Part 8: Our preparedness and response must keep improving

Co-ordination of the all-of-government response to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

In this Part, we make observations about New Zealand’s ongoing readiness and response arrangements for the Covid-19 pandemic and other disruptive events. In particular, we discuss the need for:

We also describe:

Adequate workforce capability, capacity, and support is needed

People are essential to the effectiveness of emergency and crisis responses. The ability of public servants to work together in stressful, complex, and unfamiliar situations will continue to be critical.

DPMC told us that the public sector needs to develop a culture and practice of constantly taking action, planning, and adjusting its response to emergency scenarios. DPMC also told us the public service needs more capability to better manage ambiguity and effectively carry out all-of-government teamwork.

We encourage DPMC, NEMA, and Te Kawa Mataaho to consider the best ways to use other agencies’ (and public servants’) transferable expertise for future emergencies and crises. For example, we saw that for the Covid-19 response, the Ministry for Primary Industries had useful experience and insights to offer from leading responses to major biosecurity events.

The Covid-19 Group has kept records of people who worked in the all-of-government response and who could be contacted to help with a resurgence of Covid-19 or other emergency responses.

This is positive. Having enough and appropriately skilled public servants in-house or on standby for response activities is likely to promote efficiency in future responses, and could reduce public spending on contractors and consultants.80

Data shows that the number of public servants increased in 2020/21, with 50% of the increase attributed to work related to Covid-19.81 Te Kawa Mataaho told us that it helped source 300 contact tracers who could be used for a summer outbreak in 2020/21.

However, concerns remain about the sustainability of resourcing (particularly in frontline responses) and the ability to surge. Concerns also remain about agencies’ ability to continue critical elements of their usual work without being overstretched if another significant outbreak occurs.

It is important that the public sector develops broader capability. It needs to be able to draw on a deep and wide pool of people with adaptable general competencies, as well as specific technical expertise, to support all-of-government and whole-of-society responses to complex emergencies. This includes people from outside the public sector.

Good co-ordination, communication, and information management are essential

Although those involved in the response placed high value on regular meetings for bringing about improvements, these meetings had their limitations. We were told that they sometimes got too big, that key people did not attend, and that important outcomes were not always recorded or shared.

We heard that there were compatibility and performance issues with different information and communication software and systems. Appropriate technology solutions were put in place over time.

Public health and safety measures for officials and other staff in the all-of-government response also had to be worked through. This included physical distancing in workplaces and other steps to prevent or control infection. To improve efficiency in the next public health emergency response, these considerations need to be included in planning and readiness.

DPMC created a master file to track actions from meetings of ODESC, the Quin, and the Covid-19 Group. However, until mid-August 2020, this did not appear to be regularly updated, and it was not clear how widely the file was made accessible.

Different parts of the all-of-government response also produced many different situation reports and dashboards. This meant that information for decision-makers had the potential to be inconsistent or conflicting.

There were problems with co-ordinating the international assessment work that different teams did throughout the all-of-government response. Meeting minutes from October 2020 show that the Covid-19 Group’s leadership team was also concerned that overseas insights were not being consistently brought together to inform policy development.

There are important lessons to be learned from these experiences. Strong systems and processes to support the co-ordination of information, decision-making, tasking, and consultation between agencies are needed to support an efficient response.

It is also important that these be tested before they are needed and any changes made during an actual response are clearly and widely communicated.

Regular simulation exercises are important

The simulation exercises carried out in 2020 provided valuable insights but were not done regularly. DPMC told us that this was a matter of balancing the need for exercises with needs of the ongoing Covid-19 response and not overburdening fatigued people. We agree that finding the right balance during a response is important.

To improve New Zealand’s readiness and response arrangements for the next waves of Covid-19 and other emergencies or crises, officials need to continue to ensure that simulation exercises:

  • can still be carried out during potential disruptions from real emergencies;82
  • are sufficiently inclusive and wide-reaching;
  • incorporate the strengths and address the weaknesses of Covid-19 response experiences to date;
  • prepare for the range of threats and hazards New Zealand faces; and
  • have adequate resourcing (capability and capacity).

