Part 4: Stakeholder and public engagement

The Government’s preparedness to implement the sustainable development goals.

In this Part, we discuss:

The 2030 Agenda emphasises that, to implement the SDGs, collaborative partnerships will need to be formed across government, local government, non-governmental organisations, human rights institutions, the private sector, and the public.

In this context, we expected the Government to have had engagement with Māori to agree appropriate working arrangements for implementing the SDGs that uphold and reflect te Tiriti o Waitangi.

We expected a stakeholder engagement strategy or plan that would set out how the Government will engage with stakeholders, communities (especially vulnerable communities), and the wider public about the SDGs.

We recognise that stakeholder engagement usually happens in relation to specific policies or initiatives. However, we expected to see efforts to raise public awareness about the SDGs more generally, including clear communication about ways the public could participate and contribute to achieving the SDGs.

Summary of findings

It was beyond the scope of our review to assess whether effective arrangements are in place to ensure that te ao Māori perspectives are considered across all social, economic, and environmental sustainable development efforts. Some arrangements might exist in relation to specific policies or initiatives relevant to the SDGs. However, some stakeholders we spoke with considered this an area for improvement.

We are aware that there are efforts under way to better reflect te ao Māori in New Zealand's well-being concepts and the Living Standards Framework. However, we did not see any evidence of working arrangements to support planning and implementation for the SDGs as a whole.

We expect that there will be situations where the Government has engaged effectively with stakeholders on specific policies and initiatives that are relevant to the SDGs. However, we heard that engagement with stakeholders often happens in the final stages of policy or initiative development and that there is not enough engagement with vulnerable groups.

We saw no evidence of a stakeholder engagement or communications strategy for the SDGs as a whole. Despite the fact that SDGs relate to many issues that are important to the public, public awareness of the SDGs is low.

The Government has not clarified how it will work with Māori to achieve the sustainable development goals

The 2030 Agenda explicitly states that work to implement the SDGs needs to involve indigenous peoples, as well as other stakeholder groups. However, Māori we spoke with noted that the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs are rarely mentioned when they engage with the Government, even when the focus of their engagement is clearly aligned to one or more of the SDGs.

Te Puni Kōkiri's 2019 discussion paper An indigenous approach to the Living Standards Framework notes that Māori are not always involved as a Tiriti o Waitangi partner in policy development, particularly for social and economic policy development. However, Te Puni Kōkiri and Te Arawhiti told us that the Government's engagement with Māori and its consideration of te Tiriti o Waitangi principles and te ao Māori in its policy work is improving.

In our view, the Government should consider how the principles of te Tiriti o Waitangi will be reflected in all of the sustainable development work it carries out and some consideration should be given to appropriate working arrangements.

The Government has acknowledged that addressing inequalities of outcomes for Māori is one of the main challenges that New Zealand needs to address to achieve the SDGs. In our view, effectively working with Māori is vital to implementing the SDGs.

The Treasury has begun some initial work looking at how to better reflect te ao Māori in New Zealand's well-being concepts. As mentioned in paragraph 3.50, Statistics New Zealand is also working with other government agencies to develop te ao Māori indicators. Te Puni Kōkiri's discussion paper An indigenous approach to the Living Standards Framework provides a Māori perspective on well-being and proposes seven well-being domains. These well-being domains are consistent with those in the Whānau Ora outcomes framework, which includes short-, medium-, and long-term aspirational outcomes. The framework is used by the Government and iwi to guide work focused on improving outcomes for Māori.

The Waikato Wellbeing Project, established in 2019, is a regional initiative developed in partnership with local iwi that has used the SDGs as the framework to develop well-being goals and targets for the region to achieve by 2030 (see Figure 8). The project's use of the SDGs is grounded in te ao Māori. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have endorsed the Waikato Wellbeing Project as a potential template for others preparing approaches to achieve well-being outcomes.

Figure 8
How the Waikato Wellbeing Project uses the sustainable development goals for its framework

Figure 8 - How the Waikato Wellbeing Project uses the sustainable development goals for its framework.

Waikato Wellbeing Project

The Waikato Wellbeing Project (WWP) is a regional initiative that has used the SDGs as the framework to develop Waikato-specific well-being goals and targets to achieve by 2030.

The Waikato region has the second-highest Māori population in New Zealand. The WWP has ensured that its use of the SDGs is also grounded in te ao Māori. This is acknowledged by a central pou that acts as the cultural compass through the project's goals.

