Appendix: Our detailed observations

Our observations on Waikato River Authority's freshwater restoration operations.

1. The Waikato River Authority’s decision-making process for utilising its funds, including co-funding opportunities

The Waikato River Clean-up Trust: Funding Strategy clearly outlines the Authority’s funding priorities for each year. We reviewed the 2017 and 2018 funding strategy documents and found that they encourage new applications for projects that are complementary to existing projects nearby or that build on existing initiatives. The documents direct fund applicants to existing projects. Clear and specific guidance is given on what is acceptable for projects (for example, if a project requests a component of planting, the documents state that it must also have permanent stock-proof fencing erected and include minimum fencing standards). Information requirements and priorities provide good guidance and direct fund applicants to the online application template and information videos.

This demonstrates the Authority’s focus on ensuring that there is project alignment with the Vision and Strategy as well as a commitment to enable fund applicants to be successful and establish an efficient and transparent funding application process.

Linking the Authority’s annual funding rounds with the Vision and Strategy

A strong Vision and Strategy allows the Authority to be clear about what it can and cannot support and provides a foundation to ensure that funding decisions are prioritised to ensure results. The Authority’s application process has questions that are clearly linked to the Vision and Strategy. The process also provides a high degree of clarity and transparency for fund applicants, which continues in the selection and monitoring processes.

Project applications

The online portal for the Authority’s fund application process is clear and detailed. The result is a transparent process that helps fund applicants successfully apply for funding. The online portal also provides the opportunity for fund applicants to improve their capacity by having informative videos and clear parameters for applications to be successful.

The financial requirements and expectations indicate that the Authority takes a thorough approach to ensuring that enough financial information is provided to minimise project-funding risks. Both cash and in-kind contributions are required at the application stage and clear messaging signals that applications will be more favourably assessed based on their efficiency (that is, higher co-funding or in-kind contributions), practical application, and results.

We consider that moving to an online application process can improve data collection, automated reporting and analysis, and promote an effective audit trail. We see value in this for other freshwater clean-up funders and encourage the Authority to share its experiences.

Prioritising funding applications

We examined documentation relating to the funding assessment panel, including the spreadsheet for the 2017 funding round. In some cases, notes from the panel and iwi trusts are detailed and provide a good overview and audit trail for recommendations from the Board of the Waikato River Clean-up Trust to approve or decline each application. We saw evidence of the Vision and Strategy and consideration of cultural links integrated into annual funding decisions.

The focus on consultation with iwi and partnerships and collaborative approaches, as part of the fund selection process will, in our view have a positive effect on long-term relationships between iwi and other stakeholders. Technical expertise sought indicates deliberate planning and collaboration to ensure that iwi views and priorities are properly considered.

We saw a good example of due diligence being applied during the selection process. When considering a fund application for native fish restoration, the evaluation panel requested expert advice. The request for more information enabled the panel to evaluate the application appropriately and it was ultimately declined. Seeking expert advice also provides assurance to the Authority that its selection process is rigorous and that all applications are considered on their individual merits and are consistent with the Vision and Strategy.

2. Information the Authority collects to monitor/measure how effective its funding is in contributing to its Vision and Strategy

We saw evidence of the Authority’s comprehensive monitoring requirements for project reporting. This was supported by interviews with iwi and community grant recipients, who confirmed that the Authority requires ongoing and regular reporting. The requirements are also flexible which supports operational issues (such as plant availability or weather events delaying project milestones).

One group we spoke to said that:

One of the best things about WRA is that they have a long-term view and they are open to talking about the sustainability of the project. This contrasts with other funders that take an annual view. When this is the case, it means that projects are contingent on the funding and it’s hard to have a long-term strategy.

The reports and updates provided by the Authority reflect a competent approach to analysing project results. The information includes how many projects have been funded and how much funding was allocated annually. The Waikato River Authority: Five Year Report 2015 categorises results, such as numbers of native trees and shrubs planted, kilometres of waterways fenced, and amount of funding provided for iwi and iwi partnership projects.

An increased focus on evaluating outcomes after completion of a project funding period would help the Authority to better assess progress towards the Vision and Strategy.

The Authority’s monitoring of the progress of projects

The online project portal used for reporting, sharing information, submitting invoices, and applying for modifications provides an effective method for monitoring project delivery and recording payments (including in-kind contributions).

The project application process clearly explains the requirement for interim reports to be submitted on completion of project milestones/tasks, together with submission of invoices, which are paid after a review by Trust staff.

We consider the Authority’s practice of having a representative on project governance or steering groups for strategic and high-risk projects to be prudent. We were advised that the Authority visits higher-cost projects at least annually to ensure that they are on track, while smaller projects are visited before final invoices are paid.

The practice of employing different methods of payment, depending on the amount of project funding, provides evidence of a careful approach to risk, with any projects that are more than $50,000 in value only receiving payment after the Authority receives evidence that project milestones have been completed.

