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Social development and community planning

Fri, 8 Oct 2004

Social development and community planning

Speech to the Manawatu Local Government Community Outcomes Forum, focussing on the role of the Ministry of Social Development in planning for social outcomes.


Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to speak to today's Community Outcomes Forum.

Congratulations to Manawatu District Council for creating the opportunity to share good practice about planning for community outcomes.

Like other local authorities around New Zealand, the nine councils in the Manawatu-Wanganui region are pioneering a new way of working under the Local Government Act 2002.

Events such as this forum are a crucial part of forging your path in this new way of working for your communities.

Intentions of the Local Government Act

The Local Government Act 2002 recognises that strong communities are essential to New Zealand's success in the 21st century. It recognises that communities are best placed to identify the ways in which they can become strong. And that local authorities are best placed to work with their communities on that process.

In developing the Local Government Act, the Government intended to give communities - including disadvantaged groups in those communities - a stronger voice in their own development.

We intended to strengthen the whole-of-government, collaborative activity that is already happening in many local authority areas.

We intended to promote a sustainable development approach - an approach that meets the needs of communities today, without compromising outcomes for future generations.

And we intended to promote the value of regional demographic and social information as a vital tool for planning.

Councils are at different stages in learning to work with the Act. Some, particularly the larger metropolitan councils, are already working collaboratively with government agencies and have strong connections with their communities.

For these Councils, the Act reinforces and supports their existing practice.

Other Councils, particularly those that are smaller and less well resourced, are more experienced in matters of infrastructure.

They may not have had extensive experience with social issues in their communities, and may feel they have limited time and resources for community planning.

By the same token, government agencies are at different stages of understanding of and commitment to the environment created by the Local Government Act.

I know that the councils at this forum today are particularly keen to get the participation of all government agencies in the community outcomes process.

Whatever stage a council may be at, I believe the Ministry of Social Development is its natural partner both in working with communities, and in collaborating with government agencies and non-government organisations, for the community outcomes process.

Ministry of Social Development's role

The Ministry's purpose is to lead social development to achieve better futures for all New Zealanders. Working with others to improve social outcomes is an intrinsic part of that purpose.

Building strong communities is a key part of the Ministry's work towards social development. Working collaboratively with other agencies, with communities, and with local government is its established mode of operation.

The Ministry has the infrastructure, the networks, the skills and knowledge, and the information base that will all help councils in their community planning. It can be involved in designing consultation, developing outcomes and joint projects, and giving feedback on Long Term Council Community Plans.

With a presence in over 170 towns and cities throughout New Zealand, the Ministry has a strong connection to New Zealand's communities. Work and Income Regional Plans contain a wealth of information about regional demographics, issues, and social development strategies.

Work and Income case managers know their clients, and know how to connect with them. They can help councils to consult with traditionally marginalised communities, and collect information in appropriate ways.

Through its employment, community renewal, and capacity building programmes, the Ministry has extensive networks with iwi, Maori, community organisations, business, employers, non-government organisations, and other social sector agencies.

These networks and relationships are part of the Ministry fulfilling its mandate to lead whole-of-government social development at a national and regional level. They provide the ideal base for further collaboration, and make the Ministry the obvious point of contact for councils engaging with communities and central government agencies.

Along with its strong regional presence, the Ministry has strong regional capability. Work and Income Regional Commissioners now have the mandate to lead social development in the regions, and the specific responsibility of co-ordinating central agencies' input into community plans.

Social Development Managers support the Regional Commissioners in that role, and are responsible for ensuring that the views of traditionally disadvantaged groups are included.

Regional Social Policy Advisors provide regional input into national policy, and help ensure that policy and services meet local needs. Regional Social Policy Advisors have a key role in community planning, promoting a good fit between regional social development strategies and the community outcomes process.

The Ministry's regional strength and flexibility enables its involvement with councils on community planning to be led from the regions, rather than the centre.

Making the Ministry's practice consistent

A cross-Ministry project team led by Northland Regional Commissioner Debbie Power and Auckland Regional Commissioner Isabel Evans is investigating ways to improve the Ministry's work with local authorities and to make it more consistent.

The first step of the project has been a preliminary stocktake on what councils around the country are doing, and how the Ministry is working with them. The information will eventually be used to develop a best practice guide for the Ministry's engagement.

