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Local government, strategy and communities: the New Zealand Experience

Jeffrey Mcneill
Mike Reid
University of Victoria
Claudia Scott
University of Victoria
Open Panel

Abstract

New Zealand’s Local Government Act 2002 mandated that local governments undertake community strategic planning through the preparation of ten year Long Term Council Community Plans. The legislation promoted community strategic planning based on community outcomes, as well as greater clarity surrounding access to and accountability for council services. A central feature of the strategic planning process was identifying community outcomes by engaging with communities, groups and other government agencies. We examined the practice of strategic planning by New Zealand local governments, particularly the experiences of 19 local authorities as they developed community plans under the new legislation. We report on how strategic planning practices in these councils have changed between 2003-2008 under the new legislation. While many councils made considerable effort to engage with communities and government agencies, relatively poor linkages were identified between community outcomes and the decisions and priorities adopted by councils. Within the range of experiences, we identify councils that have become more strategic in their decision-making by using the community outcomes as a means for grounding their actions. Experiences across councils demonstrate many different approaches to strategic planning practice. The paper explores whether the primary impacts of the legislation accrue from increasing council efficiency, through better financial and asset management information upon which councils base decisions, or from increased effectiveness through clearly articulated community local outcomes. Linkages between strategic planning, performance and capability issues are considered, and consider whether this mandated increased citizen participation has occurred at the expense of policy effectiveness.