According to the online portal, anecdotal evidence, and the annual funding strategy documents, a small number of projects are selected annually for independent audit. The Authority also selects projects for audit if it has serious project delivery or management concerns . The Authority’s monitoring of the progress of projects during their funding period meets our expectations. Managing this process online leads to a greater degree of transparency and consistency for fund applicants, and offers potential for other funders looking to streamline their monitoring and invoicing processes, as well as improve their reporting and analysis capability. We encourage the Authority to share its experiences in these matters with other funders.

The information the Authority collects to assess its progress towards achieving its strategic objectives

The independent scoping study that was completed for the Authority in 2008 included a list of critical success factors for freshwater restoration activity that align with some of the current water governance principles from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These included the importance of identifying defined outcomes, ensuring that expenditure and progress records are kept and audited, and that restoration activities should be monitored, analysed for effectiveness, and results published for communities and stakeholders.

We saw several examples highlighting the Authority’s focus on assessing progress against objectives, including a precise record of the amount and number of projects funded. The Authority’s annual funding strategies and the Waikato and Waipā Restoration Strategy are integral to the Authority’s Vision and Strategy and to ensuring that identified priorities are considered holistically.

The Authority is required by legislation to report its progress at least five-yearly, to the Crown, Waikato-Tainui, and the other river iwi – Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Arawa, Raukawa, and Ngāti Maniapoto. The first progress report, which covered the years 2010-15, discusses the implementation, effectiveness, and achievement of the Vision and Strategy and reviews the Authority’s achievements during that period.

The relationships and partnerships established by the Authority with iwi, communities, and other important stakeholders, including regional and district councils, provide an important foundation for the Authority to promote further progress towards achieving its Vision and Strategy. This includes the partnership agreement with Waikato Regional Council. This partnership agreement led to the Vision and Strategy’s inclusion in the Waikato Regional Policy Statement. The Authority also had input into District Plan reviews and representation on the project steering group for the Healthy Rivers Plan Change.

The Authority uses a range of communication tools, including its website and Maunga ki Tai, a quarterly newsletter that is available online and in hard copy. As well as media coverage and attendance at local events, these tools ensure that funded projects and their maximum funded amounts are visible publicly. These communication tools also allow the Authority to share high-profile successes, innovative projects, and challenges. This open approach demonstrates a strong effort to increase public engagement and knowledge of freshwater restoration in the Waikato region.

The Authority’s Report Card, prepared in 2016 and gives mātauranga Māori cultural values and science equal importance, focuses on implementing its approach in an inclusive and holistic way. The Report Card highlights the challenge for the Authority to prevent future freshwater degradation and lead improvement, providing a baseline from which to measure improvements.

We see value in these initiatives for other freshwater clean-up funders and encourage the Authority to share its broader experiences with others.

Challenges the Authority experiences in determining how effectively funds are being used to achieve its Vision and Strategy

Freshwater clean-up and restoration is not without its challenges, and these are common to all organisations responsible for managing funding. The complexity of accurately attributing water quality improvement to specific clean-up activities, and significant time lags before results are visible in some cases, makes it difficult to accurately determine how effectively funds are contributing to long-term outcomes.

The Authority’s proactive efforts to publicly outline these challenges (using social media such as LinkedIn, international conferences, and more traditional media) is encouraging. The Authority understands the need to improve short-term reporting and change from an output focus to an outcomes focus.

There are risks to the long-term effectiveness of funding posed by the challenges the Authority faces in ensuring, as far as possible, that long-term project benefits are realised. Post-project monitoring is challenging, because it can be difficult to attribute specific water quality improvements to particular projects (particularly if they come after projects initiated by other funders). Also, the Authority does not have sufficient resources to carry out post-project reviews. However, it is considering implementing evaluation processes for a selection of projects five years after completion.

We encourage the Authority to continue working towards establishing a manageable strategy to effectively evaluate project effectiveness and to minimise (as far as is reasonably possible) risks to the long-term effectiveness of the funding it provides.

Information the Authority uses to reprioritise and redirect its efforts, when necessary

We saw from the Authority’s 2010-15 progress report that one of its major achievements during this initial period was the improvement in relationships between the five river iwi, regional and territorial authorities, and the Crown. This has been formalised through the Vision and Strategy being given effect through national and regional planning processes. Although they are outside of the role of the Authority, Accords and Joint Management Agencies give river iwi the opportunity to ensure that the Crown is giving effect to the Vision and Strategy. This demonstrates a positive development in the Authority’s early years of operation. Continued and regular engagement will contribute to the right information being available to highlight when it is necessary to redirect or reprioritise efforts.

We also encourage the Authority to continue monitoring projects, and can see how the online project reporting and ongoing results from its Report Card will contribute to a holistic picture of what is working and where there might be a need to redirect efforts. An increased focus on evaluating outcomes after a project funding period is completed would help the Authority to better assess progress towards the Vision and Strategy.