The information gathered so far does confirm that the Ministry can play a significant role at each stage of the community outcomes process.

Here in Central, your Regional Commissioner Penny Rounthwaite and Social Development Manager Te Hope Hakaraia have promoted the community outcomes process to Work and Income staff and to other social sector agencies; they have contributed to the regional stocktake that gathered local data for community planning; they have facilitated inter-agency workshops on Long Term Council Community Plans; and they have made submissions on the process to the councils in the region.

To keep up the promotion and awareness of the community outcomes process here in Central, Penny has made the process a standing item on Regional Interagency Network meetings of senior central and local government officials.

At the nuts and bolts level, Central Region is sharing the funding with the Palmerston North City Council of a full-time Youth Worker for Kelvin Grove, one example of an initiative that will help achieve the youth outcomes in the Long Term Council Community Plan. In Kaipara, one of the first districts to complete a Long Term Council Community Plan, Northland Work and Income encouraged service centre clients to have their say through the community outcomes consultation.

Work and Income staff helped facilitate consultation meetings in their communities, and played a key role in developing outcomes. And Work and Income was closely involved in establishing three joint projects that drew together 14 government and non-government organisations to improve access to social services, strengthen youth transitions, and promote economic and social development in the region.

In Canterbury, the Ministry is part of an inter-agency working group that recognises the need for government agencies to set their own collaborative processes in order before engaging with communities. Led by Christchurch City Council, the working group has developed a protocol for inter-agency work.

Once other agencies have signed up to the protocol, it will function as an umbrella agreement for all interagency work in Canterbury. While prompted by the requirements of the Local Government Act 2002, this work will prove to have much wider application.

Still in the South, Nelson's Social Development Manager is part of a local and central government working group that has developed outcomes and indicators for the Top of the South, using the domains of wellbeing in the Ministry's Social Report as a basis.

Overarching for the whole region, the Top of the South outcomes and indicators allow room for variation as each council develops its plan. They'll also allow for regional comparisons with the rest of the country.

It's great to see the Social Report being used as a community planning resource in this way. Comprehensive, relevant information is essential to successful community planning.

Each year, the Social Report monitors New Zealanders' wellbeing in ten areas, or domains, like health, education, paid work, and standard of living. The Government uses the information to track trends over time, and to compare how New Zealand is doing compared to other OECD countries.

I strongly encourage councils to use the Social Report to inform their community planning, whether to adapt its outcomes and indicators framework or to gain an overview of social wellbeing in New Zealand.

The Ministry is investigating how the Social Report's usefulness can be enhanced at a regional and district level.

One proposal is to provide data on regional variations in wellbeing as part of the social reporting programme. Another is for the development of regional social development indicators that could provide information on progress towards social outcomes.

Linking national and regional work

The Ministry's work on its involvement with councils, and its work on enhancing the quality of regional information, are both feeding up to an interdepartmental group convened between MSD and seven other government agencies. That group is exploring how central government will respond to the community outcomes process.

The group's particular focus is on how central and local government can continue to align their work to achieve regional outcomes, and how existing policies and programmes can be built on to further promote regional development.

The key is to ensure that work at national and regional levels operates in tandem, rather than in isolation.

And it is imporant to ensure that regions and communities retain ownership of the community planning process - that the process stays regionally driven.


A little south of your region, I see that Kapiti District Council was awarded this year's New Zealand Post Management Excellence Awards, presented by the Society of Local Government Managers.

Kapiti won the award for the excellence of its Choosing Futures community planning process. More than 4500 residents and ratepayers took part in the consultation that provided a vision for the future of the district, and a map for how to get there.

I'd like to add my own modest award: for the title Choosing Futures, which strikes me as a succinct and creative expression of what the Local Government Act 2002 aims to achieve.

As the lead agency for social development, the Ministry of Social Development has a significant interest in seeing robust community planning for strong, sustainable and vibrant communities.

The community planning process is an iterative, ongoing one that is still new for everyone. The Ministry of Social Development's role and relationship with councils will continue to evolve over time.

From what we have learned so far, we can be confident that the foundations are firmly in place. We can also be confident that we can achieve much more.

Thank you for your time today. All the best for your forum.


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