Undertaking experiments in public policy is like any other innovation – it requires a mix of disruption, a committed and talented team, and, most importantly, the courage of leaders to let go of bad rules and explore new ways of doing things. This approach can be economically and politically risky, particularly when the communities being experimented with are already under significant systemic stress. However, this is what Hon John Carter, Hon Steve Chadwick JP and Meng Foon are asking for – the chance to replace old rules that are not working with new rules that are fit for the communities they serve. We are proposing the establishment of three demarcation zones for public policy reform in the Far North, Rotorua and Gisborne. Each area would develop its own ways of moving forward but the demarcation approach to localised reform would remain the same.
This approach, borne out of necessity, is not as novel as one might suspect. There are proven examples of central governments demarcating special zones for reform. Reuben Abraham, CEO and Senior Fellow at IDFC Institute, a think/do tank established in Mumbai by India’s largest infrastructure finance company, is exploring this idea.
Based on discussions with Reuben Abraham, and learnings from the McGuinness Institute's TacklingPovertyNZ 2016 tour, this paper outlines how such zones could be formed and operate in New Zealand.
The purpose behind demarcation zones is to isolate and separate the area from existing rules in order to allow new rules to be put in place. Mechanisms of both economic and social governance will need to be fully decentralised to ensure the system can be responsive to the needs of communities. The current system works to maintain the status quo, keeping people in poverty and spreading it like a virus. Further, anecdotal evidence suggests that trying to deal with symptoms of poverty (these include drug addiction, mental health, gang violence, crime and health epidemics like MRSA) in isolation has not proven effective. This means that radical reforms are required to create sustainable high levels of wellbeing.
The status quo is not acceptable. The question we need to answer is two-fold: Can we legitimately allow the status quo, and the generational poverty it perpetuates, to continue unabated? And if not, how are we going to change direction going forward? If New Zealand created three demarcation zones for public policy innovation, we believe it would deliver significant change. Change brings with it a new set of risks, costs and benefits; therefore these zones will need to be set up so that failing safely and learning lessons becomes part of the culture of the public service. The TacklingPovertyNZ tour emphasised that the public service is failing good people badly.