Part 2: Leadership, co-ordination, and governance

Sustainable development: Implementing the Programme of Action.

In this Part, we discuss:

  • leadership and co-ordination for the Programme of Action as a whole and for the Sustainable Cities and Energy workstreams;
  • support for using the sustainable development principles; and
  • the implications for cross-agency work for governance and leadership.

Leadership and co-ordination for the Programme of Action as a whole

The expectations for leadership and co-ordination described in the Programme of Action were that:

  • chief executives would ensure that the sustainable development principles were used in decision-making and policy development;
  • partnerships1 would be used to deliver social, economic, environmental, and cultural outcomes; and
  • government agencies would invest in capability building for integrated policy development.

Our expectations

We expected DPMC to have set up effective mechanisms to lead and coordinate activities and oversee the Programme of Action as a whole at a central government level. We looked for evidence of cross-agency collaboration and for engagement with partners. (We discuss capability building in paragraphs 4.31- 4.44.)

What we found

In March 2003, the Minister for the Environment was appointed to the role of co-ordinating the relevant lead Ministers for the Programme of Action, an arrangement which continued to the general election in 2005. The co-ordinating Minister and lead Ministers did not meet during this time to discuss the Programme of Action, although there were meetings outside the Programme of Action to deal with critical water and urban issues that arose during 2003 and 2004.

DPMC’s Policy Advisory Group was responsible for leadership and co-ordination of the Programme of Action, while the relevant lead chief executives were responsible for the workstreams.

DPMC was responsible for, and convened, the lead Chief Executives Group, which met eight times during the three years of the Programme of Action. DPMC also chaired a Senior Officials Co-ordinating Group, which was responsible for leading and co-ordinating the processes. These two mechanisms provided leadership and co-ordination of the Programme of Action.

There were some collaborative relationships with stakeholders that supported the leadership role and workstreams (such as relationships with Local Government New Zealand and the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development).

DPMC had many roles in implementing the Programme of Action and at various levels (see Figure 1). DPMC took part in all cross-agency steering groups for each workstream, and its roles included chairing the Sustainable Cities Senior Officials Group, co-ordinating the workstreams, co-chairing the Auckland Programme Combined Steering Group, attending steering group meetings for other workstreams, convening the Chief Executives Group, and co-ordinating the Quality Practice initiative.

DPMC’s work was based on strong relationships and informal networks. This leadership from the centre of government was valued and appreciated by workstream participants, particularly in Auckland, and was seen as a fitting role for DPMC.

The Programme of Action set an expectation that the Government would engage in partnerships for both the Sustainable Cities and Energy workstreams. The Auckland Programme, in particular, established various partnerships with external agencies. These partnerships at central government level were informal, although the Auckland Programme and the Policy Tools and Processes Project within the Quality Practice initiative prepared protocols and records of joint understandings.

Cabinet expected cross-agency collaboration not only within the Programme of Action but also with other government initiatives. For example, Cabinet expected the connections with the Growth and Innovation Framework (GIF)2 to be followed up. The links between the Programme of Action and other major central government initiatives were reported to the participating chief executives in September 2003.

Our views

Cross-agency senior officials groups fostered collaborative behaviours, and worked co-operatively in the workstreams. Examples of active collaboration were:

  • the support for central government engagement in the Auckland Programme (a part of the Sustainable Cities workstream);
  • co-ordination of the Chief Executives Group and Senior Officials Co-ordinating Group;
  • the continuation of the cross-agency senior officials groups and workstream teams throughout the Programme of Action; and
  • work on the Quality Practice initiative.

There were a number of partnerships established in the Sustainable Cities workstream (in particular, in the Auckland Programme) and for the preparation of the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol.

For the Programme of Action as a whole, potential external partners had no avenues for formal and direct participation at a governance level, although there were informal opportunities for external stakeholders to have a voice at the central government decision-making and co-ordinating level.

Workstreams had clear governance structures through the relevant chief executives to their Ministers.

However, we consider that the lack of Ministerial meetings and the number of agencies with responsibility for leadership, co-ordination, and governance of the Programme of Action and its workstreams (including the Minister for the Environment, Chief Executives Group, DPMC, and the Senior Officials Coordinating Group) meant that oversight for the whole Programme of Action was less clear.

In our view, the Programme of Action as a whole did not receive the same attention as the individual workstreams. Whole-of-programme matters not fully addressed were:

  • identifying and reporting emerging Programme of Action (as distinct from workstream) issues to chief executives and Ministers;
  • supporting links between the workstreams and with other government initiatives; and
  • reporting on progress of the Programme of Action as a whole.

