Te whakamārama i te mahi a te pūnaha Understanding how the system operates

One of the purposes of the Public Service Act 2020 is “to establish organisational forms and ways of working, including across public service agencies, to achieve better outcomes for the public”.

This is the basic foundation for how the government operates and performs, both as a whole and a series of parts, and includes:

  • the changing set of organisations within the Public Service and wider public sector
  • the functions, structures, systems and governance arrangements of those organisations
  • how those organisations work together to deliver outcomes for the public while ensuring accountability to Parliament.

How organisational forms and structures change and work together is sometimes referred to as ‘the machinery of government’. However, this term is used differently elsewhere — often to refer to the constitutional system of government and how decisions are made by ministers and Parliament.

New Zealand’s central government organisations

Responsibility for reviewing governance and structures

Setting up or making major changes to government organisations is not an easy process and can take time to put in place.

The Public Service Commissioner is responsible for reviewing the governance and structures of government and providing advice on proposed changes. In addition, ministers must consult the Minister for the Public Service on system changes they wish to propose.

Section 44, Public Service Act 2020 — New Zealand Legislation

Cabinet Manual — Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

Small changes may not need Cabinet approval, for example a proposal to transfer a small function from one department to another. However, any substantial change may require:

  • Cabinet approval, for example, requesting the establishment of a new department or disestablishing a current one
  • Parliamentary legislation, for example, establishing a new Crown entity.

Talk to Te Kawa Mataaho early in the process

Change can be costly and disruptive. Public service agencies reviewing governance and structures need to be clear about the problem, how change is likely to address the issue and how important the change is in the overall scheme of government priorities.

To help, Te Kawa Mataaho has developed guidance for public servants considering a review of structural, governance or collaborative arrangements. If you are undertaking this type of review, and have read the material and formed your initial thoughts, the next step is to consult Te Kawa Mataaho — our practical experience means we can advise you on how the process works and help you explore your full range of options.

How the public sector is organised 

Making structural or governance changes in government 

Glossary — System architecture and design

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Te panoni i te hanga o te pūnaha Changing how the system is organised

The Public Service Act 2020 aims to balance a chief executive’s individual accountability with the need to collaborate with others and get the system to work better together to provide responsive, effective and efficient services to all New Zealanders.

Due partly to the state sector reforms in the 1980s, New Zealand has more separate central government organisations than other countries with similar systems, for example Australia or the United Kingdom. Sometimes we need to make changes to how one or more of those organisations operate to achieve cross-organisation collaboration, new ways of working and ensure organisations have the proper tools to achieve success.

Section 3, Public Service Act 2020 — New Zealand Legislation

History of the Public Service

Reasons for changing government organisations

Proposals for change are common and may come from policy proposals, recommendations from internal or external reviews, or via ministerial or Cabinet interest or direction. They may vary in shape and size and involve:

  • shifting decision rights to improve governance or risk management
  • improving cohesion of functions and organisations as a system and reducing fragmentation
  • improving transparency and accountability and strengthening independent oversight or investigation functions
  • delivering more responsive, effective and efficient services to ministers and the public
  • enabling more effective and sustainable orientation of services around individuals, groups and locations.

Some of the ways to do this:

  • major structural change such as establishing a new department, departmental agency, or arm’s-length entity or amalgamating functions of existing agencies
  • bringing together public service chief executives in board type arrangements to address a cross cutting issue
  • creating a specific focus through a branded business unit within an existing department.  

Structural changes can’t achieve change on their own but may be necessary or desirable to support other change.

Making structural or governance changes in government 

Making structural or governance changes in goverment

Changing times, priorities and public expectations may result in ministers, senior leaders or Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission proposing changes to structures or requiring new collaborative arrangements. This process guide is designed to help you develop advice and implement change.

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