It is also important that exercises are carried out on a regular basis. We note that an evaluation of the 2017/2018 pandemic exercise led by the Ministry of Health found that the 10-year interval between the exercises was too long, “when taking into account the likelihood and potential consequences of a pandemic.”83

We were encouraged to see a draft workplan for a continuous stress-testing regime that was published on the Unite Against Covid-19 website in July 2021. This set out a schedule of Covid-19 scenario-planning activities that DPMC was to co-ordinate until May 2022. However, we have not seen public reporting on whether these activities were carried out.

To promote accountability for carrying out Covid-19 readiness testing, the following two performance targets for DPMC have been introduced:

  • The National Response Leadership Team is satisfied that the National Resurgence Response Plan is used effectively in a resurgence, and/or remains up to date, robust and routinely tested (new for 2020/21); and
  • Exercises are undertaken to ensure readiness to respond to the Covid-19 elimination strategy pillars (new for 2021/22).

DPMC reported the first measure as achieved in its 2020/21 annual report (in October 2021). It reported the second measure as achieved in its 2021/22 annual report.

In our view, there is still a need for more robust performance reporting on the Government’s response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. We encourage agencies to consider other measures they can use or information they can provide to assist the public in understanding the improvements that are being made to improve New Zealand’s readiness and response.

Engaging the public remains critical

Continuing to engage with the public should strengthen and improve the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Including members of the public in design and development processes can help to test assumptions and identify unintended consequences, ensure that a range of perspectives and needs are considered, and promote the behaviours required to manage the spread of Covid-19 or future viruses.

Two of the Covid-19 Group’s five strategic objectives in 2020/21 related to engaging and enabling the public. The Group worked to achieve these objectives, but they told us making meaningful progress with some aspects has been challenging.

We saw evidence that officials raised questions in June 2020 about what the all-of-government response was doing to address equity and ensure collaboration with Māori, disabled people, and others.

Efforts were made to understand the perspectives of the public. The Covid-19 Group monitors media and other public opinion as sources of insights into people’s experiences and the effect of government communications. As discussed in paragraph 7.34, survey work was also carried out to inform the ongoing development of the response.

Officials also identified ways to better engage with various groups over time. Documents we reviewed indicated that the business sector and communities were expected to be involved in developing and testing resurgence planning from late 2020. We also heard in March 2021 that the Covid-19 Group intended to improve relationships with communities by setting up panels with strong connections to particular groups, including iwi.

In October 2021, the Group published information on the Unite Against Covid-19 website about a community panel with nine members representing Māori, Pacific, LGBTQ+, disabled people, rural, youth, older people, and other ethnic groups. Members of the panel were expected to provide feedback and insights from their communities, including those most disadvantaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, on aspects of the all-of-government response. Part of their role was to also help shape the medium- to long-term Covid-19 strategy.

However, we note that this information has not been recently updated. DPMC told us in July 2022 that information relating to the community panel and also to the Business Leaders’ Forum is now included as part of the Covid-19 response weekly report on the Unite Against Covid-19 website.84 In our view, given the intent of these mechanisms, making this information more accessible would be useful.

In our view, it is important to have transparent and effective arrangements for sharing information between the community and the Government. These types of arrangements can help identify issues before they emerge during a response. They can also help with public acceptance of policies and interventions and support wider trust and confidence.

More transparency is needed about progress against recommendations

The two rapid reviews commissioned by the chairperson of ODESC in 2020 resulted in positive changes to the all-of-government response. However, it took time for the Covid-19 Group to make progress against some of the recommendations (see Figure 6).

Figure 6
Actions to respond to rapid reviews that took time to achieve

Key action Date identified Date achieved
Secure a Cabinet mandate for the Covid-19 Group. April 2020,
October 2020
December 2020.
Form an independent group to provide real-time feedback on response activities. April 2020 March 2021.