When we looked at other international initiatives that sought either to implement the commitments made at the World Summit or to make progress on other sustainable development objectives, we found that they most often did this by establishing complex, cross-agency programmes.

The international commentary on governing sustainable development initiatives identifies suitable governance and leadership structures for cross-agency programmes as critical factors in achieving successful outcomes. For example, a House of Commons report on the United Kingdom’s implementation of the World Summit commitments pointed out that programmes needing joint leadership required careful scrutiny. The Canadian Auditor-General, in a report on various cross-agency programmes, found a lack of top-level leadership and suggested that central agencies had some barriers to address.

Leadership and co-ordination for the Sustainable Cities workstream

The Programme of Action set out two outcomes for the Sustainable Cities workstream:

  • cities as centres of innovation and economic growth; and
  • liveable cities that support social wellbeing, quality of life and cultural identities.

Activities listed in the Programme of Action as contributing to these outcomes included:

  • working collaboratively with local authorities;
  • removing legislative impediments;
  • fostering cultural development of cities;
  • devising a method and data to record the social and environmental well-being of urban areas; and
  • working to address social development issues such as housing, health, and migrant settlement.

Our expectations

We expected the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Development to have provided effective leadership and co-ordination of the Sustainable Cities workstream.

We looked for evidence of cross-agency collaborative processes, co-ordination of the Sustainable Cities workstream, and engagement with partners.

What we found

The Minister for the Environment, as the Minister of Urban Affairs, had joint responsibility for the Sustainable Cities workstream with the Minister for Industry and Regional Development.

This workstream was co-led by the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Development, and DPMC took a leadership role in the Senior Officials Group and the Auckland Programme.

The Ministries prepared a joint paper to Cabinet in August 2003 with a progress report on the Sustainable Cities workstream. Based on this paper, Cabinet:

  • approved setting up a temporary Ministerial Committee for Urban Affairs (which did not meet);
  • agreed to the forming of a senior officials working process; and
  • reallocated some GIF funding ($2 million) to the Sustainable Cities workstream.

The Sustainable Cities workstream had two major parts – one was central government-led activity on urban issues (the National Programme), and the other was a complex partnership of central and local government working together on Auckland urban issues (the Auckland Programme).

DPMC established and chaired a Sustainable Cities Senior Officials Group to direct the workstream. This group met regularly until June 2005, when it was disbanded. At the same time, responsibility for co-ordinating central government engagement in the Sustainable Cities workstream moved to the Ministry for the Environment’s Urban Affairs Group, which continued to work with DPMC on the Auckland Programme for the duration of the Programme of Action.

The National Programme’s main focus was preparing the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol. This project used an advisory group in a governance role. Other National Programme projects, such as work on environmental standards, were already included in the Ministry for the Environment’s work programme.

The Auckland Programme, which consisted of eight projects with multiple subprojects, was co-ordinated through steering and leaders’ groups, which were led jointly by central and local government staff (see Figure 5).

These partnership structures between central and local government were complex and evolved during the life of the Auckland Programme. They included the governance partnership at the Combined Steering Group level and project partnerships within each of the Auckland Programme projects.

During the Programme of Action, there was a parallel process under way for making decisions about transport infrastructure in Auckland. Transport can have significant effects on the social, economic, environmental, and cultural sustainability of cities – a desired outcome of the Sustainable Cities workstream. However, this high-level transport decision-making was not officially part of the Programme of Action. To facilitate co-ordination, some officials were part of both the Auckland Programme and the group working on transport options for Auckland.

Figure 2 provides an example of a collaborative initiative within the Auckland Programme.

Figure 2
Working collaboratively

The School Travel Plan programme was an Auckland Programme regional initiative, originally funded through the Ministry for the Environment and now funded by Land Transport New Zealand. The School Travel Plan programme is about finding ways to get children to school by means other than car. By 2006, 100 of Auckland’s 500 schools had such plans, helping to reduce city rush-hour traffic.

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority co-ordinated the School Travel Plan programme, and worked closely with schools, local councils, and other agencies such as the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, New Zealand Police, and district health boards.

The Government has sought to work more actively with local government in recent years. A Central and Local Government Forum was established in 2000 and is led by the Prime Minister. Among those who attend are Ministers relevant to the issues being discussed, and the National Council of Local Government New Zealand.

