Executive summary

Changes in the delivery of public services.

New Zealand public services perform well overall and deliver good outcomes for most New Zealanders. Our public services benchmark well against other countries across a range of different indicators. New Zealanders are also generally satisfied with public services that they receive.

Good performance now is no guarantee for good performance in the future. There are pressure points where public services are not performing as strongly. There are also significant changes happening in New Zealand and around the world that are driving a need for different approaches to the delivery of public services.

This report provides an overview of this context. It then discusses the trends in the delivery of public services in response to a changing landscape, and highlights the challenges and opportunities that are emerging.

Drivers of change

New Zealand public services have persistently under-performed in two areas. These areas remain challenging, and improved performance in these areas will be increasingly critical to the wider wellbeing of New Zealanders:

  • Inequality and poor performance for particular cohorts of society: public services are not adequately reducing the impacts of poverty and are failing to deliver education, health and social outcomes for Māori, Pasifika and low income households that are on par with the rest of society.
  • Services designed centrally but delivered locally: central government struggles to adequate consider impact analysis and service design to support good performance by local government.

A number of broader trends are also driving and demanding change in the delivery of public services, in particular:

  • An ageing population: an increase in the relative size of the elderly population will increase demand for a range of public services while also decreasing government’s ability to fund these services.
  • Uneven shifts of population: the combination of an increase of population in cities, a decline in population in provinces and uneven patterns of ageing between provinces and cities will result in smaller and older provinces and larger but still relatively young cities. This will create challenges for the portfolio of services delivered at the local level.
  • Increasing diversity: growing diversity in the populationwill drive demand for public services to be delivered in different ways, in particular in Auckland, where greater concentrations of ethnic groups will create specific challenges and opportunities for changing local public service delivery to meet different needs.
  • Disruptive technology: technology is changing the way that public services are delivered, and citizens will increasingly expect public services to meet the same high standards as responsive, personalised commercial services. This creates growing challenges for government agencies who have traditionally been risk averse and relatively slow adopters of technology.
  • Citizen expectations: technology will also enable citizens to be better-informed about good performance in public services – across different services, in other countries, and across localities – increasing their expectations.
  • Fiscal constraints: both in the short term in the wake of the global recession, and longer term reflecting the pressures due to demographic change, the imperative to contain and reduce government spending and debt is driving the need for more efficient and effective public services.

Changes in service delivery

Taken together, these pressures and trends highlight an imperative to do things differently. This new context for public services has been in place for several years and there is a growing body of experience with these new approaches to delivering public services. In particular, there are two distinct trends towards more personalised public services:

  • More targeted services: driven by government agencies to target their effort and services to where there is greatest impact and value for money, in particular to the citizens/clients who need the services the most or who will benefit the most.
  • More tailored services: demanded by the citizens/clients of public services reflecting their needs and preferences, and recognising that citizens as consumers expect government to deliver services that are tailored to what they expect and need.

To deliver these targeted and tailored public services, we see four broad approaches being employed:

  • Inventive services: innovation to develop out of the ordinary services that reflect new and better ways to deliver outcomes.
  • Contracting for outcomes: choosing the best form of delivering a public service based on desired outcomes, this may or may not involve government agencies delivering the service, with private or community providers being better placed to deliver services in many situations.
  • Co-production with stakeholders: users and communities sharing responsibility for the policy process as co-planners and co-deliverers, with government harnessing what users and communities have to offer to create services that are more personalised and owned by the users.
  • Collaboration between agencies: highlights the need to work for greater integration across government to ensure client-centred services and a system approach to big issues.

Challenges and opportunities

New and innovative forms of public service delivery are still the exception. As new approaches become common place, a more fundamental transformation in public services will be required to address the challenges and opportunities that accompany change.

To respond to these challenges and opportunities we have highlighted five areas where the public services will need to focus:

  • Building the right capability: public services need people at all levels with the right skills to drive change and operate in these new models, for example, policy professionals who are good at facilitating co-production and sophisticated commissioning agents.  Government also needs to empower and build the capability of the individuals and groups that become involved in service design and delivery, including councils.
  • Building the culture and mechanisms for fast learning: new ways of working involve reasoned risks, require a culture supportive of innovation, and need mechanisms and skills that enable innovation to happen and ensure lessons are picked up quickly. To support this, public services need to share success and welcome scrutiny.
  • Harnessing information for better outcomes: understanding how public services contribute to outcomes requires strategic use of data and analysis, and better and more timely sharing of public data and analysis to meet demands for transparency and better enable co-production. 
  • System leadership and stewardship: driving change requires strong ‘whole of system’ leadership and stewardship (for the long term health of the system, the services being delivered and the assets being managed) and the right incentives at all levels of government to support better collaboration and co-production across agencies and towards shared objectives.
  • Maintaining and evolving institutions: new ways of working do not change the principles underlying public service, however, increasing fluidity means reassessing our approach to protecting core values and institutions – including, accountability, transparency, privacy, equity and trust. For example, involving more non-public servants in service design and delivery may require being more explicit about the values embodied in the public service ethos.  

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