Part 4: Realising the objectives of Te Tai Waiora

Commentary on Te Tai Waiora: Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Te Tai Waiora provides an in-depth analysis of New Zealand's well-being and the risks to its future sustainability.

In our view, three objectives need to be realised if Te Tai Waiora is to help build a broader understanding of New Zealand's well-being, increase the use of well-being information throughout the government, and support the government to act as a steward of what is important to New Zealanders.

In this Part, we take a closer look at the three objectives for Te Tai Waiora and whether the Treasury is realising them. We draw on what we found in the various well-being reports from other countries that we looked at and our own research.

The three objectives and what we expect to see

In our view, Te Tai Waiora needs to realise three objectives if it is to help build a broader understanding of New Zealand's well-being, increase the use of well-being information throughout the government, and support the government to act as a steward of what is important to New Zealanders.

Objective 1: The report provides a comprehensive, balanced, and accessible view of the state of well-being in New Zealand

For Objective 1, we expect to see a focus on:

  • clearly explaining well-being and the frameworks used to understand well-being (the Living Standards Framework and He Ara Waiora);
  • providing indicators and evidence that are robust and easy to understand;
  • giving details about the relevance of the indicators and how the Treasury chose them;
  • comparing the Living Standards Framework with other frameworks and describing any limitations and complexities;
  • Māori well-being; and
  • meeting the Public Finance Act's requirements.

Objective 2: The report informs government policy and investment priorities, including through the Budget

For Objective 2, we expect to see Te Tai Waiora starting to be used to inform policy and investment decisions and that it aligns with other related reports from central and local government. We also expect to see evidence of the report starting to be used in building capability and assisting other policy areas throughout government.

Objective 3: The report supports public understanding, discussion, and comment

For Objective 3, we expect to see that the Treasury has encouraged feedback from a wide range of people and engaged with that feedback. We also expect the Treasury to present and communicate the report in a way that is accessible, understandable, and meaningful to a wide range of people.

The third objective also recognises Te Tai Waiora as a stewardship report that provides the information the government needs to act as a long-term steward of the public interest.

Objective 1 – Does Te Tai Waiora provide a comprehensive, balanced, and accessible view of the state of well-being in New Zealand?

Te Tai Waiora starts with a clear and all-encompassing explanation of well-being that is meaningful to New Zealanders (that is, what it means for our lives to go well). However, it is not clear how this explanation relates to the analytical domains of the Living Standards Framework and He Ara Waiora. Therefore, it might be difficult for readers to connect the Treasury's perspective on well-being with its analysis of it.

Other countries' well-being reports connect their explanation of well-being to their frameworks and indicators more clearly – for example, in the background sections to the Netherland's Monitor of well-being and the Wellbeing of Wales report.

That said, the content and analysis of Te Tai Waiora are detailed, wide-ranging, and comply with the Public Finance Act. Te Tai Waiora and its background papers include detailed analysis and insights about many aspects of New Zealand's current state of well-being, past trends, and risks to its sustainability.

Te Tai Waiora analyses equality and equity to a greater extent than most other well-being reports we reviewed. One exception is the Netherland's Monitor of well-being, which has a strong focus on the distribution of well-being throughout population groups and a regional analysis.

Through its supporting frameworks, Te Tai Waiora recognises the institutions that help safeguard New Zealand's well-being and the well-being of Māori and Pacific communities. To inform its understanding of Māori well-being, the Treasury spoke with selected leaders and rangatira from throughout the country.

In the other well-being reports we reviewed, we did not find frameworks for working with indigenous communities.33

Te Tai Waiora has a reasonably balanced discussion of New Zealand's current state of well-being, past trends, and risks to its sustainability. Many of the Treasury's indicators of well-being in Te Tai Waiora were from Statistics New Zealand's Indicators Aotearoa New Zealand database. These indicators reflect subjective and objective perspectives on New Zealand's individual and collective well-being.

The Treasury tested the relevance and importance of these indicators with public organisations, academics, and experts from the Treasury and elsewhere.