The Government has also sought to improve its working relationships with local government by forming a Deputy Secretaries Group in June 2005. The role of this group is to co-ordinate central and local government engagement on regional outcomes3 and to promote better central government co-ordination on urban and regional issues. It is not responsible for the Programme of Action or the Sustainable Cities workstream.

The Ministry of Economic Development established the Government Urban and Economic Development Office (GUEDO) in Auckland in July 2005. GUEDO has representatives from several central government departments working together on Auckland issues, including parts of the Auckland Programme.

Figure 3 provides an example of how collaboration between central and local government was supported to good effect.

Figure 3
Getting out of the office has benefits for collaboration

Understanding who you are working with, and what the issues are, is an important part of successful collaboration. As part of the Auckland Programme, field trips were arranged for central and local government participants to visit Auckland sites in relation to urban issues (not all of which were specific to the Programme of Action). The field trips were often mentioned by people we spoke to as enjoyable and useful, and valuable in supporting understanding of the issues and progress being made towards sustainable cities. Visits such as these had not occurred previously.

Our views

There was extensive central government involvement in the Auckland Programme in an evolving partnership structure. There was a lot of collaboration between agencies through membership of cross-agency steering groups and project teams. Leadership by DPMC, the Ministry of Economic Development, and the Ministry for the Environment supported a complex range of collaborative processes and coordination within the Sustainable Cities workstream.

We were consistently told that working together on projects had fostered better understanding and working relationships between departments, and between central and local government. We did not audit the achievements of the Auckland Programme, so we do not comment on the outcomes of the Auckland Programme projects. However, the engagement with partners in this workstream is seen by participants as an important achievement of the Programme of Action.

In our view, the number of central government agencies involved in Auckland (such as for transport, the Central and Local Government Forum, the Deputy Secretaries Group, and the establishment of GUEDO) created a complex mix of leadership, co-ordination, and governance roles for the organisations involved.

In addition, there were several legislative changes from 2002 to 20064 that made leadership of the Auckland Programme more difficult because central and local government organisations were reviewing and adjusting to the new legislation. However, much of this new legislation – and, in particular, the Local Government Act 2002 – supported the work of the Programme of Action by referring to sustainable development objectives and approaches.

Leadership and co-ordination for the Energy workstream

The Energy workstream of the Programme of Action sought three outcomes:

  • energy use would become more efficient and less wasteful;
  • renewable sources of energy would be developed and used to full potential; and
  • customers would have a secure supply of electricity.

The first two outcomes had targets for 2012 and were based on the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy 2001. The security of supply objective is set out in the Electricity Governance Policy Statement (2002).

Our expectations

We expected the Ministry of Economic Development to have provided effective leadership and co-ordination of the Energy workstream.

We looked for evidence of cross-agency collaborative processes, co-ordination of the Energy workstream, and engagement with partners.

What we found

The Ministry of Economic Development prepared two Energy workstream papers for Cabinet during the Programme of Action. In October 2004, Cabinet approved for consultation the discussion document Sustainable Energy: Creating a Sustainable Energy System and, in July 2005, approved the second paper relating to a range of sustainable energy projects.

The Ministry of Economic Development led the Senior Officials Group, which included officials from DPMC, the Treasury, the Ministry of Transport, and the Ministry for the Environment. The membership of this group varied from 2003 to 2006 but included stakeholders such as representatives from the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority and, later, the Electricity Commission.

This Senior Officials Group led the Energy workstream during a time of legislative and other changes to the energy sector.5 The workstream identified potential links with the Sustainable Cities workstream, but these were not followed up.

During the three years from July 2003 to July 2006, there were three changes of Minister. In addition, after the general election in 2005, the Government announced its intention to develop an energy strategy.

Our views

The Ministry of Economic Development led the Energy workstream by establishing a cross-agency working group. By working with stakeholders and establishing contact with diverse agencies, the Ministry provided co-ordination to bring energy issues together in one discussion document for consultation.

This approach supported better mutual understanding between agencies. However, in our view, the Energy workstream did not establish partnerships with the range of partners listed in the Programme of Action as a means to achieve the objectives of the workstream.

Ministerial decisions were needed at various stages of each workstream project. We consider that the changes in Ministerial leadership in the Energy workstream would have made it more difficult to achieve consistency in decision-making.

Support for using the sustainable development principles

The Programme of Action set out 10 sustainable development principles to strengthen government decision-making. Cabinet approved the principles for use in all government policy development and decision-making, and gave DPMC the role to lead promulgation of the principles.