The WWP uses a collective leadership approach that includes regional and local council, iwi, the university, and local trusts. The project consulted with more than 150 local representatives, including iwi, regional and local councils, business, youth, academics, and other community members to help develop the region's goals and targets. The targets, based on the SDGs, have been adapted to reflect challenges specific to the Waikato region.

The WWP has established leaders for each of its targets to guide its work on identifying what currently works in the region, what is missing, and what is needed to address those gaps. A well-attended regional summit provided significant input into this work.

At the time of the review, the WWP was developing its implementation plan to "catalyse the targets into action".

For more information, see

Source: Adapted from material from the Waikato Wellbeing Project.

Wider stakeholder engagement needs to improve

The 2030 Agenda states that governments cannot achieve the SDGs without local government, indigenous peoples, human rights institutions, civil society, the private sector, and the public. In the foreword to the first voluntary review, the Prime Minister acknowledges that achieving the SDGs requires co-operation and participation from all sectors.

Many of the stakeholders we interviewed acknowledged that agencies are generally engaging with them more on government priorities, many of which align with the SDGs. However, there is seldom any connection made in this engagement to the 2030 Agenda or the SDGs.

Stakeholders told us that they would welcome the opportunity to regularly engage with the Government to get further clarity, information, and guidance on the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. Many commented that a central point of contact within Government for the SDGs would help improve engagement and provide a better and more integrated picture of implementation of the SDGs across all agencies. This was consistent with results in our survey (see paragraph 1.19) where only two of the 12 agencies we surveyed felt that there was effective engagement with stakeholders across the SDGs.

Responses to our survey also indicated that, for eight of the 17 SDGs, work was under way to engage with stakeholders who can play a key role in implementing them.

Engagement with vulnerable groups needs particular focus

In our survey, agencies did indicate that some engagement has occurred with a range of stakeholder groups on work relevant to particular SDGs (see Figure 9). Most engagement has been with other central government agencies and the business sector. The stakeholder groups engaged with least were those from vulnerable communities and youth.

The 2030 Agenda identifies children and youth as one of the key population groups to focus sustainable development efforts on. Child and youth advocates we spoke with reiterated that there has been little engagement by the Government with them about the SDGs, despite many youth being highly engaged with sustainable development issues.

Local government's involvement is also important if the goals are to be achieved. Local government representatives we spoke with said that councils might look to use the SDGs as a framework to help set out their community well-being outcomes, responsibilities, and measuring requirements in their long-term plans, and that improved co-ordination between central and local government would strengthen New Zealand's sustainable development outcomes.

Figure 9
Number of sustainable development goals where surveyed agencies have engaged with different stakeholder groups on work relevant to that goal

Figure 9 - Number of sustainable development goals where surveyed agencies have engaged with different stakeholder groups on work relevant to that goal.

Source: Office of the Auditor-General.

The United Nations website has resources to help familiarise people with and implement the SDGs at a local level. This might help central and local government and other stakeholders' sustainable development efforts. Resources include:

  • Roadmap for Localizing the SDGs: Implementation and Monitoring at Subnational Level; and
  • The Sustainable Development Goals: What local governments need to know.

Representatives of the disability sector we spoke with told us that the SDGs have not been part of the Government's conversations with the disability sector. The 2030 Agenda emphasises that disability issues are relevant to many of the SDGs. Recognising this could help ensure that disability issues in New Zealand are addressed (for example, identifying how to address the needs of disabled people when considering policy and initiatives for poverty, education, decent work, housing, and infrastructure).

The 2030 Agenda recognises that the SDGs are interrelated. To support vulnerable communities, progress will need to be made in a number of areas. Specific groups might be vulnerable in a number of different ways. For example, many of the health issues that vulnerable people face are often due to a combination of poverty, income, housing, and education challenges. These issues are likely to have been compounded by Covid-19.

The Pacific peoples' representatives we spoke with indicated that the SDGs are being used effectively as a framework in the Pacific region. They saw value in the Government using the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs to frame its engagement and work with Pacific peoples in New Zealand. In particular, the 2030 Agenda's emphasis on "leaving no one behind" would help ensure that the voices of Pacific peoples are not left out of the conversation about issues relevant to the SDGs.

