In the lead-up to changes to the Local Government Act, SOLGM has developed a Well-being Indicator Framework. This will enable each council to present a snapshot of its community’s social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being.
Ruth Le Pla asked Karen Thomas what it all means.
As SOLGM CE Karen Thomas told council chief executives at the organisation’s recent annual get-together, legislative changes mean that now, at the local level, each community must determine what matters for them.
For many people in local government, the re-instatement of the four well-beings is a welcome and logical move. Minister for Local Government Nanaia Mahuta first announced her intention to bring back the four well-beings soon after she took up her ministerial role in October 2017. The Local Government (Community Well-being) Act came into force in May this year.
The Act reinstates social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing to the purpose of local government. It confirms the role local government plays in promoting community well-being and gives councils more flexibility to respond to the needs of their communities.
It also restores the ability of councils to collect development contributions to fund the full range of public infrastructure that growing communities need and want. This includes libraries, swimming pools and changing rooms at sports grounds.
For SOLGM, the changes to the Act have meant months of painstaking work.
It has worked with the sector, through an expert advisory panel, with Victoria University of Wellington and with a wide range of government departments. These include Treasury, StatsNZ, the Department of Internal Affairs, the ministries of social development; business, innovation and employment; the environment; health; and justice; and the Social Investment Agency (SIA).
SOLGM has picked its way through well-being reports from across our country, the UK and Australia. And it has boiled down the 1200 or so indicators of well-being in those reports to a more workable 100 possible ways to measure the social, economic, environmental and cultural health of a Kiwi community.
Work is still ongoing. But on April 11 this year, when SOLGM presented its findings to date, this marked a significant step towards firming up what many people have found hard to fathom: just how to make the four well-beings work in practice?
Karen says that, fundamental to this initiative is the idea that the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework is a “fantastic” national framework.
“The four capitals are really important things to think about as we think about inter-generational well-being. But simply proportionally cutting down our national framework for each of our communities around the country does not give us a view of community well-being.”
That, she says, is a concept that comes from the bottom up: it’s not a view from the top down. “And it’s really important that we can have both.”
Community well-beings and these indicators will help communities work together and build a common purpose with a common language.
She says several people have asked her what SOLGM’s definition of community well-being is, “and we don’t
“I told the CEs that they shouldn’t have one either. It’s for their communities to say what well-being is to them. What they’ve now got is a tool to assist their communities in identifying and articulating what that sense of well-being is.”
Karen says the real value of the reports is that each community can see where they are now. “More importantly,” says Karen, “these reports can be used to stimulate a real conversation with the community about where they want to be, and what the aspirations of the community could be going forward.”
“This is fundamental to what democracy is all about. It means also that now we’re going to have to develop new ways of practice for council staff to engage with their communities as they go into their next long term plan (LTP) round. We have called the next LTP the Well-being LTP. If we’re not going to have it in 2021, I don’t know when we are going to have a Well-being LTP.”
Karen emphasises that councils must now play a fundamental role in helping their communities to identify and then articulate what their aspirations for their future are. “Then councils can work to come up with plans and financing to work on projects, infrastructure and investment that work towards realising those aspirations.
“It’s a long-term, not a short-term, thing. It’s not a case of a couple of projects and we’re done.”
She adds that the rate to which a community might work towards its well-being goals will be determined by the amount of resources that can be contributed.
“It doesn’t have to be a hugely resource-intensive exercise. However, for example, if the goal is ‘educate children’ there’s no suggestion whatsoever that the social workers from Oranga Tamariki would suddenly go and work for councils. They are best in a single-issue workforce. But it’s really important that Oranga Tamariki along with, say, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education and maybe MSD, might all get together in a particular place for a particular community and discuss what children in that community need.
“We know that children have different life experiences in different parts of the country. So, the role of the council is to get together all the agencies that are working with children in their place to talk about what’s going on for the children of that place and how, if their outcomes are not good enough yet, what can be done.”
Karen sees councils’ role in the future as shifting to that of co-ordinator.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean councils have to do the work but councils need to co-ordinate the conversations and the conditions by which those agencies stop working in silos – which we all know they do – and start working in a fundamentally more joined-up way so we get real traction on the ground.”
As Karen said to chief executives at the April forum: “Many of you are already on the pathway to more meaningful and deliberative conversations with your community.
“But what happens when the problem is not clear or there is no technical solution? What happens when the gap between what is happening and what should happen produces deeply embedded behaviours to normalise the status quo?”
At these times, she said, normal methodologies don’t work.
“We all know that New Zealand is a significantly centralised country. But ponder these questions: What makes citizens who don’t normally work together, come together?
“And what role might citizens and local government working together have in tackling the persistent ‘wicked problems’ of our time, one community at a time?
“Smart communities use the collective intelligence of their place, not just the individual IQs of some smart people to help solve issues for them. Community well-beings and these indicators will help communities work together and build a common purpose with a common language.”
This article was first published in the June 2019 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.