Part 3: Leading and co-ordinating the recovery

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority: Assessing its effectiveness and efficiency.

In this Part, we look at how effective CERA was in leading and co-ordinating the recovery. We discuss:

Summary of our findings

CERA's leadership and co-ordination role involved working with a wide range of organisations in the public, private, and non-government sectors, as well as with members of the community.

CERA was effective in bringing many of the stakeholders together to address immediate tasks during the emergency and restoration phases of the recovery. It worked well with stakeholders to manage the cordon around the CBD, gather information on land damage, and prepare the overarching recovery strategy.

As the recovery moved from the emergency and restoration phases into the reconstruction phase, CERA found it challenging to maintain its influence and leadership of the recovery.

Despite investing significant resources in communications, including initiatives to engage the community, CERA was not as effective or efficient in communicating with the community as it intended or needed to be. Results from surveys indicate that CERA became less effective in communicating and engaging with stakeholders and the community over time. However, this needs to be read in the context of the different ways in which a community responds to a recovery over time.

The leadership and co-ordination role

CERA was responsible for leading and co-ordinating the public sector's response to the recovery, which it was required to do with its strategic partners. CERA was also responsible for creating an overarching recovery strategy: a statutory document that created a platform for a range of policies, programmes, and recovery plans. As the lead recovery agency, its role involved influencing and supporting the work of a wide range of organisations, including policy departments, agencies with focused delivery roles, local authorities, and communities. Figure 11 shows the range of agencies CERA had to work with in its leadership and co-ordination role.

Figure 11
Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority's "sphere of influence"

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority's "sphere of influence".

Source: Adapted from Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (2014) Briefing for the incoming Minister.

In 2012, we reviewed the roles, responsibilities, and funding arrangements for public entities in the recovery from the Canterbury earthquakes.5 Because of the complex nature of the recovery, we said that CERA needed to use its influence and provide strategic direction to other public entities so that, through their normal day-to-day work, they would make an effective contribution to the recovery.

We also described how CERA needed to effectively bring together agencies and ensure that their work was mutually supportive and in line with the Recovery Strategy for Greater Christchurch (the Recovery Strategy). We noted that international experience from other natural disasters has shown how important it is to properly co-ordinate and govern how the public sector responds to recovery. If collaboration fails, recovery efforts can be hampered, causing delays and – in the end – poor outcomes for affected communities.6

The Recovery Strategy identified a number of plans and programmes to be carried out to achieve recovery. Some plans and programmes were led by CERA, and some were led by other public entities and non-government agencies. This meant that CERA was heavily involved in supporting programmes led by other organisations, such as the Natural Environment Recovery Programme. In its supporting capacity, CERA provided co-ordination, facilitated information sharing between entities, and provided assistance where needed.

Measuring effectiveness in leading the recovery

In 2013, CERA surveyed the strategic partners as a measure of its effectiveness in a leadership role. CERA's target was that 100% of chief executives would be satisfied or more than satisfied with its contribution to the economic recovery.

This standard was not met. Of the respondents, 69% of representatives of the strategic partners reported being either satisfied or more than satisfied, 24% were unsure of CERA's contribution, 3% were unsatisfied, and 3% did not respond.7 In 2014, CERA changed the target from 100% satisfaction to the majority of strategic partners being satisfied with the governance and co-ordination of CERA. CERA reported that this target was met but it did not report the size of the majority.8 CERA did not report on this measure in 2015 or 2016.

Although the survey provided a useful indicator of the strategic partners' perception of CERA's leadership effectiveness, it was not a strong measure of how effective CERA was in leading and co-ordinating the recovery. Below, we assess how CERA performed in this role based on our audits of CERA, reports by other agencies, and the findings from our interviews with former CERA staff, stakeholders, and community groups.

Leading and co-ordinating the recovery

In the emergency and restoration phases

During the emergency phase, CERA was effective in using its powers to co-ordinate and lead the work to make the CBD safe. CERA worked effectively with organisations such as the New Zealand Defence Force to maintain the cordon around the CBD and set about effectively demolishing dangerous buildings. CERA also established arrangements for temporary housing for families whose homes had been destroyed in the earthquakes, and began to prepare an overarching recovery strategy involving its strategic partners.

CERA was effective in gathering and analysing information about land damage in residential areas in Christchurch, Kaiapoi, and the Port Hills. It used this information to give important and timely advice to the Minister and Cabinet on policy options for these areas.