We were not provided with evidence of an overarching stakeholder engagement strategy or plan associated with the SDGs. Although we recognise that there might be engagement on specific policies or initiatives that are relevant to the SDGs, in our view there is benefit in a more co-ordinated approach. This would better reflect the interrelated nature of the goals, the 2030 Agenda's principle of working in partnership, and assist with raising awareness about the SDGs.

We would expect a stakeholder engagement strategy to identify:

  • how it has considered good practice guidelines for stakeholder engagement for the SDGs (for example, the United Nations' Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Institute for Training and Research's Stakeholder engagement and the 2030 Agenda: A practical guide);
  • stakeholders for each of the SDGs and for the SDGs overall, including representatives for vulnerable groups;
  • how the Government will work with Māori, and regularly engage with relevant stakeholders, including vulnerable groups, to implement the SDGs; and
  • contact points in agencies and across stakeholder groups for the SDGs.

Different sectors are using the sustainable development goals to inform and progress their work

Many stakeholders from a wide range of sectors are already using the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs as a framework to help progress their sustainable development efforts. In our view, the Government could learn from this work and consider how it might support and promote broader SDG discussions and initiatives. Figure 10 provides some examples across a range of sectors outside of central government where the SDGs are being used to inform and progress work.

Figure 10
Examples of the sustainable development goals being used to inform and progress work across different sectors

Annual national SDGs summits

New Zealand universities host annual multi-sector summits for the SDGs, with the intent to hold these up to 2030. The summits attract educational organisations, Māori, Pacific peoples, local and central government, business, NGOs, youth, and community groups representatives. The summits are to bring people together to increase awareness of the SDGs, grow partnerships, and agree to actions to progress the SDGs. Two have been held so far. A third will be co-hosted by the University of Canterbury and Lincoln University in September 2021, with three online hui leading up to it held during November 2020 to June 2021 (for more information, see The overriding theme for the September 2021 summit is "Collaboration for systemic change".
Massey University's Master of Sustainable Development Goals

This recently introduced Masters programme focuses on the theory, practice, and application of the SDGs, including specific focus on indigenous knowledge and approaches, and how to measure progress against the SDGs. The final component of the Masters programme involves working with an organisation to gain experience of and research into how its sustainable development work relates to current SDGs and sustainable development knowledge and practices. Massey University notes this Masters programme is unique in the Southern Hemisphere. It helps address the strong demand for practitioners who can monitor, implement, and assess the SDGs.
The University of Auckland is in the top ten of the SDGs global tertiary institutions rankings

The Times Higher Education's impact rankings is the first global attempt to measure the broader impact of universities. The rankings assess how 1117 universities from 94 countries or regions are delivering on the SDGs, looking across their research, stewardship, outreach, and teaching portfolios.
Otago is a United Nations Regional Centre of Expertise for Sustainability

In early 2020 the United Nations named Otago as one of its Regional Centres of Expertise for Sustainability. The proposal was led by Otago Polytechnic and supported collectively by the region's mayors, Otago Regional Council, University of Otago, Kāi Tahu, businesses, NGOs, and local secondary schools. The Regional Centre of Expertise is to advance the SDGs in the region, including sustainable development education, and to facilitate community action and multi-stakeholder initiatives. This builds on Otago Polytechnic linking the SDGs with its strategic objectives and the University of Otago signing up to the International SDG Accord, where tertiary institutions commit to doing more to deliver the goals, report annually on their progress, and share lessons learned.
Victoria University of Wellington produced the website as a national resource

The University's School of Government produced a national SDGs website as a public good contribution. The website's intent is to help monitor New Zealand's progress towards achieving the goals, with its work guided by a steering group with representatives from academic, business, public, and NGO sectors. It includes an interactive data model comparing New Zealand's progress on a selection of indicators since 2015 for each of the 17 SDGs, and provides links to webinars, articles, and other resources.
Sustainable Business Council

The Sustainable Business Council provides a forum for its members to work collectively and accelerate progress towards a sustainable future for business, people, and the environment. The Sustainable Business Council helps facilitate this through various activities, including convening projects, providing support and tools, and a collective voice. For a business to remain a member of the Sustainable Business Council it must fulfil member commitments, which increase over time. These commitments include annual reporting on progress in implementing sustainable business practices including the use of relevant frameworks such as the SDGs, reporting on progress in reducing its carbon footprint, and reporting on its sustainable procurement practices and processes. Membership can be revoked if members continually fail to meet their membership commitments.
Sanford seafood company

Sanford is a New Zealand business that is aligning its work with the SDGs. Sanford has identified six SDGs that it can contribute the most towards. Sanford's publicly available annual reports identify its initiatives that contribute to those SDGs and how each of its performance outcome areas contribute to the SDGs.

