Identifying the opportunity
A key challenge for all reformers is to explain the motivation for reform. What is the problem that needs fixing? What is the "better place" we will get to once the reform has been successfully delivered?
Developing a robust and compelling case for change requires the authors of the change to form both a clear problem statement and a description of the alternative to the status quo. The purpose of this is to garner support in the need to right a wrong, fix something that is broken, take another path, change behaviour, or rebalance rights and obligations.
Given the scale of change implied by reform, there is often a high degree of resistance or inertia in the early stages which is why support is so important. To overcome the system's natural resistance, you either need considerable support or large energy input — often in the form of political capital. Some of the current reforms in Aotearoa are a long time coming for Māori and iwi and further delays will have significant consequences. Where reforms are popular or seen as essential, relatively little political capital is required to make the case for change; but if a reform is unpopular or seen as elevating the rights of a minority over a majority, the cost may be greater than the sponsor can afford to invest without an extensive programme of support.
Working the levers
Reform also requires a clear understanding and explanation of how we intend to intervene, who needs to be involved, and how a collective effort will result in positive system-level change. Changing systems is not a mechanical process, but a range of levers applied by system players all learning and sharing together in a common vision can produce transformative results.
Reformers have a large number of change levers at their disposal: from new governance, ownership and administrative arrangements to legislative and regulatory modifications, organisational restructuring, mandates and funding, services and outputs, statements of policies and performance expectations, innovation and 'nudges', fees and levies, permits and quotas, there are almost too many options to choose from.
Identifying who needs to be involved and the extent of their involvement is critical to the success of a reform. Reforms which take a strong Treaty stance and engage iwi and Māori early and often are much more likely to reap robust and enduring benefits for all New Zealanders.
There is often a tension between wanting to explain quickly and simply what will happen as a result of the reform, and the longer process of selecting appropriate analyses that then inform and justify the choice of change levers. For reform that is intended to address complex or 'wicked' problems — as most reform is — the appropriate theory of change and combination of levers is essential.
Making reform happen
Delivering the interconnected set of changes to make reform happen is itself a challenge requiring focus and talent, as well as energy and insight. These are not quick fixes and many reform efforts span years, if not decades.
Traditionally undertaken through programmes and projects, the shape of reform implementation is now changing as government agencies embrace Treaty-based partnerships, organisational agility, and greater product and service orientation. Digital and cloud technologies make it easier to implement more flexible rules, service delivery models, indigenous approaches and collaborative structures.
Change is inevitable, and we can either be commanders of that change, or mere recipients. Change capacity, of both the public service and the sectors undergoing reform, is often raised as a barrier to the current pace of reform, and there is a balance to be struck between reforms which are fast and high impact, and those which are slow and long-lasting. Building the leadership and delivery capability for reform in Aotearoa will be an important success factor if we are to achieve long-term lasting outcomes from reform.
Making space for the people
Reform is not a mechanistic process, it is organic and importantly, must make space for the people it serves. A strong public sector reaffirms our collective identity as a democratic nation and a fair and just society. When it comes to reform, the stakes are high and the balance between political viability, economies of scale and the view of the majority are not always consistent with the conventions and aspirations of all communities within our society.
Fundamentally, societies and sectors are products of human systems, and government's role is to govern in ways that maximise societal wellbeing and distribute it equitably according to the needs and desires of the people. Reform is one of the ways we can achieve step-changes to ensure that wellbeing is maximised and distributed across society. If reform does not engage and enjoy the support of the people, and deliver promised outcomes, people may tire of so much change.
Political ideologies and one-dimensional concepts of progress and development are problematic, especially when Māori assert a level of autonomy relating to Treaty rights that go beyond the state and the public sector itself. Are there tried and true ways of partnering with iwi and Māori that strengthen our collective resolve and provide opportunities for better outcomes for all New Zealanders?
Increasingly, we are seeing that people want to be more engaged in the process of reform, and in the active governance of public resources, rather than delegating to politicians and public servants an exclusive right to oversee important decisions that could be tested with more than information or consultation. Questions are being asked about the next evolution of reform, so we are seeing greater consideration of representation, participation and co-governance models that would not have been part of the plan, even just a few years ago.