Minister for Covid-19 Response establishes the Covid-19 Independent Continuous Review, Improvement and Advice Group (Improvements Group).
Invest in dedicated resource to capture lessons from the national crisis, ensure system-wide learning. April 2020, October 2020 From early 2021, ongoing.
Collate and share lessons identified and common points from agencies’ internal reviews throughout the system. October 2020 December 2020, responsibility assigned to proposed risk and assurance function of the Covid-19 Group.

May 2021, work planned to develop a repository.*
Progress a system-wide risk and assurance framework. October 2020 Draft discussed mid-December 2020, in use by May 2021 (with further improvements planned from September 2021).

* In May 2021, the Covid-19 Group told us that it was going to develop a repository of recommendations from all that had been done on the system response to share with the Covid-19 Chief Executives’ Board. The Chairperson of the Improvements Group raised such work as a matter of priority in a letter to the Minister of Covid-19 Response in May 2021 (see

We recognise that the ongoing demands of the all-of-government response will have slowed progress and some improvements take time to work through.

The public had limited visibility of the full spectrum of Covid-19 review work done or commissioned by the Government during 2020. The two rapid reviews completed in April and October 2020 were not released to the public until late March 2021. A review of the surveillance plan and testing strategy was completed in September 2020 but not released publicly until December 2020.

It was also difficult to see whether the recommendations that were made had been implemented.

DPMC published a summary of recommendations from research commissioned in March 2021 and included a list of initial actions the Covid-19 Group took in response.85 This is an example of the type of accountability we would like to see more widely adopted.

A significant number of reviews about aspects of the Covid-19 response have been carried out. In June 2021, the Covid-19 Group did a stocktake of the various reviews about aspects of the Government’s Covid-19 response.

Approximately 50 major reviews (conducted by external audits, independent parties, or internal reviews) were completed during March 2020 to June 2021. These reviews produced a total of 1222 recommendations.

The Minister for Covid-19 Response requested monthly updates on progress against recommendations from July 2021. In August 2021, DPMC published a one-page document that outlined progress. The 1222 recommendations were grouped into 10 categories and high-level information about progress was reported. This provided some transparency about how recommendations are being addressed.

We see ongoing value in the Government continuing to provide a central website for the public to find information about the Covid-19 response. It would be useful for this to include a continually updated master list of all reviews of the response, as well as evidence of how the Government has responded to the reviews’ findings.86

In our view, it would also be useful for the strategic crisis management and wider emergency management system to have a more formalised and systematic approach to recording and reporting its progress against recommendations from reviews and other work. If this was made public, it would also provide assurance about the extent to which improvements are being made.87

This is also consistent with findings from the Audit Office of New South Wales in April 2021 on how emergency response agencies could better address recommendations from public inquiries.88

More support is needed to build a culture of review during an extended emergency

In September 2021, DPMC told us that it was using the framework for lessons management that the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience developed to formally gather observations for the Covid-19 Chief Executives’ Board to consider.

In July 2022, DPMC told us that it had applied this framework in workshops on identifying lessons. NEMA told us it would lead work with specialist practitioners to create an official New Zealand version. Te Kawa Mataaho told us in August 2022 that it has a strong desire to capture and embed what it learned during the Covid-19 response. We encourage DPMC, NEMA, and Te Kawa Mataaho to share good practices from their work with other organisations.89

In our work, we commonly find that efforts to learn lessons are done as isolated, one-off activities in a way that is not methodical or connected with others.

We appreciate that it is challenging to carry out robust review processes during an emergency or crisis. Response activities often need to be prioritised. We also recognise that areas identified for improvement might not be applicable if situations change.

However, in our view, it would be helpful to give more consideration to ensuring that regular review of response activities occurs during an emergency or crisis.90 The Ministry of Health told us in July 2022 that it has learnt from the pandemic that ongoing iterative reviews are needed. It has sought to carry them out regularly, including with DPMC.

Many of the review activities during 2020 were carried out in an ad hoc way. Sometimes, the identification of issues for improvement depended on individuals (such as team leaders) to decide if, how, and when to do this.

