Part 4: Putting ideas into action

Reflections from our audits: Service delivery.

Innovative ideas that meet citizens' expectations and needs, and that have been put into action well, deliver responsive public services. Ideas need to be based on a sound understanding of citizens' changing and different needs and expectations. Putting ideas into action well includes enabling people to use services to help themselves, innovating, and challenging traditions to do things differently.

Recognising different and changing needs

People have different needs, and inequalities in service provision and poor outcomes persist for Māori, Pasifika, and low-income households, particularly in education, health, and social development.

People's needs are changing. The ageing population and shifts in population away from provincial towns to cities are affecting the need for, and (together with ongoing fiscal constraints) the affordability of, services. These are global trends and not just a New Zealand problem. Effects in New Zealand include more demand for affordable housing in Auckland and populations declining in some towns in rural New Zealand.

Alongside these different and changing needs, people's expectations of public services are changing. People expect better services and more choices. Technology enables people to be ever better informed and raises their expectations for responsive and personalised services.

A one-size-fits-all approach might not be effective. Public entities need to consider whether to provide different services to different people in different locations by:

  • targeting public services more tightly to people with the greatest need and for whom the benefits will be the greatest; and
  • tailoring public services to match people's expectations and preferences.

In our work, we saw examples of services being targeted and tailored. These examples ranged from Watercare introducing monthly billing that helps customers to manage their expenses to MSD tailoring its case management to support people in a more targeted way. MSD was focusing more intensively on those clients who need more support to achieve greater financial independence. Overall, MSD's case management was serving most clients well, while reducing its overall case management costs in real terms.

A one-size-fits-all approach does not consider people's individual circumstances. Watercare adopted a one-size-fits-all approach in the early stages of its debt recovery process.

Targeting and tailoring services does not mean being inconsistent. Services should be consistent for those people they are targeted at or tailored for. ACC claimants told us of inconsistencies in ACC's case management services, and they considered that the quality of service that case managers provided varied significantly. Case managers' different approaches to accessibility, empathy, and tailored communication significantly influence how people perceive ACC's case management.

The ACC case manager experience can best be described as inconsistent, because the quality of service provided is considered significantly different depending on the case manager assigned to the client.

Helping people to help themselves

Recipients of public services should be placed at the centre of service design and delivery so that services enable people who use them to help themselves. This means moving away from public services designed by the public entity that delivers them, that can mean a one-size-fits-all model, to involving recipients of public services in planning and delivering services. There are big challenges for public entities to provide targeted, tailored and differentiated services that are led and driven by the needs of citizens and communities. Not least because a citizen-directed approach requires public entities to give up some control over how their resources are used and requires relationships based on high trust.

Whānau Ora is an example of innovation and new thinking in service delivery. Whānau Ora was an opportunity for providers of health and social services in the community to operate differently and to support families in deciding their best way forward.

Whānau Ora has been a success for many families who now have a plan to improve their lives. For example, some whānau are working towards getting their young people living and working on their ancestral land. The government spending to achieve that has been small, but the importance for the whānau is significant. Bringing whānau members together to prepare plans seems to have led to gains that are wider than the plans themselves.

Many providers of different health and social services in the community have been supported to form "collectives", so people can get easier access to a range of services. These providers have also been supported to move from a focus on individuals to a focus on whānau. Some providers have employed people to work intensively with whānau and help them move from crisis to resilience.

These are positive changes. However, the providers are mainly required by their contracts with government agencies to deliver services to individuals. When we did our work, the Ministries of Health and Social Development had no plans to change to a funding model that would take advantage of the effort and $68 million paid to providers to help them shift to whānau-centred service delivery. The signals that different parts of government send are, at best, mixed.

The Department of Corrections provides rehabilitation programmes to offenders that are designed to reduce reoffending. These programmes are another and different kind of example of a public entity putting people at the centre of the design and delivering activities intended to enable them to help themselves. We reported on how well the Department of Corrections was providing these programmes as part of our December 2013 report Department of Corrections: Managing offenders to reduce reoffending.

We found that the Department assesses offenders to work out how likely they are to reoffend and identify the criminal characteristics that contribute to their offending. This assessing determines how the offenders are managed. All offenders have a numeracy and literacy assessment and are screened for alcohol and drug problems. Also, all adult male offenders receive a mental health assessment. These assessments are used to prepare an offender plan that includes rehabilitation programmes and activities intended to address the offender's needs.


Innovating is about taking a disciplined and structured approach to putting ideas into action, moving fast to test and adapt ideas so that they are put into action successfully, and acknowledging that some will fail. There are a number of techniques and tools that can be used to help with innovating. Good evaluation, using quick and constant feedback about how successful ideas are in achieving improvements, is a critical part of innovating. In Part 6, we discuss further how feedback and analysing performance offer valuable insights into what is working well for people and what can be changed to improve service.