Other countries also test their indicators with the wider public. For example, the Office for National Statistics' indicators provide an "overview of how the UK is doing across the 10 areas of life that the UK public told us matter most".34

Some of the indicators in Te Tai Waiora are limited in terms of their quality (mostly because of a lack of data). The Treasury acknowledges this at various points in the report, and it summarises areas for improvement in the "Next steps" section. Other aspects of the indicators' quality, origin, and timeliness can be found in other background papers (see the Appendix).

Data limitations (including missing data) are a common feature of other countries' well-being reports.

In contrast to other countries, Te Tai Waiora has little discussion or analysis about how its Living Standards Framework domains and indicators align with the sustainable development goals. We discuss this further in paragraph 4.44.

In terms of the report's accessibility, the large amount of detailed specialised information and data on well-being provides a convenient and relevant body of information for subject-matter experts, policy advisors, and academics.

This data has its uses. However, the Treasury presents and discusses this data in a way that makes many of the findings in Te Tai Waiora difficult to relate to, understand, or engage with for New Zealanders who are not subject matter experts. This is despite earlier engagement with the public on the Living Standards Framework itself and the Treasury's extensive public promotion of Te Tai Waiora in the media, speeches, interviews, and webinars.

In our view, engaging with the public more on Te Tai Waiora could have improved the Treasury's understanding of what matters to people and communities and made the report more accessible, understandable, and meaningful. The complexity and multitude of views about New Zealand's well-being can be challenging to explain and analyse. However, if the Treasury engages with the public more, it will be able to develop a richer picture of New Zealand's well-being.

We talk about the issue of accessibility in paragraphs 4.46-4.64.


Te Tai Waiora provides a large and well-considered inventory of information about New Zealand's state of well-being, but it has limited accessibility for many New Zealanders. In our view, there is a potential opportunity to improve and expand the report's accessibility.

Objective 2 – Does Te Tai Waiora help inform government policy and investment priorities, including through the Budget?

One of the main objectives of Te Tai Waiora is to support better decision-making throughout the government. In our view, this could occur by:

  • improving the capability of the Treasury and other public organisations;
  • informing Budget processes and policy priorities; and
  • assisting other policy areas and responsibilities.

Improving capability

Well-being is at the heart of the Treasury's strategic intentions to 2025. One of the Treasury's four strategic outcomes is to ensure that public finances are sustainable to support intergenerational well-being.

To help the Treasury achieve this, one of its five strategic priorities is to develop and embed the Living Standards Framework and He Ara Waiora into its policy advice. The Living Standards Framework indicators that Te Tai Waiora uses could help measure the Treasury's progress.

The Treasury told us that, although it is still early in the process, developing the Living Standards Framework and preparing Te Tai Waiora have broadened its thinking about what well-being looks like in New Zealand. The Living Standards Framework and Te Tai Waiora have also helped the Treasury to develop a comprehensive view of what New Zealand's well-being could look like. The Treasury told us that this can be seen in its regular day-to-day work and in its long-term strategic thinking.

For example, preparing and publishing Te Tai Waiora has helped frame new policy questions, triggered conversations in the Treasury, and encouraged collaborative work with other public organisations. Te Tai Waiora also supported greater internal consideration about how the Treasury could incorporate equity and fairness into Ministerial advice and its guidance on cost-benefit analysis.

The Treasury expects that, in the future, the well-being reports will inform its other stewardship reports and its investment and research priorities.

The Treasury also supports other public organisations to develop their well-being capability. As part of preparing and publishing Te Tai Waiora, the Treasury also organised public webinars about incorporating well-being into public organisations' policy development processes.

Informing the annual Budget

The Budget is the government's main way of providing money to its priority areas to deliver the results it wants to achieve.

The Treasury believes that well-being reports could deepen its understanding and explanation of the state and drivers of well-being. The Treasury considers that this will help to inform government policy and investment priorities through the annual Budget process.

The Budget is also an important tool for controlling what public organisations spend and how they work together. Embedding well-being into the budgetary process requires the government to consider and specify the priorities it believes will help improve current and future well-being.