The Government’s objective was to ensure that decision-making took appropriate account of social, economic, environmental, and cultural considerations. The sustainable development principles included:

  • taking a precautionary approach to, and using participative processes for, decision-making;
  • looking for innovative, mutually supporting solutions;
  • considering long-term implications of decisions; and
  • looking for solutions that supported economic growth without harmful environmental effects.6

Our expectations

We expected to find leadership support for the use of the sustainable development principles. We reviewed whether DPMC and workstream leaders:

  • supported the use of the principles within the workstreams; and
  • provided guidance for policy development based on the principles.

What we found

The use of the sustainable development principles was not compulsory in political or departmental decision-making. A paper to chief executives in March 2003 said that applying the principles would be based on methods in overseas models such as:

  • the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Improving Policy Coherence and Integration for Sustainable Development: A Checklist;
  • the United Kingdom’s Integrated Policy Assessment Tool; and
  • the United Kingdom Sustainable Development Commission’s discussion paper on a generic appraisal methodology.

We found little evidence that the Sustainable Cities and Energy workstreams formally used these methods to help decision-making be consistent with the sustainable development principles. We were told that the principles were used to test ideas and projects informally in meetings and workshops. For example, the Energy workstream explored an innovative approach, using external advisors, to think about and facilitate shared understanding of the complexities of energy as a system.

The evaluation report of the Auckland Programme commented on the principles being used to test some of the decisions within the programme. The other objectives of the Policy Tools and Processes Group – that is, of making departments familiar with the aims of the Programme of Action and the promotion of discussions and sharing information – were supported by a number of workshops and presentations (see paragraph 2.63).

The work on the use of the sustainable development principles became a separate workstream we have called the Quality Practice initiative. DPMC established this initiative as part of its leadership and co-ordination role. The Quality Practice initiative sought to make all departments familiar with the aims of the Programme of Action, create tools to support sustainable development thinking and practice in the workstreams, and promote discussions and forums to share information.

The Quality Practice initiative had three projects, each led by an interdepartmental group:

  • the Indicators Group;
  • the Information-Sharing Group; and
  • the Policy Tools and Processes Group.

The Indicators Group, led by Statistics New Zealand, was responsible for preparing sustainable development indicators. This project is continuing.

The Information-Sharing Group, working with the State Services Commission, created a shared intranet workspace for government departments involved with the Programme of Action to share information and aid co-ordination. This was later extended to include organisations involved in the Auckland Programme. The project and the workspace, which was used during the Programme of Action, are no longer active.

The Policy Tools and Processes Group looked for ways to influence how government worked, through such mechanisms as accountability documents, the Budget process, staff training, and other whole-of-government initiatives. The group worked with Statistics New Zealand and produced a Population Issues website for use in policy development. It was also instrumental in amending the 2004 Budget bid process to include an assessment of consistency with sustainable development objectives (see paragraph 3.48). The group started some research to create policy tools, most of which was discontinued. Some research was more informal and took advantage of opportunities presented by visiting experts and speakers. The responsibility for preparing policy tools and processes was taken over by the Chief Executives Group in late 2004. Since then, we have seen no evidence of a separate programme for the development of policy tools. As part of the work of this group, DPMC produced a record of the significant events and documents up to the end of 2004.

The Quality Practice initiative involved a number of workshops, forums, and seminars to share information, including visiting overseas speakers and trainers who delivered seminars and provided advice. DPMC took opportunities offered through internal and external invitations to brief departments on the Programme of Action, which supported the aim of making government departments familiar with the programme goals.

The Programme of Action document said that a Cabinet Circular would be issued to guide the public sector in making sustainable development the core of all government policy. It was later agreed that the proposed Circular would be replaced by a letter to chief executives, but we have seen no evidence that this was done.

We heard different views about the sustainable development principles from staff. Many thought the sustainable development principles were well understood and well used. They cited, as illustrations, legislation that referred to sustainable development, such as the Land Transport Management Act 2003 and the Local Government Act 2002; initiatives such as the Govt3 programme;7 and strategies to manage biodiversity or fisheries. Others thought the sustainable development principles presented staff with challenges and were a struggle to understand.

Our views

DPMC led the promotion of discussion and familiarity with the aims of the Programme of Action through cross-agency working groups, personal and departmental influence, and exchange of information through workshops and forums. All the people we interviewed said they thought these shared learning opportunities were useful in supporting officials and agencies to work in ways more consistent with a sustainable development approach.