Westpac is also aligning its work in New Zealand with the SDGs. Westpac notes its commitment to the 2030 Agenda and has identified seven SDGs that it believes it can have the most impact on. Westpac's website identifies for each of these SDGs a list of its activities that contribute to it.
Napier Port

Some New Zealand ports are also aligning their work with the SDGs. For example, Napier Port has identified nine SDGs that its current sustainability practices, policies, and programmes align with. Development of the Port's sustainability strategy is being guided by the SDGs, with the Port assessing all 17 SDGs and their targets to determine those that are most relevant to its work in the short and long term, and to prioritise those where the most effective local gains can be made.
Waikato Wellbeing Project

The Waikato Wellbeing Project is the first of its kind in New Zealand where the SDGs have provided the framework for a region's sustainable development aspirations for 2030. Further details about the Waikato Wellbeing Project are included in Figure 8.
Auckland District Health Board

The Auckland District Health Board (DHB) is using the SDGs as a framework for its strategic planning. The DHB recognised it needed to move its sustainability focus from carbon and waste to a wider focus on social, economic and environmental sustainable development. The DHB considers aligning its work with the SDGs is key to its efforts to improve health outcomes, including achieving health equity for Māori and key stakeholders that "leaves no one behind". This led to the DHB integrating the SDGs into its strategy and business as usual operations, with te Tiriti o Waitangi at the centre. To determine those SDGs most important for the DHB, it consulted with multiple stakeholders, including iwi, patients, and staff. Its next stage, at the time of this review, is to determine what will be measured and monitored to assess the DHB's progress against these SDGs.

Note: These examples are drawn from publicly available information. The Office of the Auditor-General has not independently verified the accuracy of the information, and the use of these examples is not an endorsement of the policies or practices of these organisations.

Source: Office of the Auditor-General.

Public awareness of the sustainable development goals is low

For more than 10 years, Colmar Brunton's annual Better Futures surveys have assessed what issues are important to New Zealand adults. In the 2017 Better Futures survey, 28% of adults surveyed had heard of the SDGs. This was an increase from 23% in 2016.

Colmar Brunton's 2020 Better Futures survey also surveyed 13- to 17-year-olds. Results show that a high proportion of adults and youth are concerned with several social, economic, and environmental issues that are relevant to the SDGs. The top concern of adults was the protection of New Zealand children (with 71% of those surveyed concerned), followed by the build-up of plastic in the environment (69%), the cost of living (62%), and violence in society (62%). The survey found that the top concern of youth was suicide rates (with 64% of those surveyed concerned), followed by the build-up of plastic in the environment (61%), and the pollution of lakes, rivers, and seas. More than half of youth respondents were concerned with the impact of climate change (54%) and child poverty (52%).

Raising public awareness of the 2030 Agenda, the SDGs, and the SDG targets could encourage the public to take action themselves to meaningfully contribute to achieving the SDGs. Making the Government's commitments to the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs transparent also allows for the public to better hold the Government to account for progress to meet the SDG targets.

Many stakeholders and some of the agency staff we interviewed felt that the Government was not bringing the SDGs into its conversations with the public, and not routinely communicating how its various activities contribute to the SDGs. This can risk the impression that there is limited government commitment to the SDGs. Some of the people we interviewed considered this a missed opportunity, because the issues the SDGs cover should resonate with the public.

In our view, the Government needs to describe how it will raise public awareness of the SDGs. A communications strategy for New Zealand's implementation of the SDGs could consider:

  • how information on the SDGs and the SDG targets for New Zealand and the progress towards these will be communicated to the public and tailored for different groups;
  • how the public will be encouraged to support the SDGs in their communities; and
  • key contact points for the SDGs that the public can use.

Some examples of guidelines for communicating with the public for the SDGs that might help inform the communications strategy include:

  • the European Sustainable Development Network's Communication and awareness raising in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs: Activities and challenges;
  • the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's 10 learning areas for SDG communications; and
  • the United Nations Development Group's Mainstreaming the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development – reference guide to UN country teams (section B1).