In our view, agencies need better guidance and tools to support review activity and build overall capability.

We saw evidence that some senior decision-makers did not fully understand the role and purpose of the Red Team formed in August 2020.

Including a Red Team as a standing function of the Covid-19 Chief Executives’ Board should normalise this practice and demonstrate its value. We expect that agencies will have also become more familiar with the culture and approaches of continuous review through the work of the high-profile Covid-19 Independent Continuous Review, Improvement and Advice Group (the Improvements Group).

Even so, we think additional guidance could be developed to help agencies set up independent real-time scrutiny to help drive continual improvements during an extended response to an emergency.

Recommendation 4
We recommend that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, National Emergency Management Agency, Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission, the Ministry of Health, and other relevant organisations continue to work together to demonstrate how they are making improvements during an ongoing response by:
  • systematically identifying lessons, taking action, and monitoring progress;
  • seeking independent expertise and acting on that advice, as appropriate; and
  • reporting the findings of reviews publicly in a timely and accessible way, including whether they have implemented recommendations.

More attention should be given to monitoring system-wide risks during a response

Although we saw many efforts to identify and report on different Covid-related risks, we found that these were not always managed in a co-ordinated and integrated way during 2020.

The Covid-19 Group told us they faced challenges in working with agencies’ varying levels of risk management maturity. It sometimes had issues with getting the right information about risks from agencies that had other competing demands.

In our view, this might have contributed to the response system remaining in a reactive mode for an extended period. Having a centralised risk register with strong oversight sooner could have better supported effective and efficient cross-agency efforts to manage system-wide risks.

We understand that in May 2021, the Covid-19 Chief Executives’ Board adopted a new assurance framework to improve planning and prioritisation.

Future responses to nationally significant events should have dedicated governance arrangements that are communicated well and that have appropriate administrative and decision-making support. Initiatives to strengthen governance arrangements for future crises have also been recommended in other countries.91

More steps were taken to improve the response and planning in 2021

From July 2021, the Minister for Covid-19 Response sought greater accountability from key response agencies. This was largely in response to the Improvements Group’s review of the February 2021 outbreak.

On 7 July 2021, the Minister wrote to the leaders of DPMC, Te Kawa Mataaho, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. He asked them to prioritise workstreams to improve the response in three areas: contact tracing, system capability and capacity, and system-wide scenario planning.

The Minister requested monthly progress reports on actions identified in the review of the February 2021 outbreak. He expected insights from the Improvements Group to be reported to him regularly, shared with agencies, and published on the Unite Against Covid-19 website.

To increase the value and impact of its work, the Improvements Group proposed to adopt a more real-time approach. It wanted to focus on identifying changes to the response system for immediate consideration and implementation instead of taking a lengthier review and report approach.

A Strategic Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Group (the Strategic Group) was also formed to provide independent advice on the Covid-19 response. The members of the Strategic Group were appointed for their expertise in epidemiology, infectious diseases, public health, and modelling. The Group’s terms of reference included a public-facing role to communicate complex scientific analysis to the general public.

In July 2021, Te Kawa Mataaho progressed work to establish adequate resources and staffing to respond to a large outbreak. This included developing strategies for addressing tiredness and burnout.

Work to evolve the national strategy continued as the Covid-19 vaccine was rolled out in New Zealand and other countries. On 12 August 2021, the Government released a new plan, Reconnecting New Zealanders to the World. It held a live-streamed panel discussion that included the Prime Minister, the chairperson of the Strategic Group, members of the Improvements Group, and the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.

The arrangements outlined above were intended to help strengthen the Covid-19 system as a whole, through improved planning and assurance, and to help shift it to a fit-for-the-future model, which the Improvements Group had advised.

Covid-19 variants continued to test New Zealand’s readiness

The World Health Organization named Delta as a Covid-19 variant of concern in May 2021. From June 2021, it made up most cases and was leading to surges overseas. The need to prepare for an aggressive variant like Delta was identified in an update for the Covid-19 Chief Executives’ Board meeting on 17 August 2021. Advice was given that:

The Delta, and potentially more transmissible future variants, pose significant challenges in a response and due to the transmissibility of infection, rapid and bold responses are vital for success. It will be necessary to develop a shared understanding across agencies of these implications.

