A recent assessment of State sector reform conducted by the Decision Centre at Victoria University gave management of the change process by the New Zealand government a lower rating than was assigned to any other aspect of reform (Richard Norman, New Zealand's Re-invented Government: Experiences of Public Sector Managers; Public Sector; Vol.18, No. 2, June 1995, p. 23). In my view if change had not been mismanaged it would not have been managed at all, but this view may not be shared by those directly affected by the changes. One manager who participated in that study thought that taking a steady approach might have achieved similar results with less bitterness and fallout. Others thought that in a large-scale restructuring, such as New Zealand's, there is need to take account of the sensibilities of those affected, as well as of the individual and social impacts.
That these sentiments may be shared by the public at large is suggested by voter approval of a new "mixed member proportional representation" (MMP) system in 1992. MMP will almost certainly slow future change by making coalition government much more likely. Endorsement of MMP indicates that voters were fatigued by the pace of change and welcomed the stability that might result from the difficulty of getting coalition partners to agree on sweeping reforms.
If this is so, the compressed period of reform in the late 1980's and early 1990s will be seen in retrospect as a brief interlude during which the conjunction of powerful ideas, weak economic conditions, and strong leadership made possible a transformation that is not likely to occur again. Some will look back and gripe over what has been uprooted; others will look back and celebrate what has been accomplished. My present task is to navigate between these poles and offer suggestions for renewing the spirit of reform while tidying up some matters that were not well decided a decade ago. The ensuing chapters concentrate on these matters, not on the many changes that have been successfully implemented.