Opinion: A report came out a couple of weeks ago that simply did not get the attention it deserves. Maybe if it had been leaked by a government official believing their department was trying to cover it up, it would have been different.
The headlines could have blazed: “Government officials grip to power and control despite findings of leaked report favouring community”.
I am expressing a degree of frustration about what makes the news these days and what happens to a report like this when it hasn’t been commissioned by the Government, but by the community itself.
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In this case it was Inspiring Communities, a group dedicated to community-led development, who commissioned “Make the Move – shifting how the public sector works with communities“, and it is worthy of attention.
It says public servants need to change the way they operate if we are to improve responses to future crises and if we are to help address the many and evolving challenges we face as a nation. Given everything we have been through this year alone, isn’t this important?
But what chance does it have among the myriad of stories that dominate our headlines? How do we make this an important issue? How do we get this in front of government so action can be taken?
The report quotes Sir Ashley Bloomfield from his time as director-general of health during the pandemic, where he confesses that public servants tend to underestimate the capability, capacity, and resourcefulness of communities. He admits providing communities with the resources and the information to get on and do the right thing can lead to enormous success.
Really? Why does it take a crisis for the people who are advising government to realise this is the case, and every time to express it as if it is something new or unexpected? Inspiring Communities and many other groups nationally and internationally have been demonstrating this reality for decades.
Is this not one of the most significant of the lessons learned from the earthquakes that hit Greater Christchurch? Or have we failed to learn even that?
When I read this report, my heart sank, because it confirmed for me that public servants have not been able to ‘let go’ any more than the governments they advise.
This report highlights how they can and why they should.
It differs from many government reports because there is no one-size-fits-all approach suggested.
It highlights the importance of working with individual communities to design and implement policies to meet their needs and aspirations. This enables communities to essentially become advisers to government (central and local) sharing local insights that are too often missed in the top-down approach.
In other words, public policy could have a much greater impact if it focused on creating the conditions for community-led responses rather than creating and choosing solutions for communities. This supports (as do I) a devolving of power from central and local government to communities.
The report itself was created by interviewing the leaders that sit at the interface between government and community, and represents a powerful call to action with its recommendations falling under four themes: Creating the conditions for Te Ao Māori-led change; repositioning policy workers as conduits and facilitators; creating the conditions for ethical and trusting relationships; and creating the conditions for innovation, learning and adaptability.
But it contains for me one of the challenges that we are all facing – how we are being overwhelmed by the extent of engagement on government reforms.
One of the iwi leaders interviewed referenced some of the consultations that were top of mind the week they were answering the question: education sector transformation, health transformation, resource management act, urban planning, environmental policies, Three Waters Reforms, climate change reforms, refugee resettlement, Oranga Tamariki, social and affordable housing issues, poverty responses, continued Covid and welfare response, roading, a 50-year development plan, Marine and Coastal Area regulation changes, and Charities Act changes.
It is too much. And the silo thinking that drives so many of these public policy issues doesn’t allow for the transformational promise of a Te Ao Māori-led and community-led approach that is focused on inter-generational wellbeing.
We know that in times of crisis, communities are best placed to respond to people in need when resourced to do so. This report tells us we don’t have to wait for a crisis to gain the benefits of community-led responses.
And it also tells us the government itself would benefit from engaging Māori and the wider community in a more helpful way to gain the benefits of traditional and local knowledge that are too often absent from the public policy discourse.
Inspiring Communities has asked the Government to Make the Move. Let’s hope it is listening.