In the restoration phase, CERA was effective in providing leadership to kick-start and co-ordinate some early programmes and initiatives that were important in helping the community to recover and to support its well-being. These included the development of the temporary stadium in Addington and the Re:START Mall, which provided a space for retail outlets in the central city. These "early wins" are aligned with internationally recognised good practice for disaster recovery.9

CERA worked effectively with its strategic partners to write the recovery strategy. The draft recovery strategy was released for public consultation on CERA's website on 10 September 2011 (about six months after CERA was set up) and published in May 2012.

Moving into the reconstruction phase

In 2012, we noted that there was a risk of confusion about the roles and responsibilities among public entities involved in the recovery, especially given the complex nature of the public sector's response. We emphasised the importance of CERA being clear about its role in the recovery and how it would work with other public entities.10

Over time, CERA's ability to influence the work of other government departments became more challenging as government departments focused on business as usual. By early 2013, the recovery was moving from the emergency response and restoration phases and into the reconstruction phase. This required greater effort in planning and strategy, and a shift from focusing on immediate tasks towards a longer-term view.

CERA's leadership experienced some difficulty in sustaining a co-ordinated whole-of-government response to the reconstruction phase of recovery, and towards the regeneration phase. At the same time, CERA began to take on more roles and responsibilities, such as overseeing whole-of-government procurement policy in the recovery.

These difficulties were identified during a Performance Improvement Framework (PIF) review of CERA in 2013 and annual reviews of the Act.11 They were also echoed in our interviews with many of CERA's stakeholders and former staff.

In 2013, the lead reviewers of the PIF review identified the need for CERA to be "smarter in its ability to engage with, obtain the active support of, and lead and co-ordinate the efforts of Crown agencies as they participate in the recovery". They concluded that CERA needed to strengthen how it provided leadership to the rest of government, to turn "existing fora and engagements from briefing and information exchange exercises to activities where issues are identified and the way forward agreed upon".12 They recommended that:

  • CERA be clearer about what was expected to be achieved, and by whom, by April 2016;
  • the CERA senior leadership team do more to oversee the development of systems and processes;
  • CERA create more space for staff to "stand back and take time";
  • CERA clarify organisational priorities; and
  • the CERA senior leadership team focus more on leadership and less on day-to-day management.

Our 2013 report, Effectiveness and efficiency of arrangements to repair pipes and roads in Christchurch, also stated that CERA's leadership role needed to improve. CERA was one of three public entities in the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) alliance to repair pipes and roads, and as such had an important leadership role. We found that the effectiveness of SCIRT's programme of repairs was being hindered by limited involvement from CERA in strategy, governance, and decision-making.

After our 2013 report, CERA strengthened its leadership role with SCIRT and its monitoring of the Crown's expenditure on the horizontal infrastructure rebuild through its Horizontal Infrastructure team.13 This helped reduce the cost to the Crown of the horizontal infrastructure rebuild. However, its earlier lack of leadership meant that levels of service and funding arrangements were not effectively agreed between the Crown and Christchurch City Council. This caused tensions between the Council and the Crown, and led to significant delays in some projects later in the programme.

By 2013, CERA's role had changed from what had been originally envisioned. When established, CERA was largely seen by its leadership team as a leader and co-ordinator of the recovery, rather than being responsible for delivering a number of projects and programmes. Over time, CERA took on more delivery roles. By the time of disestablishment, it was responsible for 24 major programmes and more than 130 projects.14

CERA struggled to prioritise and balance its strategic leadership role with delivering the expanding portfolio of programmes and projects. As a result, its role became less clear, which confused staff, stakeholders, and the community.15 At times, CERA failed to prioritise its relationship and leadership role with Wellington-based government agencies.16 The lack of clarity in its role made it more challenging for CERA to influence and co-ordinate the work of the wider public sector.

In response to the difficulties CERA was experiencing in influencing other government departments and agencies, DPMC and the State Services Commission provided stronger support to CERA's leadership team through weekly engagement meetings between the chief executives of the central agencies and the Chief Executive of CERA. In 2013, CERA also increased the size and role of its Wellington office, which helped to improve interactions with other government departments, Cabinet, and Ministers.

However, CERA's 2014 Briefing for the incoming Minister described the challenges it was still experiencing in providing strategic direction as the recovery moved into the reconstruction phase. CERA noted that there was an over-emphasis on "issues-based decision making", at the cost of a "more holistic view of costs, benefits and implications across the whole recovery".17

In 2015, CERA became a departmental agency of DPMC. In the context of CERA's role in influencing the work of other government departments and agencies, we were told by senior CERA staff and staff from central agencies that this transition helped improve CERA's influence with Wellington-based departments and agencies (see paragraphs 2.41-2.44 ).

