t necessarily influence consideration for our country as much as the other attributes I’ve already covered.

We are in the fortunate position that the things we do well, and are well known for, contribute the most to how positive consumers feel about a country.

So, is perception reality? And which comes first?

Well the simple answer is both. If we take the right actions to be an ethical, safe, transparent, welcoming nation, then our reality turns up in the perceptions of others – such as we see in these indices.

When we see how others perceive us in these areas, we are encouraged to continue to meet or exceed these positive expectations. New Zealanders tend to feel an obligation to ensure our reality matches perceptions. And if there is a disconnect, we rightly take action to rectify the gap, whether that be through activism, demonstration, lobbying, stating our opinions through a free media, or voting. Often, we take it upon ourselves to close the gap by changing our business practices, implementing sustainable practices, collaborating with others, and living up to our own expectations. And therein lies the beautiful and perpetual cycle of reputation.

When other countries ask how we achieve our results though, the answer is somewhat more complicated and to a large extent is the result of our unique history, culture and values.

Comparatively, we’re an egalitarian society with a low power-distance ratio. Our diversity and subsequent blend of cultures means we value tolerance, equality, fairness, and inclusivity. We have the ability to influence how we’re governed through free speech, media choice, equal rights, a fairly simple electoral system, and ….. a comparative lack corruption in our Government and our Judiciary.

It’s not all milk and honey though. We’ve got some fairly big issues to sort out in our own back yard. But knowing that we’re perceived positively, that others are starting to see who we are and how we are as a people and as a nation, should inspire us to work even harder to be even better.

Promoting New Zealand

We need to keep sharing our stories with the world. The real stories that matter. The stories of how we care for our environment and our society. The stories of ingenuity, kaitiaki and integrity. The stories of what we’re doing to make a difference and progress our place, our people and our planet.

The role of  New Zealand Story is to make it easy for all citizens to play their part. Just follow us on our social media channels and share the stories we make. Share them with your friends and family on Facebook, your business colleagues on LinkedIn, your global contacts on Twitter, or your distributors and partners on WeChat or any other channel that works for you. Become an #nzstoryteller now to continue to improve perceptions, and increase favourability toward New Zealand. Drive the future actions that our nation needs to be not just a good country, but a country that is good for the world. 

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