This means that public organisations are encouraged to work towards meeting those wider well-being outcomes more collaboratively and to use broader measures of success to track their progress.

An example of how the Government changed its well-being objectives in response to Te Tai Waiora is in the Government's 2023 Budget Policy Statement:

In its recently published Wellbeing report (Te Tai Waiora: Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand 2022), the Treasury identified areas important for improving New Zealand's wellbeing that are broadly consistent with past budgets' wellbeing objectives. These include safe and affordable housing and Māori and Pacific skills and opportunities. We have made slight revisions to the objectives for Budget 2023 to reflect an increased emphasis on improving our young peoples' foundational literacy and numeracy skills, educational experience, and mental health outcomes.

We consider this is a good start to embedding well-being into the annual Budget process, and it provides a strong foundation for future budgets.

Assisting other policy areas and obligations

The Treasury published Te Tai Waiora in November 2022. We expect the report's usefulness in supporting public organisations will develop over time. Recent publications by the Climate Change Commission, the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Productivity Commission, and Matamata-Piako District Council, refer to Te Tai Waiora.

However, more needs to be done to support the use of well-being information in other policy areas. For example, the Productivity Commission recently observed that the current approach to well-being focuses heavily on measurement, and it is not well integrated into the public management system.35

The 2019 amendments to the Local Government Act 2002 reinstated a focus on community well-being for councils' decision-making, planning, and reporting. We consider that future well-being reports could also help inform how councils' long-term plans will contribute to regional and national well-being outcomes.

This is consistent with what the Central Bureau of Statistics in the Netherlands told us about its recent publication of regional well-being information being popular with communities and regional authorities creating local policies.

To encourage the wider use of future well-being reports, the Treasury could look at how Scotland and the Office for National Statistics in the UK publish case studies that show how the well-being framework has been used. The Scottish government partnered with various non-governmental organisations to develop guidelines for organisations to use Scotland's well-being framework in their policy making.

New Zealand's commitments under the 2030 Agenda for the sustainable developement goals provide another important opportunity to use well-being information. In particular, New Zealand is expected to set national frameworks to achieve the goals, including, if necessary, its own sustainable development goal targets and indicators that are relevant to New Zealand. Our Office's 2021 report The Government's preparedness to implement the sustainable development goals found only limited progress in the Government's preparedness to implement the goals.


Te Tai Waiora is the Treasury's first report describing the state of well-being in New Zealand. We expect the report's potential usefulness in the government will develop over time. Although more needs to be done, there is already evidence that it could improve the Treasury's internal capability, inform Budget processes, and assist other policy areas.

Objective 3 – Does Te Tai Waiora help support public understanding, discussion, and comment?

Te Tai Waiora is one of several stewardship reports that the Treasury prepares from time to time. These reports reflect the Treasury's stewardship role in managing longer-term systemic issues that could affect the public finance system's sustainability, resilience, and adaptability.

The Treasury told us that Te Tai Waiora complements its other stewardship reports by identifying the longer-term systemic issues that New Zealanders care about. Te Tai Waiora does not identify or encourage debate about what the government's priorities are or could be.

Individually and collectively, the information from stewardship reports supports Ministers to act as stewards of the public interest and support the public's confidence in the government. Therefore, all stewardship reports should, in our view, aim to improve the quality and depth of public information and understanding.

This is consistent with what Nancy Hey – a recognised expert in well-being and founder of the "What Works" Centre for Wellbeing in the UK – said in one of the Treasury's first seminars on well-being.

Nancy Hey discussed her experiences of working on well-being and remarked on the importance of ensuring that the evidence base is available to everyone everywhere. She suggested that the evidence base should be deliberately aimed at the "average adult", but recognised the challenges of doing so.

The importance of a well-being report's accessibility and relevance to the public is also seen in the way well-being is reported in other countries. Although the purpose and process of reporting may differ in some respects, other countries, for the most part, regularly engage with the public and use a feedback process designed to meet their needs. This feedback can include seeking information about what is important to people, the uses of the reported information, and the accessibility of the report and its findings. These additional processes help make the reports' form and content more accessible and engaging for the public.

