Local government’s role in wellbeing

By Antoinette Campbell

Of the three local government reforms currently underway, the Review into the Future for Local Government is less advanced, however front of mind for many within the sector. As the review panel asserts, the Review is just that, a ‘review’ and its recommendations will result in some form of nation-wide reform of the system of local government.

I had the good fortune of hearing first-hand from an engaging review panel at the Taituarā conference toward the end of last year. They were not all doom and gloom about the inadequacies of a broken system, but rather were optimistic about strengthening local government’s role as champion and activator of wellbeing and in promoting the development of ‘soft’ infrastructure. It sounded like they were advocating for councils to take more of a ‘community development’ approach to planning for local service delivery. Not a new concept for many of us!

The concept of community development had its heyday when the Local Government Act 2002 set out councils’ purpose ‘to promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing of communities in the present and for the future’, within the development of a ‘long term council community plan’ (now LTP). This saw the establishment of community development and advisory teams in a number of more well-resourced councils. Aimers, J. & Walker, P. (2016). Community development in Aotearoa New Zealand: A historical journey

After this brief but enduring rise, community development approaches and practices in councils became watered down and even marginalised in the 2010s. Whether this coincided with the removal of the wellbeings from the purpose of local government in 2012, or was a result of the constant internal battles community development staff had with the more traditional domains of finance and infrastructure, it did not bode well for the practice and ongoing support for a profession that is still hanging in there, despite the challenges.

However, with the return of the wellbeings to the LGA in 2019, and the findings of the Review into the Future for Local Government, maybe the practice of Community Development, and its variations, are about to be resurrected and allow communities to do what they’ve been telling us all along – ‘tip the system upside down and place the people on top’.

To do this, the panel sees the need for a major reset between central and local government to rebuild trust and confidence in both directions. This will require a mind shift and cultural change to working together so that communities will benefit from a more cohesive and mutually reinforcing relationship.

The Rationale team brings multi-disciplined expertise across a range of local and central government functions. Our team are experts in facilitation, engagement, business case, organisational change management, long-term strategy and planning, and stakeholder management, alongside a long history of working closely with local and central government.

We are currently working with local councils up and down the country to help them navigate a range of reforms. We focus on understanding the best course of action, so our clients can continue to deliver for their communities – so please get in touch if you think we can help.

Antoinette has over 20 years local government experience working with communities including leading the inception of the Hastings District Council Community Plan concept in the mid 2000s, which saw four initial plans developed for the Camberley, Flaxmere, Whakatu and Clive communities. This number has grown to 14 for the district which continue to be led by communities and supported by the Council.