Part 1: Introduction

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

In this Part, we describe:

What is whānau ora?

Whānau ora is a concept that reflects a self-determined, strengths-based, and holistic view of collective well-being. People use the term "whānau ora" to refer to:

  • a state of being or outcome;
  • an approach or way of working to improve whānau well-being that works towards whānau ora as an outcome (Te Puni Kōkiri uses the term "whānau-centred approaches"); and
  • Whānau Ora, which is a whānau-centred approach that the government funds.1

Whānau ora as an outcome

Whānau groupings have been fundamental to Māori society, culture, politics, and life for generations.

Broadly speaking, when whānau experience whānau ora, they are living thriving and healthy lives as defined by them and are able to support whānau members in need. Experiencing whānau ora also means that whānau can define their own goals and aspirations and have access to the information, resources, tools, and networks to achieve them.

Whānau ora is intergenerational. Every whānau member benefits from whānau ora, and sustaining whānau ora often means focusing on the well-being and aspirations of mokopuna. As such, part of whānau ora is the experience and support that mokopuna have access to through regular contact with older whānau members.

Whānau has a broader meaning than "family". Whānau can be groups of people linked by whakapapa, culture, language, or life experience. Importantly, whānau themselves define the nature and make-up of whānau.

Whānau ora can also be about whānau empowering and supporting other whānau. One person described this to us as the "concentric circles" of many overlapping whānau.

We were told that whānau ora as a concept is also applicable to the diverse Pasifika communities in this country. The Pasifika application of whānau ora is based on Pasifika strengths and leadership. For Pasifika, the application of whānau ora is similarly driven by opportunities to support families to meet their aspirations and identify, understand, and support them to improve their outcomes.

Whānau-centred approaches

Whānau-centred approaches aim to support whānau to experience whānau ora. Whānau-centred approaches put whānau at the centre of decision-making. They empower whānau to identify and work towards their goals and aspirations, building on existing strengths.

To avoid confusion between Whānau Ora and other approaches with the same or similar aims and characteristics, Te Puni Kōkiri tends to use the term "whānau-centred approaches" (rather than "whānau ora approaches") to refer to the general approach and intent of services aimed at achieving and sustaining whānau ora. We have used this terminology in this report. Unless stated otherwise, when we refer to "whānau-centred approaches", we mean all whānau-centred approaches – including Whānau Ora.

As Te Puni Kōkiri describes it, whānau-centred approaches:

  • start by asking whānau and families what they want to achieve for themselves and respond to those aspirations to realise whānau potential;
  • provide flexible support for whānau and families to move beyond crisis to identifying and achieving medium- and long-term goals for sustained change;
  • focus on relationships, self-direction, and building skills for whānau to achieve positive long-term outcomes;
  • use a joined-up approach of all factors relevant to whānau wellness – economic, cultural, environmental, and social;
  • recognise that each whānau has different needs and that what works well for one whānau might not work well for others;
  • recognise that whānau and families have skills, knowledge, and experiences that will contribute to becoming more self-managing and independent; and
  • are based on kaupapa Māori approaches and ways of working.

Whānau-centred approaches are collective in nature – they take a holistic approach to the well-being of the whole whānau and strengthen collective capabilities and resilience.

Whānau Ora

The concept of whānau ora has its origins in te ao Māori. We understand that the first reference to it in government policy was in 2002, in the Ministry of Health's He Korowai Oranga: Māori health strategy.

In 2010, the then Government introduced Whānau Ora. It comprises a group of whānau-centred initiatives and includes the Whānau Ora commissioning approach. The commissioning approach involves Te Puni Kōkiri contracting three commissioning agencies to invest in whānau-centred services throughout the country.

The providers of these services work with whānau and support them to achieve their goals and aspirations. Whānau Ora services are available to all people.

Te Puni Kōkiri contracts the Whānau Ora commissioning agencies to achieve outcomes rather than provide specific services or outputs. The intent is that funding decisions are made as close as possible to local communities and that the commissioning agencies have flexibility to invest in different types of initiatives and services to best meet the needs of whānau.