3. How the Authority uses information to support the achievement of its Vision and Strategy

The Vision and Strategy clearly represents the Authority’s central approach. Its engagement initiatives form an integral component of this. We saw a range of evidence supporting a focus on engagement, including community group co-ordination and facilitation and school curricula and awareness raising, to support social capacity and cohesion. Knowledge-sharing (including mātauranga Māori, economic, social, and biophysical science) also promotes the Authority’s holistic approach to freshwater restoration for the Waikato and Waipā Rivers.

We interviewed a range of stakeholders and individual restoration project managers, who all indicated strong engagement and confirmed that positive relationships had been built.

The information the Authority shares with its audiences

The Authority makes a range of information available publicly. Its website has a comprehensive “Key Documents” page, which has the Vision and Strategy, the Waikato and Waipā Restoration Strategy, the annual funding strategy, annual reports, and other important information, including details of restoration projects that have been funded. The page also has an archive of project stories and a news section, which includes links to external media stories and the quarterly Maunga ki Tai newsletter. The newsletter is written in an inclusive style and provides updates (including details of challenges as well as successes, and information and timelines for forthcoming funding rounds).

The Authority’s face-to-face engagement to raise its profile and increase awareness includes its attendance at national and international conferences and local events.

The Authority appears to communicate openly with its various audiences and makes information, project updates, and news readily available, as well as encouraging feedback and collaboration (for example, through the Waikato River Restoration Forum).

How the Authority engages effectively with its full range of stakeholders

The Authority’s efforts to engage with stakeholders shows it understands the importance of communicating its approach, increasing public awareness, and building its reputation as an approachable and collaborative organisation.

We have seen various examples of the Authority demonstrating practical approaches to increase engagement with stakeholders. These range from more formal efforts, such as inviting the five river iwi, the Ministry for the Environment, and Waikato Regional Council to provide feedback on annual funding plans, to sharing good news stories on the website, and attending international conferences and local events to raise awareness and develop opportunities to update itself on freshwater restoration developments.

During the fund application selection process, due regard for mātauranga Māori is ensured through requesting feedback from iwi on whether projects are based on the mauri of the Waikato and Waipā Rivers and their catchment and further the objectives or priorities of river iwi environmental management plans. The initial scoping study included a detailed description of methods used for gathering mātauranga Māori and integrating traditional environmental knowledge with science and the principles for engagement. Research included having hui with more than 500 local representatives to improve understanding of the region. There were also further meetings to gather community stakeholder views. These examples demonstrate the Authority’s commitment to ensuring iwi collaboration and stakeholder feedback, in an effort to support improved engagement.

We consider that the Waikato River Restoration Forum (comprising of the Authority, industry, iwi, central government, and local government) represents a tangible way to foster more effective collaboration and engagement to restore and protect the Waikato and Waipā Rivers, as well as ensuring that cultural values remain integrated.

The Authority uses capacity building effectively to increase stakeholder engagement. We saw a wide range of initiatives demonstrating this, including funding workshops for iwi to explain the annual funding strategy and noting mātauranga Māori priorities, outlining important dates, covering what should be included in funding applications, and advising fund applicants on what other funding resources might be available to further support their projects.

We consider that these different engagement and communication initiatives provide a range of options worthy of consideration by other freshwater groups and organisations looking to develop engagement and raise awareness and capacity.

The information the Authority uses to generate interest in its clean-up activities

The range of initiatives described in sections 3.1 and 3.2 all seek to promote increased interest and raise awareness of the Authority’s work. The Maunga ki Tai newsletter and proactive efforts to promote media interest in topical restoration stories help to ensure that the Authority’s work generates public interest.

We saw evidence of iwi working alongside regional and territorial authorities and developing positive and healthy working relationships, together with innovative restoration projects, such as the Fairfield project to restore an inner-city gully.

Challenges the Authority experiences around engagement and communication

We asked the Authority to share any challenges related to engagement, particularly with regard to iwi and hapū. The Authority highlighted:

  • greater response times experienced from iwi authorities and hapū when seeking feedback, which were partly mitigated by the Authority providing annual work plans to allow appropriate time, given the other demands on iwi and hapū from other partners;
  • aiming to increase information sharing to improve the Authority’s awareness of iwi views. The Autority is committed to ensuring that conversations between itself, iwi, and the Crown improve and maintain working relationships;
  • occasional difficulties with iwi capacity and capability to complete funded projects; and
  • iwi and hapū applications sometimes not meeting the co-funding requirements, which makes selection decisions difficult, particularly when iwi and hapū applications are competing with applications from organisations with access to more co-funding.

The challenges outlined by the Authority resonated with our understanding of similar challenges experienced by others. It is encouraging to see the Authority’s efforts to mitigate these challenges. We encourage the Authority to share its experiences with other organisations.