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New Zealand Transitional Results Report 2018-2021

The Open Government Partnership is a global partnership that brings together government reformers and civil society leaders to create action plans that make governments more inclusive, responsive, and accountable. Action plan commitments may build on existing efforts, identify new steps to complete ongoing reforms, or initiate an entirely new area. OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) monitors all action plans to ensure governments follow through on commitments. Civil society and government leaders use the evaluations to reflect on their progress and determine if efforts have impacted people’s lives.

The IRM has partnered with Keitha Booth, an independent researcher, to carry out this evaluation. The IRM aims to inform ongoing dialogue around the development and implementation of future commitments. For a full description of the IRM’s methodology, please visit https://www.opengovpartnership.org/about/independent-reporting-mechanism.

This report covers the implementation of New Zealand’s 3rd action plan for 2018–2021. In 2021, the IRM is implementing a new approach to its research process and the scope of its reporting on action plans, approved by the IRM Refresh.[1] The IRM adjusted its implementation reports for 2018–2020 action plans to fit the transition process to the new IRM products and enable the IRM to adjust its workflow in light of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on OGP country processes. New Zealand extended the completion date for its 2018–2020 action plan to June 2021 to accommodate delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Action Plan Implementation

The IRM Transitional Results Report assesses the status of the action plan’s commitments and the results from their implementation at the end of the action plan cycle. This report does not re-visit the assessments for “verifiability,” “relevance,” or “potential impact,” which the IRM assesses in IRM Design Reports. For more details on each indicator, please see Annex I in this report.

2.1 General Highlights and Results

New Zealand’s third action plan (2018–2021) of twelve commitments focused on public participation to develop policy and services, transparency, and accountability. The plan was initially designed for two years but extended to June 2021 to accommodate COVID-19 delays in 2020. The extra year[2] saw some staff reassigned to pandemic-related work. It gave implementing government institutions time to rethink, revise, and complete commitments, and improve the co-creation and monitoring processes.

Nine of the twelve commitments were fully or substantially completed (75%) and three are still underway. This completion rate is lower than the previous action plan (2016–2018), in which all seven commitments were fully or substantially completed. Completed commitments represent mostly core business work with executive management support, dedicated resources, and funding. All government commitment leads worked actively toward completion of their commitments.

While most milestones were completed at the time of writing this report, only one commitment made a major change to government practice. This result is similar to the previous action plan, where commitments made only marginal or no progress in opening up government practice at the time of their review. Under the current action plan, much of the work completed was foundational, setting the groundwork for future change and more ambition in the forthcoming action plan.

Commitment 1 produced major early results in improving the visibility of online parliamentary hearings. Five other commitments produced marginal early results, including two commitments identified as noteworthy in the Design Report (Commitments 4 and 8). These included: setting the groundwork for better public access to secondary legislation (Commitment 4), community engagement guidance (Commitment 5), progress on the Algorithm Charter (Commitment 8), as well as opening government-awarded contracts’ data (Commitment 12). Commitment 7 saw progress in increasing public access to cabinet papers, and more agencies completing Official Information Act (OIA) responses. However, public concerns about the consistency of OIA compliance continue and new legislation includes secrecy clauses that override the OIA.

Implementation of the other commitments faced obstacles. The commendable but slow progress on both the service design assessment (Commitment 6) and an authoritative dataset of government organisations (Commitment 11), which was assessed as having transformative potential impact, is due to the dedication and ability of individual staff. Despite government officials, business, and civil society seeing the authoritative dataset as transformative for digital government service delivery,[3] this project was hindered by a lack of technical capacity and executive support.[4] It typifies the difficulties that many of New Zealand’s (NZ) small cross-government projects have experienced.[5]

The government’s OGP Expert Advisory Panel (EAP) continues to be New Zealand’s multistakeholder forum. However, it has only one government member and seven civil society members, and the body has only an advisory role on the country’s OGP process. The IRM Design Report noted its uneven civil society-government structure. The report suggested revising the EAP mandate to clarify its role and adjust practices to meet OGP co-creation and participation standards. It also suggested expanding the reach of civil society membership in the EAP. It now has seven civil society members which is a little more representative of New Zealand society than during co-creation of the plan. The number of government members has not changed. The EAP has made commendable progress in initiating more interaction with and support for government officials as they progressed their commitments.

Civil society stakeholders interviewed for this report note that the main priority since June 2020 has been completing commitments. They are concerned about the regularly late publication of progress reports and EAP minutes on NZ’s OGP website over 2018–2021 and seek clarity about what OGP work will take place between the completion of this action plan and the release of the next action plan planned for August 2022. They applaud the collaborative work in 2021 between the EAP, civil society, government officials, and the Minister for the Public Service to co-create a more ambitious 4th action plan.[6] They look forward to a plan that will bring about the major changes in civic participation, public accountability, and transparency sought by civil society since 2013 when New Zealand joined the OGP.[7] There is an opportunity to emulate the success of democracies such as Australia that have fully co-created national action plans.

COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Implementation

The COVID-19 lockdown between 25 March and 13 May 2020 forced delivery of New Zealand’s government services online and directly changed or stopped three commitments. For all commitments, face-to-face engagement with the public ceased, and some staff were reassigned temporarily to COVID-19 recovery work.

The Ministry of Education’s urgent work to increase digital connectivity and provide resources for home-based learning stopped Commitment 3’s digital-badge work and affected teacher training on the School Leavers’ Toolkit. Likewise, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s COVID-19 work forced the shelving of Commitment 12’s plans to release a dataset compliant with Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS). Resourcing issues for Commitments 6, 9, and 11 were compounded as staff were reassigned for COVID-19 recovery work, which delayed progress.

On the other hand, enabling online engagement with Parliament became the top priority for Commitment 1. This followed the deferral of parliamentary business in the House during the lockdown and the creation of a specially established Epidemic Response Committee that deliberated on the government’s management of the COVID-19 epidemic. The committee’s deliberations were live-streamed[8] and broadcast on the regular Parliamentary TV channel.[9] A senior Parliamentary Press Gallery journalist reported “impressive (almost literally) overnight efforts” to make sure select committees could be televised and “seismic” work to televise Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee in 2020 and the various televised Parliamentary oversight committees subsequently in August/September 2021.[10] As a result, live-streaming is now funded for parliamentary select committees,[11] and work is underway to fully utilise the parliamentary TV channel to retain its audience. The public’s increased interest in the government’s deliberations could also be due to the Prime Minister’s, other Ministers’, and the Ministry of Health’s daily online and broadcasted press conferences to New Zealand’s “team of 5 million” on joint progress in beating the virus. This started in March 2020 and continued almost without exception.[12] Future audience research will reveal actual ongoing public interest in parliamentary proceedings.

Extending the action plan’s timeline due to the pandemic provided benefits. The Policy Project (Commitment 5) took the opportunity to reflect deeply on its approach to community engagement and consulted widely during and after lockdown. In October 2020, the project delivered a suite of practical community engagement guidance that would not have been possible by 30 June 2020. Commitment 9 benefited from Stats NZ’s COVID-19 review of the government’s data practice. During 2021, work on Commitments 4, 8, and 10 continued and Commitment 2 was already complete. Overall, according to one CSO representative, work over this extra year was on “tasks to be done rather than as steps of a continuing journey.”[13]

[1] For more information, see: https://www.opengovpartnership.org/process/accountability/about-the-irm/irm-refresh/.

[2] NZ Government, [3rd national action plan extension of term 2018–2020] (accessed Dec. 2021), https://ogp.org.nz/assets/New-Zealand-Plan/Third-National-Action-Plan/Extension-of-term-of-National-Action-plan-2018-20.pdf

[3]See Michelle Edgerley, “What does it take to create a new open government dataset?” (20 Oct. 2021),https://www.digital.govt.nz/blog/what-does-it-take-to-create-a-new-open-government-dataset/.

[4] External parties (Andrew Ecclestone, and Jonathan Hunt) who attended commitment workshops, separate interviews by IRM researcher, 22 Oct. and 9 Nov. 2021.

[5] Gaining ongoing operational funding for small cross-government IT projects was traditionally problematic under the Public Finance Act 1989. Examples are the website portal: https://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.worksite.govt.nz* and the NZ Government Data and Information Programme., https://www.data.govt.nz/toolkit/open-data/open-data-nz/. It is assumed that Part 2 of the Public Service Act 2020 is addressing that matter. https://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2020/0040/latest/LMS106159.html (accessed 31 January 2022)

[6] Hon. Chris Hipkins, “Te Kawa Mataaho Report: Response to Letter from Civil Society Organisations” (Public Service Commission, 19 Apr. 2021), https://www.publicservice.govt.nz/assets/SSC-Site-Assets/Proactive-Releases/Report-Response-to-Letter-form-Civil-Society-Organisations.pdf.

[7] Transparency International, “Opening Dialogue on Open Government Partnership” (2 Nov. 2021), https://www.transparency.org.nz/blog/opening-dialogue-on-open-government-partnership.

[8] New Zealand Parliament, “Epidemic Response Committee: Covid-19 2020” (accessed Dec. 2021), https://www.parliament.nz/en/visit-and-learn/history-and-buildings/special-topics/epidemic-response-committee-covid-19-2020/.

[9] New Zealand Parliament, https://ondemand.parliament.nz/ (accessed Jan.2022)

[10] Phil Smith, Parliamentary Press Gallery journalist for “The House”, Radio New Zealand. Email to IRM researcher (14 Oct. 2021)

[11] Note that live-streaming of some select committees via Facebook was already offered.

[12] NZ Government, “Unite against COVID-19” (3 Dec. 2021), https://covid19.govt.nz/.

[13] Laurence Millar (Transparency International New Zealand Member with Delegated Authority: Open Government), interview by IRM researcher, 3 Nov. 2021.

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