Engaging on frameworks and indicators is important. However, this is not enough to build a wider understanding of well-being, encourage public debate, or help establish a well-being report's relevance, credibility, and usefulness to the public (and their representatives).

The Treasury chose a more detailed analytical approach for its first well-being report. We consider that it had good reasons for doing so (see paragraphs 3.30 and 3.31). Consistent with this approach, Te Tai Waiora drew on evidence and support from engaging with public organisations, public surveys, the Treasury's analysis, and subject-matter experts from the Treasury and elsewhere.

As a result, Te Tai Waiora contains a large amount of potentially useful public information about well-being in New Zealand. However, this information is in a form that is difficult for non-experts to relate to, understand, and use.

We found evidence of this throughout Te Tai Waiora, such as the use of overly complicated terms that the report sometimes does not explain well. Examples include a "macro perspective on wellbeing", "shadow prices", "segmentation analysis", and "macroeconomic conditions".

Furthermore, although other documents clearly set out and explain the domains of well-being, Te Tai Waiora does not define them. They are also not well connected to the report's overarching explanation of well-being.

Te Tai Waiora variously describes well-being as collective, financial, intergenerational, multidimensional, and subjective, with little explanation about what these terms mean in relation to a nation's well-being.

The Treasury needs to do more to improve the accessibility of the information, analysis, and insights for its future well-being reports, including using more plain and accessible language and wider channels of communication.

The Treasury told us that its intention for this first report is to help inform the government's investment priorities and funding decisions, and that Statistics New Zealand's reporting of its Indicators Aotearoa New Zealand dataset is more important for public engagement and discussion. The Treasury also told us that widely consulting on Te Tai Waiora and summarising the different viewpoints would conflict with its ability to apply its own expert and objective opinion.

In our view, public engagement would improve and not diminish the Treasury's expert and objective opinion because what is important to people is at the heart of any explanation and reporting of a nation's well-being. Furthermore, these arguments are not consistent with the messages in Te Tai Waiora about encouraging robust public discussion and debate. They are also not consistent with the role of Te Tai Waiora as a stewardship report.

The Treasury has wide discretion about how it prepares the well-being report. Public engagement and participation could be improved by consulting on the report and the framework at the same time and could be gathered through some form of citizen assembly or through online platforms such as "Pol-is".36,37

Statistics New Zealand also prepares reports on national well-being from time to time.38 We consider that Statistics New Zealand and the Treasury should align their well-being reporting to avoid potentially confusing readers with two sets of national reporting.


In our view, the objectives of reporting on New Zealand's well-being are more than just to provide an inventory of information for the government's economic and other decision-making. The role of Te Tai Waiora also includes supporting other stewardship reports to help governments act as stewards of the public interest in a way that builds the public's understanding and confidence.

Therefore, improving how future well-being reports inform, and are informed by, a broad range of New Zealanders would be helpful. It might also be useful for the Treasury to engage with Statistics New Zealand about how both sets of well-being reporting could work together to help improve public understanding, discussion, and feedback.

The Treasury told us that it may decide to engage and collaborate more with New Zealanders when it prepares its next well-being report. If this happens, it will be a significant and positive step forward.

33: We understand that Canada is partnering with indigenous communities to develop national well-being frameworks and strategies.

34: See "Measures of National Well-being Dashboard: Quality of Life in the UK", at

35: The New Zealand Productivity Commission (2023), A fair chance for all: Breaking the cycle of persistent disadvantage, page 10.

36: Citizen assemblies support more-informed policy making and are made up of a group of citizens from all walks of life. Ireland has been using citizen assemblies of 100 people for many years to consider how it could better manage issues such as drug use. See

37: Pol-is an online platform for gathering, analysing, and understanding what large groups of people think about what matters to them. It is supported by advanced statistics and machine learning. See

38: See a "Snapshot of New Zealand's Wellbeing from Statistics New Zealand", at