This report offers an independent evaluation on the recent Productivity Commission (the Commission) Inquiry: a fair chance for all – Breaking the cycle of persistent disadvantage. This evaluation provides the Commission and its stakeholders with an independent view on where this inquiry performed well, and where there is room for improvement in future inquiries. This evaluation is the first time the Commission has brought together the traditional evaluation components (expert evaluation, focus groups, survey) into one combined report.1
The approach taken in this evaluation includes a grounding of findings in the purpose and function of the Commission. This provides context to the findings, acknowledging that public sector entities operate in a wider environment where formal and informal guidance and expectations change over time, and may not always align.
Evaluation findings point to an ambitious inquiry into a complex topic. The breadth and depth of research that was commissioned was celebrated, particularly given the novelty of the topic for the Commission. The value of the combined findings in the Final Report, created a valuable reference document to inform policy making and social change on the drivers behind persistent disadvantage and the public sector mechanisms that can be considered for reducing it. The breadth of engagement was valued highly, including amongst Māori and Pasifika stakeholders. The community sector in particular is already making use of the Final Report and its findings.
Findings identify improvements that could be made around process management and in communicating more clearly the trade-offs inherent in decisions around engagement and focus areas. Some sectors, such as economic and fiscal policy agencies, are not currently using the report as much as the not-for-profit sector. This may point to differences in frames of validity and/or values, an issue that could be considered as part of the Commission’s future work.
The wide approach to engagement, particularly at the beginning of the Inquiry was valued by many stakeholders, and seen as a particularly effective way to work in an Inquiry that dealt with people who persistently are left out or do without. The new initiatives trialled by the Commission were overwhelmingly supported and considered valuable.
There may be a greater call to action with a report that deals with such topics, due to the troubling fact that persistent disadvantage in Aotearoa New Zealand remains. There are a number of ways the Commission could consider how to navigate in this space, depending on its mandate, its strategic priorities and how it plans to give effect to and continuously improve on its function and purpose.
Recommendations include a span of measures across areas of performance, some small and some large, for the Commission to consider. This report is written in a practical way, to make these findings as useful and as actionable as possible. The report is written by the Evaluation Project Director, Dr Ruth Fischer-Smith.