Collaboration, Not Enforcement in New Zealand


Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed increasing references to government agencies as enablers rather than enforcers or regulators. I think that this is a side effect of 2 ideas that are gaining acceptance:

  1. the shift in the public sector to focus on trust rather than compliance
  2. seeing the public sector as an inter-connected system instead of a loosely-associated bunch of agencies.

Starting with trust

I first picked up on this at a conference a couple of weeks ago and now it keeps popping up all over the place. GOVIS – a New Zealand-based network that supports people in government agencies to connect, share and learn about all aspects of information, communications and technology – runs an annual conference and the theme for 2015 was “Building Trust”. If you take a look at the program, you’ll see that everyone from the Minister of Internal Affairs* to the Chief Marketing Manager from Whittaker’s – a New Zealand-based chocolate company – was talking about trust as a necessary part of doing business.

*  A Minister is roughly equivalent to a Senator in New Zealand except they represent portfolios rather than states; there’s a Wikipedia entry explaining the role.

And then there are service standards. Governments are essentially providing their ‘customers’ with a set of criteria for how services will be provided including acceptance of their responsibility to meet expectations. Here are some examples:

  1. Australia (still in draft)
  2. United Kingdom
  3. New Zealand.

Building a better system

Over the last few years in New Zealand, government has focused on creating a public sector ICT system. The ICT Strategy and Action Plan outlines what this will look like in the future and breaks down the guiding principles that all agencies should focus on:

  • Centrally led, collaboratively delivered
  • Customer centricity
  • Trust and confidence
  • Simplify by design
  • Share by default
  • Openness and transparency.

What’s different?

While aspects of these principals have been a part of conversations for a while, there was usually a limited focus. For example, following the UK’s Government Digital Services’ (UK GDS) lead, many public sector agencies redesigned their websites by customers’ needs rather than the needs of government. Our Govt.nz took this approach and you can see both the ‘customer centricity’ and ‘simplify by design’ principals quite clearly because:

  • the content organization is built around user-defined needs based on constant testing and feedback
  • the information is written in jargon-free, plain English showing the whole user journey not just a single-agency perspective
  • there’s minimal visual clutter – people aren’t on a government website for entertainment or to buy a widget; they just want to get something done and move on.

But Govt.nz was built as an all-of-government website. Why would agencies be interested in putting their money, time and energy into creating or improving a service or product unless it fits their needs? Because they see the value of creating a system that supports the whole public sector.

So the typical conversations run along the lines of:

Step 1 What – explain your value proposition. Example: We want you to contribute your agency’s datasets to the New Zealand Government data catalogue website data.govt.nz. [My team at DIA manages this website.]
Step 2 Why – explain the reasoning behind what you want. New Zealand committed to the Open Government Partnership to improve accountability and transparency, provide data freely, encourage engagement and support new technologies.From an all-of-government perspective, publishing this data also lets other agencies use it instead of recreating it, saving money, time and capacity.For example, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Agency used datasets from other agencies published on data.govt.nz to create a spatial data infrastructure for use by everyone involved in the recovery efforts.
Step 3 How – offer the tools, support, guidance and advice that you need. For data.govt.nz, we seconded our data expert to another agency to focus on convincing key agencies to increase the number of datasets submitted and make it part of their normal business-as-usual processes. The website also provides a way to automatically upload and update datasets.
Step 4 Audit where required – but as a function of improving the outcome not enforcement. There’s no requirement to publish datasets but there is work encouraging agencies to create information asset registers so that they know what they ‘own’. And the Government Chief Information Officer is building an understanding of how mature the ICT system is in order to help assess Chief Executive performance.  Combined with the expectation that anything that can be shared, should be shared,
Step 5 Improve – finding out from agencies what else they need for support. In the data.govt.nz example, our data expert just wrapped things up this week. Almost 1,000 datasets were added since December 2014. Next steps will be redesigning the website based on user needs identified.

I think this approach makes a lot of sense. It assumes that we’re part of a bigger picture and that our focus should be on our customers. I’ve heard variations on this conversation recently in the context of record keeping, benefits realization and privacy with the question being, “How can we make this easier for agencies to do the right thing and follow best practice?” not “Gotcha!”

So what’s your experience? Are you seeing the same shift?



Susan Carchedi is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Francesca El-Attrash

Susan, thank you for this post! I find this extremely useful for creating a customer-oriented government and the international comparisons really help. The next step really is building trust in government.

Susan Carchedi

Hi Francesca – glad you found this useful.In New Zealand, we had a couple of high-profile failures that undermined public trust. (Google ‘Novapay’ and ‘ACC privacy breach’ for details). Forutunately, this became a catalyst for changing how we work instead of running for cover.

Government learned from these and is now focused on improving services and re-building that trust.You can see a big difference in attitude at all levels reflecting this customer-first view.