While some legislation refers to sustainable development, this provides only high-level guidance for the practical application of principles in policy work and decision-making processes. In our view, it is important that those charged with implementing principles-based legislation agree on how the principles will be used in practice.

The principles need to be interpreted and accompanied by a range of methods for practical use if staff are to apply them in their work. We acknowledge that much of this can be done effectively through informal methods, and that some people we spoke to considered that making achievements in this way was a strength of the Programme of Action.

However, others said more attention needed to be given to agreeing on more formal methods for applying principles, such as how to:

  • identify and analyse long-term scenarios;
  • identify ways to improve environmental outcomes while continuing economic development; and
  • address risks and uncertainties in the longer term.

Practical application of the sustainable development principles could have been more clearly supported. A “learning by doing” approach does not preclude thinking about how high-level principles would apply to a particular project or workstream. In our view, applying such principles would include evidence of some or all of the following mechanisms:

  • providing support tools such as those listed in paragraph 2.56 to help departments apply the principles;
  • making departments accountable for complying with the principles through formal accountability documents such as statements of intent;8 and/or
  • referring specifically to the principles in statements of departmental policy, strategy, or planning documents such as projects’ terms of reference.

The difficulty in translating principles into action is not an issue confined to New Zealand. For comparison, the Austrian Court of Audit recommended in an audit of the Federal Strategy for Sustainable Development that there should be tools established for the consideration of sustainability in policies.

Implications for cross-agency work

The implications for leadership, co-ordination, and governance arising out of our findings are that:

  • leadership of any complex multi-agency programme needs good governance, with central leadership and clear roles; and
  • broad principles need to be supported by agreed methods to assist the application of the principles in departmental policy development and strategies.

Leadership requires good governance and clear roles

Leadership of cross-agency work needs to establish and maintain suitable governance structures and ensure that there are clear decision-making processes and clearly understood roles. This is particularly important where departments are working together, and the respective responsibilities are not immediately clear.9

When departments seek to use partnerships and collaborative processes, establishing clear roles can be a challenge. Finding the right roles within a partnership can take time and effort, and roles take time to be consolidated. Working collaboratively needs specific skills. It is important to use staff who have these skills, and that time is made available for them to do cross-agency work.

Principles need to be applied with appropriate policy development and decision-making methods

A principles-based approach to decision-making and policy development offers a more flexible, less prescriptive mechanism for carrying out the activities of government, and is being applied more commonly in drawing up legislation and in other areas of public sector activity. However, such principles are generally expressed in broad terms, and departments need methods and tools to enable the application of principles to policy development and decision-making.

Departments are responsible for applying principles endorsed by the Government, and in doing so should:

  • ensure that such principles are defined and well understood, and the implications for their work are well considered;
  • decide and, where working together with partners, agree on how such principles will be applied in policy analysis and the methods to be used; and
  • reflect their commitment to the principles in accountability documents, such as statements of intent, project plans, policy documents, and cross-agency agreements.

1: Partnerships are discussed in the Programme of Action as government engaging with others who have a stake in the issues and working together to develop and implement the Programme of Action. The purpose of this approach was to combine efforts and resources towards common aims, share information and expertise, understand different points of view, make better decisions, and create more “win-win” outcomes.

2: GIF provided a framework for lifting New Zealand’s innovation and economic performance. GIF provided the vision statements for the Programme of Action, and was used as the basis for the Government’s economic transformation goals agreed in 2006.

3: Central government is not required to facilitate community outcomes as defined in the Local Government Act 2002, but local government is required to work with identified partners to establish, work towards, and monitor progress towards community outcomes. This inevitably requires engagement with central government regional representatives and discussion on regional outcomes sought.

4: For example, the Land Transport Management Act 2003, Land Transport Amendment Act 2004, Local Government Act 2002, and the Local Government (Auckland) Amendment Act 2004.

5: An Electricity Commission was established and began operating in September 2003 to regulate the electricity industry and ensure security of supply (one of the Programme of Action’s desired outcomes). In addition, the energy sector was anxious about security of supply after high-profile power failures in Auckland. At the same time, there was considerable national debate over the possible effects of climate change and a carbon tax.

6: This is referred to in the Programme of Action as “decoupling”.

7: The Ministry for the Environment runs the Govt3 programme, which helps central government agencies become more sustainable.

8: By comparison, the Cabinet decision on Pay and Employment Equity in the Public Service (CAB Min (04) 34/8) required all statements of intent to include a plan to implement Cabinet’s decision.

9: We make this point in our report Local Authorities Working Together, 2004, Wellington.

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