In our view, there needed to be an ongoing assessment and more consideration of the balance between CERA's role in delivering projects with that of providing leadership to the whole-of-government recovery. There should also have been more analysis of whether CERA was the right vehicle for delivering the programmes and projects it was taking on.

Giving policy advice to Ministers and Cabinet

CERA was effective in giving Ministers a substantial amount of policy advice relating to a wide range of issues in the recovery. The policy advice provided by CERA to Ministers and Cabinet was a significant part of its leadership role. CERA met its targets for Ministerial satisfaction with policy advice. CERA reported in its 2012, 2013, and 2014 annual reports that the Minister was satisfied with the quality of its policy advice. In 2016, the Minister reported the advice as exceeding expectations (ministerial satisfaction was not measured in 2015).18

CERA had an important role in providing advice on recovery matters to the Minister and to Cabinet. The amount of policy advice required of CERA was substantial. For example:

  • In 2011, the Ad Hoc Cabinet Committee on Canterbury Earthquake Recovery met 22 times and considered 69 papers submitted under various portfolios, of which 17 were directly generated by CERA.
  • In 2012, Cabinet received 31 submissions from the portfolio Minister and eight on CERA-related issues from other portfolios. The Cabinet Committee on Canterbury Earthquake Recovery met 13 times and considered 36 departmental papers, of which CERA initiated 25.
  • In 2013, Cabinet or its Committees received 35 papers related to the Canterbury recovery, the bulk of them initiated by CERA, but six other portfolios also initiated papers. The special Cabinet Committee on Canterbury Earthquake Recovery met seven times but other Committees, principally the Cabinet Committee on Economic Growth and Infrastructure, were also involved.

The issues that CERA provided advice on were wide ranging. They included arrangements for the repair and rebuild of horizontal infrastructure, the Red Zones, arrangements for supporting psychosocial recovery, cost-sharing with Christchurch City Council, and a large volume of advice on the development of the CBD and the various Anchor Projects.

Working with local groups and agencies

The Act required that CERA work with Christchurch City Council, Environment Canterbury, Selwyn District Council, Waimakariri District Council, and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu in preparing the recovery strategy. CERA's work with local authorities included addressing policy issues for cost sharing, housing (including land zoning), repairing infrastructure, and preparing for the transition of longer-term recovery responsibility back to local ownership. CERA worked closely with Ngāi Tahu in planning the design of Anchor Projects, the social recovery, and the overall recovery strategy.

We found that there were good operational relationships between CERA, local authorities, and Ngāi Tahu. However, tensions and disagreements between CERA and Christchurch City Council were apparent throughout CERA's term. There were disagreements about roles and responsibilities, the funding for infrastructure repairs, and decisions about the redevelopment of the CBD.

Communication between CERA and Christchurch City Council was not as open and transparent as is required for an effective recovery, which damaged the trust between the leadership of both organisations. This caused delays, such as to the repair of pipes and roads, as we reported in 2016.19

As the recovery progressed, the strategic relationship between Christchurch City Council and CERA improved. This is evident by the successful transition of responsibilities after CERA was disestablished.

Engaging with the community

Good practice, identified through international experience in recovering from natural disasters, is for communities to be placed at the centre of the recovery.20 This means effectively communicating decisions and progress to communities, as well as finding ways to involve communities in decision-making and planning during the different phases of recovery.

Evidence from external surveys, reviews of CERA and the Act, and our interviews with stakeholders indicates that, despite its considerable efforts, CERA could have been more effective and efficient in communicating and engaging with the community.

CERA prepared and carried out a community engagement strategy and framework to guide staff in their engagement with the community. The aim of these documents was to enable communities to participate in decision-making about the recovery. CERA sought the advice of specialists in psychosocial disaster recovery when it prepared the strategy and framework.

Senior leaders of CERA were visible in the community. They attended community meetings to communicate decisions about land zoning in the residential areas that had been badly affected by liquefaction, lateral spread, and flooding. CERA published regular updates on the progress of the recovery. For example, it issued a monthly publication, Greater Christchurch Recovery Update, which was distributed to 150,000 households. CERA staff also worked with community organisations and non-governmental organisations to create Community in Mind, a community response to the psychosocial recovery efforts.

