The working relationship between Ministers and senior officials is vital for effective government. The policy system is at the heart of this relationship, providing analysis and advice to Ministers to enable them to make informed decisions.
Like much else in the system, policy advice has largely been organised on a 'vertical' single-agency-to-single-Minister basis. This is unlikely to work so well when the focus shifts to achieving results of system-wide issues. And with an increasingly diverse society 'one size fits all' policies are now even less likely to be successful. Moreover, citizens, communities and businesses expect to be involved in the policy process around decisions that affect them. The policy system is well set up to consult stakeholders on proposals; less well set up to engage with communities on their ideas. This changing environment has highlighted a range of capability issues which have been noted in reviews of the policy function.
DPMC is leading the development of the policy system and dialogue with Ministers is needed for this to be successful. Ministers are the 'demand side' of the policy advice equation and, to serve Ministers well, officials need to understand the incoming Government's expectations. This includes the areas in which broader advice is needed, and the areas in which advice is required on a population basis such as integrated analysis and advice on a range of issues facing a particular group.
To what extent is 'place' to be a focus of policy consideration? Auckland is an important case in point because we think we need to lift our game in Auckland. Auckland's growth, diversity, and international linkages drive distinct policy challenges and opportunities. The city may grow by as many as 30,000 people each year and is changing demographically. Auckland has a mix of cultures and issues that differ from the rest of New Zealand. This means what works elsewhere may not work in Auckland. Moreover, achieving better results for New Zealand as a whole requires that we succeed well in Auckland. There are also aspects of how public services currently work in Auckland, around fragmentation of effort and advice, which are of concern. To this end Ministers may wish to consider a more integrated approach which brings together current efforts of a range of agencies, including the 'population' ministries.
Engagement with communities is also a challenge for the policy system. The expectations of Ministers matter for how and where this is addressed. There are a range of techniques, some IT enabled, which can be used for increasing engagement in the policy process. For some complex policy areas we may need to change how we 'do policy' and shift from consulting over policy proposals to engaging communities over issues. Achieving this requires change in how and where policy development 'happens'.
The policy process, at its best, has always been characterised by free and frank discussion of a range of options. The challenge now, for both Ministers and senior officials, is to use the system's traditional strengths as the foundation for a policy system that embraces broader engagement and analysis. This new system will feature a wider range of information and data, providing better insights and advice.