The first step is to understand why change is proposed (the rationale). This involves defining the problem or opportunity, setting out the scope of the change, and using that to guide your planning and initial advice.

As part of this step, it is helpful to understand how the Public Service and wider public sector is organised and the roles various organisations have in making it work. This will help guide your thinking.

How the public sector is organised

Tautuhia te raru, te huarahi rānei Define the problem or opportunity

A deep understanding of the problem or opportunity is a vital step in any policy process. Doing this well is important because it underpins subsequent analysis and advice.

By carefully considering the context, you can understand the nature of the issue and if there is a good reason to make a change. In doing so, it is important to recognise that change is not always the answer. Changes can be costly and disruptive, so it is important to have a clear understanding of the problem or the opportunity and the functions and roles that are involved.

Questions that may help you to understand and define the problem or opportunity include:

  • What is the current situation?
    • What is the history of current arrangements?
    • What doesn’t appear to be working?
    • Have there been past attempts to address the issue and what was the result?
  • Why are we trying to fix this now? Is there an opportunity?
    • Has the government modified its objectives for an activity?
    • Have other players emerged with substantially similar roles?
    • Do international agreements or other developments call for a change in the way a certain activity is carried out?
  • What is the nature of the problem?
    • Is it a shared problem across other agencies?
    • Is it a strategic direction issue? Policy? Internal functions? Service delivery?
  • What are the relationships and overlaps with other organisations?
  • What is the role of government in relation to the issue?
    • What are the government’s priorities for the relevant organisations, sector and the system as a whole?
  • What is the broader strategic direction relating to how government is organised?
  • Without pre-empting the solution, what is the desired end state?

You should also read the initial due diligence questions in this guidance.

Due diligence — Initial due diligence questions

Depending on the nature and sensitivity of the issue, it may be appropriate to engage early with others to work through these questions to develop a shared understanding and agreement. Engaging with partners in the work helps to strengthen the analysis, build trust, and sets a platform for future engagement through other steps in the process (see consultation section below).

Whakaritea te whānuitanga o te kaupapa Set out the scope of the proposal  

The scope sets the boundaries of the proposal. It helps to clarify the scale of the proposed change and can be used as an input into planning, including resourcing, timing, and stakeholder engagement.  

Like the problem/opportunity definition, agreement on what is in and out of scope early in the process is important to the success of a proposal and the analysis that underpins it. This step can be done in conjunction with, or soon after, the problem definition because the questions are closely related.

The scope of a structural or governance change proposal can vary widely and might involve:

  • a specific issue relating to a single agency or function
  • several organisations within a single sector
  • multiple themes that relate to various organisations
  • the whole of the public management system.

It’s important to restrict the scope of your review to the problem or opportunity that has been identified and agreed on to ensure the response addresses the issue and does not create unintended impacts on areas outside the scope of the project. Accordingly, some key questions to ask include:

  • who does this affect?
  • does it offer improved ways to collaborate?
  • how big is it?

It may be that decision-makers revisit the scope (for example, to extend or narrow it) in light of new information or in response to issues raised through the problem/opportunity definition and initial scoping. We advise revisiting the earlier step around problem/opportunity definition in situations like this. 

Cross-organisation working

If you have identified that your issue is a shared problem or opportunity that may require cross-organisation working, it can be useful to consider whether it relates to:

  • common outcomes — addressing issues and problems that cross organisation boundaries
  • common functions — bringing together resources, skills and assets to create efficiencies and economies of scale
  • common customers — organising and integrating services around the customer.

Where a proposal is cross agency, it can be helpful to bring together representatives from relevant agencies to workshop the scope in a spirit of partnership. This includes considering the current state of collaboration between the different agencies involved in the response. Questions to ask include:

  • What aspects are and are not working?
  • What is the history of working together and the nature of relationships between organisations involved?

Public Service sectors

New Zealand’s central government organisations

Identify the decision-makers

The problem definition and scope of the project needs to be agreed on with key decision makers, which means you need to know who they are and how much room they have for action.

Te hui whakamārama tutahi Initial briefing

At this stage in the process, it’s likely to be appropriate for you to brief the individual or group responsible — this may be minister, chief executive, or senior public officials. This is an opportunity to test the proposed scope, purpose and any initial thinking and to decide whether to proceed.

Your briefing might also include the proposed governance and confidentiality arrangements, input and views from stakeholders and potentially affected parties as appropriate at this stage, as well as plans for communication and consultation.

If the review was initiated by a minister, an early briefing helps to clarify and ensure a shared understanding of what is proposed.

Depending on the scope and scale of the proposals, the relevant minister may wish to brief Cabinet colleagues with proposed terms of reference for the work.

Maheretia te kaupapa Plan the project

At this stage you need to develop a project plan and determine appropriate governance and management arrangements — although these may not be implemented until the scope of the project has been agreed with key decision makers.

Project planning will need to address engagement, communications, consultation and reporting arrangements.

Note that confidentiality requirements and expectations should be agreed and communicated — these should be reviewed as the project progresses.

Project resourcing and governance

Questions you should consider include:

  • What’s the timeframe, or what are the dates we need to work to?
  • Is there a lead agency?
  • Would a governance group/steering group be useful (especially for cross-agency issues)?
  • Is there a project sponsor with an appropriate level of seniority?
  • Which organisations and stakeholders do we need to consult?
  • What level of involvement will central agencies have?
  • What do we need to do and what will it take to get it done? What skills, which organisations and how much resource do we need on the project team?

It is important that confidentiality requirements and expectations are agreed and communicated with all parties.

You should review these questions regularly as the project progresses.

Consultation and engagement

Reviewing structural, governance or collaborative arrangements for government organisations is a complex area. Structural advice may result in decisions that directly affect Cabinet ministers’ portfolios and public servants’ careers.

This part of the process is about balance: getting engagement, input and information from affected organisations to provide good information to ministers, while minimising unnecessary uncertainty, concern and disengagement about a change that might not happen.  At the very least, you should identify stakeholders and affected parties at this stage and plan when they can be consulted in a staged process.

Ministers may request that advice is developed in confidence and at short notice to inform a first decision about whether to proceed further — which may include not consulting affected organisations on a relevant Cabinet paper.

You will need to review this aspect of the planning regularly through the project.