We found that CERA listened and responded to feedback about its communication with the public. Some early decisions about the future of residential areas, such as the red zoning of areas, were announced through the media before all property owners had been contacted and informed about the decisions. This caused distress to some homeowners. CERA adjusted its approach and held a series of community meetings to communicate and discuss its approach and arrangements for the Red Zones.

Communications were an important part of the leadership and co-ordination function of CERA. It invested considerable time and resources in communicating and engaging with the community. The cost of CERA's communication function was therefore high when compared with other public entities of a similar size.

Results from the bi-annual Wellbeing Survey indicated that CERA was not as effective or as efficient as it could have been in engaging with the community during the recovery (see Figure 12). Between June 2012 and June 2015, CERA significantly increased its spending on communications. Despite this, the community's satisfaction with the information about earthquake recovery decisions from CERA declined. However, a community responds to a recovery in different ways over time and this may explain some of the decline in satisfaction (see paragraphs 3.47-3.48).

Figure 12
Respondents' overall satisfaction with information from CERA compared with CERA's annual spending on communications, June 2012 to June 2016

Figure 12 Respondents' overall satisfaction with information from CERA compared with CERA's annual spending on communications, June 2012 to June 2016.

Figure 13 shows the public's satisfaction with information from various agencies between September 2012 and September 2015. The people of Canterbury were more satisfied with CERA earlier on, and this satisfaction decreased over time. In comparison, Christchurch City Council's results were lower at the beginning but increased over time, eventually overtaking CERA's satisfaction results. Environment Canterbury's satisfaction results also improved over time but did not reach the levels achieved by the other agencies. Waimakariri District Council recorded the highest satisfaction levels throughout the years.

Figure 13
Community satisfaction with the information from public entities in Canterbury, September 2012 to September 2015

Figure 13 Community satisfaction with the information from public entities in Canterbury, September 2012 to September 2015.

CERA also used the Wellbeing Survey to get a view on how the community felt about the opportunities it had to influence earthquake recovery decisions. The survey found that about 30% of respondents were satisfied that they had good opportunities to influence decisions.

In 2013, the PIF reviewers reported that there was "a consistent message from stakeholders about the desire for a stronger sense of community engagement and empowerment in the rebuild and recovery". The PIF reviewers suggested that responding to these perceptions would require CERA to adapt its style of community engagement, from informing and advising to engaging and empowering.21 CERA's Audit and Risk Committee also raised concerns with management about the need for CERA to improve its communications with the community.

A community responds to a recovery in different ways over time. Research has shown that there are different phases of psychosocial recovery.22 The 2014 review of the Act described, for example, "a mood of scepticism combined with weariness of the grind" in the community. The review noted that many people had a long wait for the recovery to reach them.23 The feelings of the community at the time would have affected the results of the engagement survey.

In its 2014 Briefing for the incoming Minister, CERA described a sense of frustration and disappointment among the community, which was consistent with international experience of recovery. CERA concluded that improved community engagement was needed to "increase a sense of buy-in to decisions and their outcomes, and a sense of local ownership of the future of greater Christchurch. It will also help people along their psychosocial recovery journey".24

From our interviews with external stakeholders, we noted that much of the communication from CERA about the progress of the recovery was positive in its tone. This contrasted with the experience and feelings of people in Christchurch, who were facing many challenges to their lives, including the psychological effects of the earthquakes, managing insurance claims, and the disruption to their daily lives from the repair and rebuilding throughout the city.

CERA did not effectively adapt its approach to communicating and engaging with the community, but did continue to increase its communications spending. In its own learning and legacy reports, CERA acknowledged that it failed to meet community expectations. It had noted that some communities did not trust CERA and that "some consider that the public has not had input into some of the big decisions made". CERA concluded that it had:

  • been good at communication but not engagement – communities felt like they were being talked at, rather than listened to;
  • tended to wait until solutions were found before sharing information, which meant that communities did not see the "behind-the-scenes work" of CERA and its partners in planning the recovery; and
  • communicated unrealistic time frames, which meant that communities' confidence dropped when these time frames were not met.25

Value of the community forum

The Act required that a community forum (the forum) be established and to consist of at least 20 members and to meet at least six times a year.

CERA reported the number of times the forum met as a measure of the effectiveness of social recovery. The forum met more than 17 times a year, which was more than required by the Act.