Through our work, we are aware of some examples of innovation.

MSD's Service Delivery Learning Initiative ran from May to November 2014 at the Ministry's Durham Street site in Christchurch and tested new and innovative ideas and strategies to improve how people access the services and support they need from MSD, regardless of how they make initial contact. Staff from different services worked together to provide integrated solutions. MSD is now working to incorporate the lessons it learned from the initiative into a new operating model and the design of future service delivery.

Lincoln University is working with DairyNZ, AgResearch, Landcare Research, Plant and Food Research, and others to set up an agricultural research and innovation hub in Lincoln. The hub is expected to bring together public research and agribusiness organisations to share information and ideas that drive education, science, and innovation.

Creating an environment where innovation can take place

To promote innovation, public entities need to develop a culture that supports new approaches to how services are delivered. Many of the best ideas to improve service delivery come from the staff who deliver those services. Although risks need to be managed, public entities have to ensure that staff are not afraid of failing.

In our February 2015 report Ministry for Primary Industries: Managing the Primary Growth Partnership, we noted that innovation cannot be a "paint by numbers" exercise. Our audit took this into account.

Taking a reasonable risk and picking up lessons quickly requires an entrepreneurship skill set – a characteristic more often ascribed to the private rather than the public sector. In particular, it demands people who can see opportunity and make it happen. It also requires mechanisms that help break down barriers to innovation caused by siloed and hierarchical organisations, such as by building effective networks for innovators.

Traditionally, larger organisations can move into a siloed approach or structure to carry out their business. Breaking down these potential barriers will help inter-organisational learning and innovation. Organisations need to learn from their own good practices and share what they learn not only internally but also more widely in the public sector.

In our report on MSD's use of case management, we found that many clients miss their appointments with case managers. MSD needs to find ways to minimise missed appointments, because the opportunity cost is high. It could learn from other organisations that have appointment systems and look to innovate in the way it engages with clients.

Innovation using technology

One way to innovate and adapt services is by using technology, including social media. Our June 2013 report Learning from public entities' use of social media showed that leadership was important in getting organisations to innovate using social media. We found that senior leaders who responded to our survey who were active in social media for personal purposes also tended to be active in social media for business purposes. Good risk management, integrating social media with current ways of delivering services, and measuring achievements were also important success factors.

Our report highlighted examples where organisations were using social media to innovate in delivering services.

The Ministry of Health met a specific need for breastfeeding mothers who needed advice by providing an interactive Facebook page and supporting an online community group.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust took an innovative approach to updating its online register of historic places, which had few images of historic places. By using images submitted by an online community, images on the register were increased to cover about 90% of historic places.

We have reported on, and are aware of, other examples of innovation using technology.

In our November 2013 report Effectiveness and efficiency of arrangements to repair pipes and roads in Christchurch, we found that SCIRT was delivering more than construction work. It was aiming to lift the capability of the construction sector workforce, improve the resilience of infrastructure, and foster innovation. The Pipe Damage Assessment Tool is an example of an innovation SCIRT developed. This tool provided a reliable and accurate desktop method for predicting the condition of earthquake-damaged pipes, saving time and money. SCIRT also achieved efficiencies by customising the software application it uses for computer-aided design and drafting.

The health sector is increasingly sharing information to provide better services for patients. For example, technological developments in DHBs have included patient portals for patients to access their health information, book appointments, or communicate directly with their general practitioner. The disruption to health services by the Canterbury earthquakes accelerated the introduction of a secure, online patient record system, which enables health professionals in Canterbury to share patient information.

The Police use mobile technology and data analytics to enable more effective and efficient policing. For example, the Police are using more than 10,000 smartphones and tablets. These help with tasking of police officers, record completion, and communication with victims.

Inland Revenue has developed an app to help small businesses more easily comply with their GST obligations.

Airways Corporation of New Zealand Limited (the State-owned air navigation service provider), the Civil Aviation Authority, Callaghan Innovation, and UAVNZ (a Division of the Aviation Industry Association of New Zealand) have collaborated to create the airshare website (, where people can find information about how to operate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) safely, including how to plan drone flights and request access to controlled airspace.

Selwyn District Council has set up an end-to-end, web-based building consent system.

Taking on challenges

New ways of working do not change the core values and principles that trusted, high-integrity public services must have. However, changes in public service delivery can challenge how we think about accountability, transparency, privacy, equity, and trust. It is important that these are not forgotten or compromised. Equally, they should not impede change.

Some of the challenges that need to be understood and resolved are:

  • ensuring that there is clear accountability when public entities working together share or deliver services; and
  • opening up access to information to meet citizens' demands for greater openness and transparency from government and enable organisations to work together better.

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