DPMC had planned to run a cross-agency workshop by mid-August 2021 to discuss the impacts of an outbreak of Delta and carry out system-wide work to recalibrate response arrangements.

However, New Zealand had its first suspected community case of Delta on 17 August 2021 and went into immediate nationwide lockdown. To manage Delta’s spread, Auckland was placed under an extended period of restrictions (from 17 August 2021 until 14 December 2021, when the regional boundary was lifted).

A review of the response to Delta found that work to get ready for a Covid-19 outbreak (including scenario planning led by DPMC) on a national basis had not been done in an adequate and integrated way.92 District health board chief executives and chairpersons had written to the Minister of Health about their low confidence in preparedness planning.

We saw documents that show that DPMC’s readiness programme (which included testing the national resurgence response) did not get under way until 15 June 2021. As at 17 August 2021, DPMC’s plans signalled an intention to carry out work to ensure alignment across the system to mitigate gaps ahead of an outbreak.

During the period of restrictions for Delta, people in the media, in academia, in Parliament, in communities, and in the wider public variously reported concerns that included:

  • ongoing inadequacies in the health system’s infrastructure, the health workforce, and intensive care unit capacity;
  • the need to boost vaccination rates;
  • efforts to address inequities had not been prioritised or effective enough;
  • wider routine wastewater testing had not been adopted nationwide;
  • rapid screening for Covid-19 had not been scaled up; and
  • the need to manage the risk of Covid-19 through appropriate border controls and isolation and quarantine settings, including MIQ (which had limited capacity).

On 4 October 2021, the Prime Minister indicated a shift in strategy from eliminating Covid-19 to reducing it to an acceptable level and learning to live with it.

The Government took other significant steps to respond to Delta and to try to keep New Zealand moving through another period of high uncertainty. Major activities included boosting vaccination rates, introducing a Covid-19 Protection Framework, and revising the length of stays in MIQ.

Some of these initiatives also related to the rapidly escalating threat of Omicron, which the World Health Organization named as a variant of concern on 26 November 2021. Overseas cases suggested that it would be even more transmissible than Delta.

The Government faced other challenges during this period. These included a sharp increase in misinformation and disinformation (which officials noted as an issue in October 2021). The Waitangi Tribunal also found that the Crown had breached te Tiriti o Waitangi principles in the Covid-19 response.

There were also some gaps in public engagement, transparency, and accountability. These included:

  • perceived inconsistencies in government messaging and confusion about restricted and permitted activities at different points in time;93
  • enacting the Covid-19 (Vaccinations) Legislation Bill under urgency (within two days) without select committee scrutiny or public submissions; and
  • limited public reporting of activities carried out by the two independent advisory groups.94

We were encouraged to see that, on 10 December 2021, the Government released documents on the Improvements Group’s work, dating back to April 2021. A further batch of reports from this group was released in June 2022. We encourage agencies to consider whether these types of reports could be released more frequently.

In our view, it would also be useful for the Government to publish the modelling work it uses to inform decisions about the Covid-19 response and its planning in a single and easily accessible place that is well communicated to the public (see paragraph 8.43).

We note the 2021 Global Health Security Index found that the transparency of New Zealand’s health information had improved since its 2019 assessment.

Future Covid-19 arrangements need focus

Since the spread of Delta and Omicron, there have been increasing calls for a harder look at how New Zealand is positioned to best respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and future crises. This involves considering:

  • our institutional and governance arrangements;
  • how we build, resource, and structure our capabilities and capacity to do surveillance and operational planning and other anticipatory work; and
  • what other countries are doing.

In September 2021, a United Nations report stated that the Covid-19 pandemic provides an urgent choice for countries: breakdown or breakthrough.95 It presented a scenario of continuing business-as-usual and risking perpetual crisis, with no preparedness for a mutating Covid-19 virus or the other 827,000 animal and bird viruses with potential to infect humans.