Whānau Ora navigators play a key role. They build strong relationships with whānau and service providers. They also help people identify and access the support needed to achieve their goals and aspirations, including services that public organisations provide or fund.

In Part 2, we provide a more detailed overview of Whānau Ora, including the roles and responsibilities of Te Puni Kōkiri, the Whānau Ora commissioning agencies, and navigators.

Why we did this audit

Several reports note that Whānau Ora has been a success for many whānau. This includes our 2015 report Whānau Ora: The first four years.

In 2018, the Minister for Whānau Ora commissioned a review of Whānau Ora (the Whānau Ora ministerial review). This review found that Whānau Ora creates positive change for whānau and creates the conditions for that change to be sustainable.

Because public organisations play an important role in the success of whānau-centred approaches, they also play an important role in enabling better well-being outcomes for whānau.

However, since Whānau Ora was introduced, concerns have been consistently raised about how well public organisations understand, support, and are 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 modifying their funding, contracting, and reporting requirements).

In 2015, we found that, at best, there were mixed signals from different parts of government.2 In 2018, the Whānau Ora ministerial review found that government agencies lacked an understanding of Whānau Ora, which affected their commitment to it. The ministerial review was also concerned that public organisations were opting out of their responsibilities to provide services to whānau.

In response to the Whānau Ora ministerial review, Te Puni Kōkiri made encouraging public organisations to invest in Whānau Ora and broaden their support and implementation of whānau-centred approaches a strategic focus area.

We wanted to know what progress Te Puni Kōkiri has made towards this.

What we looked at

We looked at how well public organisations are supporting whānau-centred approaches to policy development and service delivery. Specifically, we looked at:

  • how well Te Puni Kōkiri is exercising its roles and responsibilities in relation to whānau-centred approaches; and
  • how well public organisations are supporting whānau-centred approaches.

Consistent with our mandate, we looked only at the performance of public organisations and did not audit the performance of Whānau Ora commissioning agencies or providers. Numerous evaluations, research papers, and reports have looked at the effectiveness of Whānau Ora, including the 2018 Whānau Ora ministerial review.

How we carried out our work

In carrying out our audit, we spoke with each of the three Whānau Ora commissioning agencies – Te Pou Matakana (also known as Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency),3 Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, and Pasifika Futures.

We also spoke with several of the commissioning agencies' partners and providers that work with whānau, including:

  • six organisations working with whānau in the North Island;
  • 10 organisations working with whānau in the South Island; and
  • nine organisations working with Pasifika communities throughout the country.

We also talked to two providers that are not part of the Whānau Ora network but take a whānau-centred approach to their work.

We collected evidence on the views and experiences of organisations and people involved in designing and providing services for whānau.

We spoke with national and regional office staff of Te Puni Kōkiri and 26 public organisations, including from the health, social, education, justice, environment, and economic sectors.

We reviewed a wide range of documents, including Cabinet papers, briefing papers, strategies, plans, evaluation reports, workshop material, and accountability documents.

The audit team benefitted from the advice and guidance of Kura Moeahu and Sir John Clarke throughout the audit (see Appendix).

The structure of this report

In Part 2, we outline the context for our audit.

In Part 3, we discuss how well Te Puni Kōkiri is exercising its roles and responsibilities in relation to whānau-centred approaches.

In Part 4, we discuss how well other public organisations are supporting and implementing whānau-centred approaches.

In Part 5, we discuss how well other public organisations are supporting Whānau Ora.

1: Taskforce on Whānau-Centred Initiatives (2010), Whānau Ora: Report of the Taskforce on Whānau-Centred Initiatives, paragraph 4.1.2, at

2: Office of the Auditor-General (2015), Whānau Ora: The first four years.

3: Te Pou Matakana is the legal name of the organisation responsible for Whānau Ora commissioning in the North Island. The organisation trades as Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency.