08 November 2023

“It was baptism by fire,” recalls Jules Lynch (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Koroki Kahukura).

The day she become Ministry of Social Development Regional Commissioner for Auckland South the country went into lockdown.

It was 17 August 2021, and all of New Zealand moved to Alert Level 4 that night at 11:59pm.

And while it wasn’t the ideal start to her government career, it did come with a big positive: it showed Jules how efficiently and effectively things could operate in the “high trust and confidence model” that came with Covid.

“My thinking was, why not keep that going? If we can work like that in Covid, coming together to get stuff done under urgence, we should be able to work like that outside of Covid, too.”

Three months after starting her MSD role, Jules also became Regional Public Service Commissioner (RPSC) for Tāmaki Makaurau, and one of 12 RPSCs working across 15 regions on behalf of the Public Service. 

Employed by individual government departments, RPSCs help join-up Public Service efforts with stakeholders in the community to define priorities and improve services and outcomes. They can also escalate issues to senior public service decision makers where necessary. 

The approach acknowledges that iwi and other Māori groups and regional stakeholders (including Pasifika, local government, business, ethnic and community groups) know the realities of their communities and hold valuable insights into what can work to improve their wellbeing.   

She describes her RPSC role as about “leaning in and offering support, while also staying in our lane”.

“We don’t lead everything, and we have the ‘convene, resolve, escalate’ framework, but I don’t rely on this.

“It’s about relationships – across local and central government, iwi and community. The biggest thing for me is knowing that I can just pick up the phone and someone will answer when you need them – that’s important, and vice versa they can pick up the phone too.”

Before joining the Public Service, Jules worked as a Police Officer from 1995 to 2018, in operational roles in both general duties and Criminal Investigation Branch. She says two of her favourite roles in that time were Youth and Community Senior Sergeant based in Māngere, and Area Commander Counties Manukau Central based in Manurewa.

In July 2018 she was seconded from Police to the Ministry of Justice for three years as Director Tāmaki Makaurau Justice Sector Strategy, working with a small team of senior advisors from the Ministry of Justice, Police and Corrections.

She says she really enjoys “working out how to link people and agencies up, looking at the system as a whole”, which is very much what her RPSC role entails – on a large scale.

At the heart of the system is the Regional Leadership Group, which Jules chairs. It includes more than 30 organisations, and meets monthly, and more often during emergencies (“we flex up and down”).

The meetings also double as a “pulse check”, Jules says.

“We asked, ‘how are things going’ and we checked in on how people were doing. It’s full-on work so it’s important we check in with each other as well.”

The group works closely with Auckland Council and the Auckland Policy Office (APO), which provides an Auckland perspective in the development of central government policy, as well as identifying and developing Auckland-specific policies that will promote Auckland and national economic growth.

The Regional Leadership Group also coordinates with the Tāmaki Makaurau Recovery Coordination Office, which was established within Auckland Council in March following the extreme weather events at the start of the year.

Jules says there have been 5 severe weather events across her region this year alone, including the Anniversary weekend floods, Cyclone Gabrielle, the Easter weekend tornado, and the flooding in May.

“It feels like it’s been relentless in terms of Covid and then the weather events,” she says.

“And the rain events are going to keep happening, so it’s about putting in place structures to be ready for the next one.”

There are 6 people in Jules’s RPSC team, with 2 currently embedded in the Auckland Recovery Office. Her team also includes a Director Māori and Director Pacific.

Outside of the recovery work, her team are committed to several ongoing regional priorities around employment, economic development, youth offending and prevention, housing, and community wellbeing.

Jules says a good example of a new, joined-up way of working can be seen in the local response to the government’s Resilience to Organised Crime in Communities (ROCC) programme.

The goal of ROCC is to improve wellbeing by co-designing responses to the harms and drivers of organised crime, tailored to the needs of the community.

For Tāmaki Makaurau, that means data will be presented to communities, agencies and iwi who will then decide on a response, she says.

“The exciting thing for me is that we’re starting this journey together, nothing has been predetermined, we’re going to decide what we do together.

“So, in that respect it’s the first of its kind, an example of what the future might look like.

“It shows us where we’re heading together to drive positive change for collective impact.”