Auditor-General’s overview

How well public organisations are supporting Whānau Ora and whānau-centred approaches.

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā karangarangatanga maha o te motu, tēnā koutou.

Whānau Ora was introduced in 2010. It comprises a group of whānau-centred initiatives, including the Whānau Ora commissioning approach, that are intended to put whānau at the centre of decision-making. The Whānau Ora commissioning approach involves Te Puni Kōkiri contracting three commissioning agencies to invest in whānau-centred services throughout the country. Providers of these services work with whānau and support them to achieve their goals and aspirations.

There have been several reviews of Whānau Ora that found it has been successful for many whānau. This includes my Office’s 2015 audit of Whānau Ora after its first four years. In 2018, the Minister for Whānau Ora commissioned a review that found Whānau Ora creates positive change for whānau and creates the conditions for that change to be sustainable.

The Cabinet paper that set up the Whānau Ora commissioning approach stated that public organisations should carry out “complementary effort” to support Whānau Ora.

However, since Whānau Ora was introduced, concerns have been consistently raised about how well public organisations are understanding, supporting, and learning from it. There have also been concerns about whether public organisations have adapted their systems and processes to enable whānau-centred ways of working (for example, by changing their funding, contracting, and reporting requirements).

In 2019, the Minister for Whānau Ora advised Cabinet that he wanted to grow whānau-centred approaches to policy development and service delivery and increase public organisations’ investment in Whānau Ora. Te Puni Kōkiri is the department responsible for Whānau Ora and now has a strategic focus area reflecting these aims.

I wanted to know what progress Te Puni Kōkiri and other public organisations have made in supporting and implementing Whānau Ora and whānau-centred approaches more generally.

What we found

Some public organisations have taken steps towards supporting and implementing whānau-centred approaches. However, much of this work involves trialling small-scale and time-limited initiatives. Overall, we did not see a significant shift, nor did we see systematic consideration of where and when whānau-centred approaches would be appropriate.

This means that many whānau might not be getting all the support available to address their needs and help them achieve their aspirations. To realise the aims of the Minister for Whānau Ora, public organisations need to do more to support and implement whānau-centred approaches, including Whānau Ora.

In my view, public sector processes and practices need to change to create a more enabling environment to implement these types of approaches where they are appropriate.

I acknowledge that there is work under way that indicates public organisations are intending to address some of these issues. For example, the Social Wellbeing Board, comprised of a group of public sector chief executives from social sector public organisations, is currently overseeing work to implement a new relational approach to how public organisations commission social services.

The relational approach places trusted, meaningful relationships at the centre of the commissioning process. This makes it more likely that the commissioned activity will contribute to positive well-being outcomes for individuals, whānau, and communities. This work could create a more enabling environment for whānau-centred approaches to be put in place (where such approaches are likely to lead to improved outcomes).

Public organisations need clear expectations for how they should support Whānau Ora and other whānau-centred approaches. In my view, there should also be a clearer and stronger mandate for the role of Te Puni Kōkiri.

Overall, the compounding effect of the lack of clear expectations for public organisations and the barriers created by some public sector processes and practices means that Te Puni Kōkiri has made limited progress on its strategic focus area of expanding the use of whānau-centred approaches by public organisations.

In my view, regardless of whether public organisations partner with providers and community organisations, or whether they develop a new whānau-centred service on their own, whānau-centred services need to be co-ordinated and complement one another.

This means that in some instances designing a new whānau-centred service will be the right approach. In others, public organisations should consider whether to make greater use of the Whānau Ora commissioning infrastructure before developing alternatives.

Te Puni Kōkiri should also prioritise completing its work to improve its ability to measure and report on impacts from Whānau Ora and its contribution to improved whānau outcomes. It should also make monitoring, research, and evaluation information on Whānau Ora and whānau-centred approaches more accessible to public organisations and others.

I acknowledge that it can be challenging to change public sector norms and conventions. This can even be the case when there is consensus that significant changes are needed and, if implemented effectively, will likely make a difference in outcomes for whānau. I have made recommendations that are intended to support the public service to broaden its understanding and development of approaches that give whānau the ability to achieve their aspirations and live well.

During this audit, the providers, commissioning agencies, and public organisations my staff engaged with were working under extraordinary circumstances responding to outbreaks of the Delta and Omicron variants of Covid-19.

I recognise the additional effort needed to engage with my staff during this period, and I express my sincere thanks to the many staff at public organisations, commissioning agencies, and providers who shared their expertise and experience for this work. I would also like to thank Kura Moeahu, who advised and supported my audit team, and Sir John Clarke, who reviewed drafts of the audit findings and the final report.

Nāku noa, nā

John Ryan
Controller and Auditor-General | Tumuaki o te Mana Arotake

8 February 2023