Various initiatives have been proposed or introduced to strengthen governments’ institutional arrangements for the current pandemic. For example, the World Health Organization’s Independent Panel recommended that national pandemic co-ordinators be appointed and made accountable to the highest levels of government, with a mandate to co-ordinate whole-of-government preparedness and response.

In June 2021, the Improvements Group signalled the need to ensure that the response’s operating model was suitable. In September 2021, the Improvements Group again found that the system response arrangements from December 2020 were not fully integrated, were still primarily reacting to events, and lacked strategic oversight.

The Improvements Group had concerns about the all-of-government response’s reliance on a small number of chief executives to provide governance, who also have their own organisations to lead.

The Improvements Group recommended that a standalone Pandemic Preparedness and Response Unit be urgently set up. The Chair suggested that such a unit be led by a chief executive and staffed by people from the public and private sectors.

Others, including epidemiologists, have also said that New Zealand has taken a reactive approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, and that we need to prioritise preparing for the next pandemic and look longer term.

The national security intelligence priority for biosecurity and human health was updated in November 2021. The publicly available version now explicitly includes an aim to support the Pandemic Plan. It also includes expectations that agencies understand new and emerging human diseases and mitigations used overseas for dealing with such threats.

We encourage officials to continue to review and improve the operating model for the all-of-government response so that it is suitable for the present situation and also for the future. This includes considering how to incorporate wider perspectives and advice and enable fresh thinking and innovation.

Including diverse voices and experiences is critical for informing a comprehensive and robust whole-of-society response.96

We need to better prepare for future crises

An International Science Council report97 emphasised that the Covid-19 pandemic is not just a health crisis with health impacts. It has highlighted the need for policy and planning on long-term impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and for future crises to take into consideration a much wider range of domains and consequences, including growing inequalities.

There are calls to set up dedicated structures or functions that have a long-term outlook and are generally independent of the government. Suggestions include:

  • appointing a Parliamentary Commissioner for Extreme Risks;98
  • setting up an apolitical body to co-ordinate the monitoring and mitigation of high-impact risks;99
  • setting up committees for the future, which the United Nations and some countries are doing;
  • instituting a catastrophic emergencies programme to report annually to Parliament;
  • setting up an Office for Preparedness and Resilience, headed by a Government Chief Risk Officer, that has an auditing function and a dedicated select committee to scrutinise risk planning;100 and
  • forming a science strategy council to provide multidisciplinary expertise for complex emergencies.

Policy decisions such as these are for the Government to make.

However, in our view, it is critical that strengthened Covid-19 response arrangements also connect with wider efforts to be ready for other significant disruptions. The United Nations report (see paragraph 8.84) identified other complex emergencies and catastrophic events that we need to prepare for at the same time as the Covid-19 pandemic.

Work is under way to improve readiness for future emergencies and crises

Various programmes of system change are addressing issues with crisis readiness that became more apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic. These include:

  • the DPMC-led response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch mosques;
  • NEMA’s ongoing work leading emergency management system reforms;101 and
  • the health and disability system reforms (led by the Health and Disability Review Transition Unit, also based in DPMC).

Provisions introduced through the Public Service Act 2020 to support greater interagency collaboration and engagement with Māori might inform improvements. Planned local government reforms might also present opportunities to better understand and engage with communities.

Work to improve response arrangements also needs to inform and be informed by wider conversations with the public. Some senior officials with responsibilities for emergency management and national security told us that there needs to be a “deep hard look” at New Zealand’s approach to dealing with all hazards and risks.

In Part 3, we identified some shortcomings in New Zealand’s readiness for a major disruptive event before Covid-19 emerged. Many of the issues related to:

  • under-investment;
  • stretched capability;
  • suboptimal use of oversight and monitoring functions for managing system security risks and their consequences;
  • a perceived focus on response rather than risk reduction; and
  • a lack of priority given to preparedness for a pandemic.