The forum provided Ministers with information and advice about the operation of the Act. Ministers and CERA officials considered the forum to be an effective sounding board for them. However, it did not function as a mechanism for engaging the wider community.

CERA was responsible for supporting the forum by providing a secretariat and facilitating meetings between the forum, Ministers, and other recovery stakeholders. Members of the forum felt that CERA was effective in supporting and enabling the forum.

Ministers also found the support CERA provided to the forum to be effective in establishing a safe place to consult leaders from the community. The forum became a trusted source of advice to Ministers and CERA officials, and was provided with confidential information about future policy options to offer advice about. The 2013 annual review of the Act concluded that the forum was timely and professional about delivering its views, both through its written opinions and its meeting minutes, which were made public.26

Although the forum was valued by Ministers and CERA officials, its role was not clear to the wider community. The forum was not a means for engaging the wider community in making decisions about the recovery. Some stakeholders, particularly community groups, felt that the forum was too focused on Ministers and not enough on the community. They also felt that, because of the confidential nature of the information provided to the forum, members of the forum were limited in their ability to consult with their communities on policy options.

Lessons for the future

In our view:

  • During a recovery, central agencies need to regularly assess whether the recovery agency is the right vehicle for delivering particular outputs and outcomes. This would help to keep the recovery agency focused on its role and not be distracted by additional responsibilities.
  • A recovery agency needs to think ahead about the future phases of the recovery and plan for them at a strategic level. This will allow the agency to be more proactive in anticipating future issues and identifying its needs for the next phase.
  • Tensions need to be prepared for and managed. Establishing a clear and detailed funding agreement, outlining the roles and responsibilities of all parties and ensuring open discussion at a governance level, will help to ease inter-agency and intra-governmental tensions to ensure that progress is effective and efficient.
  • Agencies need good communication and engagement with the community. Communication needs to acknowledge delays as well as celebrate progress. This helps manage people's expectations and build trust and confidence in the recovery agency. Mechanisms need to be put in place that give communities effective opportunities to participate in the recovery.

5: Office of the Auditor-General (2012), Roles, responsibilities, and funding of public entities after the Canterbury earthquakes.

6: Office of the Auditor-General (2012), Roles, responsibilities, and funding of public entities after the Canterbury earthquakes, page 9.

7: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (2013), Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority Annual Report 2013, page 18.

8: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (2014), Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority Annual Report 2014, page 23.

9: Cheatham, B, Healy, A, and O'Brien Kuusinen, B (2015), Improving disaster recovery: Lessons learned in the United States, McKinsey & Company.

10: Office of the Auditor-General (2012), Roles, responsibilities, and funding of public entities after the Canterbury earthquakes, page 21.

11: Each year a review of the operation and effectiveness of the Act was done by Simon Murdoch, former Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade, High Commissioner to Canberra, and Chief Executive of DPMC.

12: State Services Commission Memorandum (2014), Performance Improvement Framework Review of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, page 5.

13: Office of the Auditor-General (2016),Effectiveness and efficiency of arrangements to repair pipes and roads in Christchurch – follow-up audit.

14: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (2016), Walking the Recovery Tightrope: Learning and insights from CERA, page 26, available at

15: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (2016), Walking the Recovery Tightrope: Learning and insights from CERA, page 26, available at

16: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (2016), Walking the Recovery Tightrope: Learning and insights from CERA, page 34, available at

17: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (2014), Briefing for the incoming Minister – October 2014, page 13.

18: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (2016), Annual Report for the year ended 30 June 2016, page 68.

19: Office of the Auditor-General (2016), Effectiveness and efficiency of arrangements to repair pipes and roads in Christchurch – follow-up audit.

20: See, for example, World Bank (2010), Safer Homes, Stronger Communities: A Handbook for Reconstructing after Natural Disasters, Washington, Chapter 12. See also Office of the Auditor-General (2012), Roles, responsibilities, and funding of public entities after the Canterbury earthquakes, page 23.

21: State Services Commission Memorandum (2014), Performance Improvement Framework Review of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, pages 6-7.

22: Gluckman, P (2011), "The Psychosocial Consequences of the Canterbury Earthquakes", Office of the Prime Minister's Science Advisory Committee.

23: Murdoch, S (2014), Annual Review of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 (August 2014), page 13.

24: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (2014), Briefing for the incoming Minister – October 2014, page 13.

25: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (2016), Walking the Recovery Tightrope: Learning and insights from CERA, page 40, available at

26: Murdoch, S (2013), Annual Review of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 (August 2013), page 14.