Our report calls on public servants to change their ways if they want to see real results.

Responses to recent flooding caused by extreme weather events and Cyclone Gabrielle have again demonstrated how, in times of crisis, it is communities who are well placed to respond to people in need when resourced to do so. However, three years on from the start of COVID-19, while the Government may be ready to adopt ideas about community-led development, change is slow and the public policy system is not well set up to enable localised approaches.

We decided to write Make the Move to map the critical path required for radical change in the way our public policy system works. It is a practical resource for leaders in central and local government agencies, to help them make the shifts required to create the conditions for locally-led change. It is our response to communities and changemakers who share with us their ideas about what can really make a difference.

Community, hapū and iwi leaders tell us they are pleased that the government is wanting to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi and embrace the important role communities play in helping tackle complex problems. But these same leaders are also overwhelmed by the demands from government to engage and consult on issues of concern without creating the conditions for that to take place in a way that works for communities.

For example, we heard this from one iwi leader:

Demand on us as an iwi right now is absolutely at onslaught levels. Here are just some of the matters we are being asked to work on right now: education sector transformation, health transformation, resource management act transformation, urban planning approach transformation, environmental policies in huge volumes, Three Waters Reforms, climate change reforms, refugee settlement, Oranga Tamariki transformation back to Iwi, social and affordable housing issues, poverty responses needed right now, continued COVID and welfare response, roading, a 50-year development plan, Marine and Coastal Area regulation changes, Charities Act changes, Government offices being bought to our town. All of these require iwi engagement and consultation and that is just what’s on top this week!

If we say no to being involved then our interests and rights are not considered and we are absent. If we are absent, any implications for our rights and interests… our environment, our whenua, our assets, our people… are also absent, and we will miss our chance to be considered. I am really very concerned (and aggrieved actually) that we may be prevented from being able to lead and/or participate the way we should and the way we deserve to be able to do.

This kind of pressure on our community leaders is not OK. This story shows how the public policy system is not well set up to enable localised approaches. We are not arguing that communities should lead policy processes rather that people create positive outcomes in a place and need to be included in decision making. A community-led approach is practical. It allows for ‘learning while doing’ and requires flexibility to change tac when needed. This approach is hard to apply in a public policy system that has rigid rules and low tolerances for risk.

Our current system was designed in a different era, with different assumptions, expectations and rules. It can no longer operate effectively in our changing context. This presents people working in government with an opportunity, to evolve the way they approach their roles and responsibilities now, in order to shape a more ethical and sustainable future.

The resulting 29 recommendations grouped under four insights are from change-makers who work at the intersection of public policy and community development.

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