DPMC told us in 2021 that the National Security Group is improving the national security system. It has already made changes to help focus the Hazard Risk Board on strategic cross-system issues.

We encourage DPMC to continue working with NEMA and other relevant organisations to build enough capability and capacity to carry out effective risk reduction and readiness activities, including ongoing monitoring and assessment of significant threats and risks to New Zealand.

We note there has been a significant increase in funding to DPMC for Covid-19 epidemiological modelling, disinformation monitoring, and risk assessment. This has risen from an initial $3.3 million for 2021/22 to $6.7 million for 2022/23.

DPMC told us in July 2022 that it expects the Covid-19 Group’s involvement in the Covid-19 response to reduce over time, as the all-of-government response system moves to a decentralised governance and operating model.

There have been calls for strategic foresight to be strengthened and embedded, along with better anticipatory governance of disruptive events. These events are expected to have a greater impact and be more frequent than in the past.102

The United Kingdom’s Office for Budget Responsibility said that:

the difficulty in anticipating the precise timing and nature of the next crisis puts a premium on governments engaging in horizon scanning and investing in generic risk management systems and structures.103

The International Science Council has also urged governments to reframe the way they assess risk and to take a more integrated and systems approach.104

A recently introduced requirement in New Zealand for government departments to produce long-term insights briefings could be a step in the right direction. This is because it involves looking at least 10 years into the future to identify and publicly report trends, risks, opportunities, and proposed responses.

We are also encouraged by the work that agencies have done to support community and national conversations about security issues in response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch mosques. This work has informed the draft long-term insights briefing that DPMC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade co-led and published in October 2022 for public feedback105

In September 2021, the Treasury published Tirohanga Mokopuna 2021 – The Treasury’s combined Statement on the Long-term Fiscal Position and Long-term Insights Briefing. This report included discussion of a set of disruptive event scenarios and their potential financial impacts. As part of developing this work, the Treasury also held a series of “conversations about our future” with Māori and Pasifika leaders.

In our review of Tirohanga Mokopuna 2021, we highlighted the value of further involving the public in thinking about, and planning for, the future and ensuring that departments are not developing their insights briefings in isolation from one another.106

In our view, better engaging with the public includes, for example, discussing how major emergencies are managed, how communities should be involved, and what the implications and trade-offs of different levels of risk tolerance might look like.

Given the public’s experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is timely for government to have these conversations, normalise them as a way of operating, and demonstrate its responsiveness.

Academics and other independent parties have been calling for governments to engage with the public on their preparedness and response activities more actively.107 This aligns with New Zealand’s National disaster resilience strategy (2019), which promotes “a wide, whole-of-society, participatory, and inclusive approach” to reducing and managing risks.108

Recommendation 5
We recommend that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, National Emergency Management Agency, Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission, the Ministry of Health, and other relevant organisations continue to work together to:
  • improve the transparency of, and engagement with the public on, risk, readiness, and response arrangements to inform strategic policy, planning, investment, and resourcing decisions.
Recommendation 6
We recommend that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, National Emergency Management Agency, Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission, the Ministry of Health, and other relevant organisations continue to work together to:
  • provide regular assurance to Parliament about the public sector’s readiness for major disruptive events, including how they have implemented our recommendations.

We are pleased to see that the Government has now announced a Royal Commission of Inquiry into its Covid-19 response. There is much to learn from the response, and we should not miss this opportunity.

80: The Ministry of Health told us that consultants provided missing expertise and helped sustain the response to the pandemic, which had created a much higher workload.

81: Te Kawa Mataaho (2021), 2021 Public service workforce data, at

82: This means trying to adhere to the simulations scheduled through NEMA’s National Exercise Programme and the Covid-19 Group readiness function (see paragraphs 7.59-7.60).

83: See Ministry of Health (2018), Exercise Pomare: Post exercise report, at

84: DPMC also told us in August 2022 that Te Arawhiti had also facilitated engagement with the National Iwi Chairs Forum, non-affiliated iwi, and Māori organisations.

85: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (2021), Summary: “How are you feeling, Auckland?, at This was based on work carried out by Moana Research

86: Recommendation trackers and an interactive dashboard developed by audit offices in the United Kingdom and Queensland, respectively, provide a fuller view to the public. The United Kingdom also has requirements for quarterly reports to a select committee on the implementation of recommendations about Covid-19 risk management.

87: Such an approach aligns with the best practice recommended by the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience. Its Lessons management handbook, published in 2019, outlines a cycle of collection, analysis, implementation, monitoring, and subsequent review of lessons. All stages require continuous stakeholder engagement.

88: Audit Office of New South Wales (2021), Addressing public inquiry recommendations – Emergency response agencies, at

89: In 2016, we recommended that DPMC strengthen the resilience of the national security system by, among other things, recording and applying lessons from system activations and exercises more methodically. See Office of the Auditor-General (2016), Governance of the national security system, at

90: Overseas jurisdictions are trying to address this same challenge. See, for example, Federal Emergency Management Agency (2020), “The continuous improvement process” webinar, at

91: Audit Wales (2021), Doing it differently, doing it right? Governance in the NHS during the Covid-19 crisis – Key themes, lessons, and opportunities, at A 2021 House of Lords’ inquiry, Preparing for extreme risks: Building a resilient society, also recommended actions to prevent the confusion with governance during the Covid-19 pandemic from arising in future crises. See

92: Covid-19 Independent Continuous Review, Improvement and Advice Group (2021), Observations from the recent Delta outbreak, at

93: Some efforts were made to understand public views during the Delta outbreak. For example, rapid insight checks (short surveys) were carried out in August, September, and October 2021. Findings on the clarity of information and compliance were included in the published reports. The sample sizes were relatively small.

94: This included a two-month lag in releasing the Improvements’ Group report on the response to Delta and no public visibility of its other continuous advisory work for almost five months in 2021.

95: United Nations (2021), Our common agenda – Report of the Secretary-General, at

96: See also World Health Organization (2022), Strategic preparedness, readiness and response plan to end the global Covid-19 emergency in 2022, at The report states that “localised responses [to Covid-19 and concurrent events] must be co-designed with communities to ensure relevance, acceptability, sustainability and effectiveness”.

97: International Science Council (2022), Unprecedented and unfinished: Covid-19 and implications for national and global policy, at

98: Boyd, M and Wilson, N (December 2021), “Current and future generations must flourish: Time for a long-term and global perspective on pandemic and other catastrophic risks”, Public Health Expert, at

99: Gluckman, P and Bardsley, A (2021), Uncertain but inevitable: The expert-policy-political nexus, Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Studies, at

100: An inquiry in the United Kingdom recommended that the United Kingdom do this. See House of Lords’ Risk Assessment and Risk Planning Committee (2021), Preparing for extreme risks: Building a resilient society, at

101: This includes a review of the Emergency Management Act and the Plan Order and accompanying Guide.

102: McGuinness Institute (2021), Discussion paper 2021/03: A Covid-19 situational report: Beyond Aotearoa New Zealand’s fortress as at 1 September 2021. See also Gluckman, P and Bardsley, A (2021), Uncertain but inevitable: The expert-policy-political nexus, Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Studies, at

103: See United Kingdom National Audit Office (2021), The government’s preparedness for the Covid-19 pandemic: Lessons for government on risk management, at

104: International Science Council (2022), Unprecedented and unfinished: Covid-19 and implications for national and global policy, at

105: New Zealand Government (2022), Let’s talk about our national security: National security long-term insights briefing, at

106: See Office of the Auditor-General (2022), Commentary on He Tirohanga Mokopuna 2021, at

107: For example, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board made an urgent call to action in September 2020 for governments to engage their citizens in Covid-19 and other health emergency preparedness. The International Science Council report also recommended that community engagement be a central activity in preparedness plans for pandemics.

108: Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (2019), National disaster resilience strategy, at