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Commonly used terms

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Assumptions are the things that are generally accepted to be “true” but are usually based on theory, rather than facts. These “assumptions” are shaped by our history, our values and our cultural background.


The ability of a person to convert a set of means (such as resources, skills, attitudes) into a life they find fulfilling.

Central Agencies

In the New Zealand public sector, the Central Agencies provide overall leadership for the public sector. They include Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission (PSC), the Treasury and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC).


Colonisation is the process of actively settling (or setting up a colony) away from one’s place of origin and establishing control over the indigenous people of that place. Typically, it involves mass movement of a population into an area and results in the original, or indigenous, inhabitants being outnumbered and overtaken, with the colonisers extending their system of control and governance into the new colony. The colonisation process is inextricably linked to the international legal principle referred to as the “Doctrine of Discovery”. Under this doctrine, when a European nation discovered new lands, it automatically gained sovereign and property rights over the non-European peoples, even though indigenous nations and people were already occupying and using the land (Miller et al., 2010, p. 3). This legal precedent was acknowledged by other European countries and was used by England to colonise several countries, including Aotearoa New Zealand (Haemata Limited, 2022a, p. 1).


Commissioning refers to the interrelated activities, including (but not limited to) consulting, planning, engagement, funding, procurement, monitoring and evaluation that need to be undertaken through third-party providers to ensure individuals, families, whānau and communities who need support get what they need for their wellbeing (Ministry of Social Development, 2022).


The lack of access to essential goods and services required to participate in activities that are considered part of everyday life in Aotearoa New Zealand.


The transfer or delegation of power (and funding) to a lower level of government, especially from central government to local or regional administration. Can also involve devolving to individual entities, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or individuals.


Disadvantage (mauri noho or languishing) is not simply income poverty or low income, but rather the absence of mauri ora. Our definition of disadvantage sets out three domains that align with the absence of mauri ora:

  • being left out (excluded or lacking identity, belonging and connection);
  • doing without (deprived or lacking the means to achieve their aspirations); and
  • being income poor (income poverty or lacking prosperity).


Equity refers to fairness and justice and is distinguished from equality. Equality means providing the same to all, equity means recognising that we do not all start from the same place and must acknowledge and make adjustments to imbalances.


A group of people with the authority to govern a country or state.

He Ara Waiora

A tikanga framework that conceptualises a Māori perspective on wellbeing.

Intergenerational disadvantage

Persistent disadvantage that occurs across the life course of an individual or family can spill over to the next generation as intergenerational disadvantage. That is, children born into persistent disadvantage may get stuck there into adulthood.

Mauri ora

A Māori concept of wellbeing that roughly equates to “thriving”. Mauri is sometimes referred to as a “life force”.

Mental model

The personal internal representation of reality based on life experiences and beliefs through which we interact with the world.


An attitude or approach through which a person or group interprets and responds to problems and situations.

New Public Management (NPM)

New Public Management is a public sector management philosophy that aims to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public services by adopting private sector management practices.

Non- governmental organisations (NGOs)

A non-profit organisation that operates largely or entirely independently of government and can operate at a local, regional, national or international level. NGOs can also be affiliated to iwi, hapū and Māori groups, or adopt kaupapa Māori approaches. The goals of NGOs are often focused on creating social and/or economic value for wider communities (Ministry of Social Development, 2022).


A paradigm is a set of concepts and theories that form a way of thinking shared by a group of people. In the context of this inquiry, it is the shared values and assumptions underlying policy goals, the nature of policy problems, and the instruments to address them.

Persistent disadvantage

Disadvantage that is ongoing for two or more years.

Place-Based Initiatives (PBIs)

Place-Based Initiatives in New Zealand were launched in 2016 and are locally led, collaborative approaches to address social, economic, and environmental challenges in specific geographic locations. Currently there are two PBIs – Manaaki Tairāwhiti and the South Auckland Social Wellbeing Board. These initiatives involve community members, government agencies, businesses, and other stakeholders working together to develop and implement strategies that are tailored to the unique needs and strengths of the particular place. The goal of PBIs is to improve outcomes and opportunities for people living in those places by leveraging local assets and resources, promoting community engagement and participation, and aligning government policies and programmes with local priorities.

 Power dynamics

 This describes how power affects a relationship between two or more people, or between different groups of people.

 Public accountability system

 The Auditor-General describes “public accountability” as being about public organisations demonstrating to Parliament and the public their competence, reliability and honesty in their use of public money and other public resources. The “public accountability system” helps provide the “social licence” needed for the public management system to deliver public services. The public accountability system also supports the development of trust within the public management system by establishing expectations for people (and teams of people), providing the necessary checks and balances, and encouraging proper behaviours and cultures.

 Public management system (the system)

 By “public management system”, we mean:

  • the (evolving) set of organisations within government, and their functions and mandates;
  • the policymaking process, and the public policy settings (such as legislation, regulations and non-statutory frameworks) that are created and maintained by the public service;
  • system-wide governance, accountability and funding arrangements; and
  • how the public service works together through relationships and partnerships to deliver results for Ministers and the public, including for specific populations.

More broadly, this also includes the influence the public management system has on the private sector, communities, families, whānau and individuals.

Sometimes also referred to as the system of public administration, or the public sector.

 Public sector

 We use the term “public sector” to mean the government of the day and its agencies, but for the purpose of this report, not local government, and its agencies.

 Public value

 Public value refers to the collective benefit or positive impact that a government, public organisation, or public policy provides to society as a whole. It is the value created for citizens and communities through the delivery of public goods and services, such as education, healthcare, transportation, environmental protection and public safety. Public value is often measured in terms of outcomes and impacts, such as increased access to services, improved quality of life, and economic growth. It is shaped by factors such as public needs, preferences, and priorities, as well as political and budgetary constraints. Public value is a key concept in public management and governance, and it highlights the importance of public organisations and policies in promoting the common good and enhancing social welfare.


Racism refers to a belief or attitude that one race or ethnicity is inherently superior or inferior to another and therefore deserves different treatment. It can manifest in various forms, including prejudice, discrimination, bias, stereotyping, and systemic oppression, and it can be expressed through individual actions, institutional policies, or societal norms. Racism is a harmful and pervasive social problem that can lead to unequal opportunities, marginalisation, and the mistreatment of individuals and groups based on their race or ethnicity.

 “Relational approach” to social sector commissioning

This is about shifting the nature and approach to commissioning conversations towards building relationships based on respect and trust. A relational approach to commissioning places trusted, meaningful relationships at the centre to ensure activity delivers wellbeing outcomes for individuals, families, whānau and communities (Ministry of Social Development, 2022).


This describes a situation where individual government institutions focus more on their own goals and objectives, rather than collective ones. This can lead to limited coordination and collaboration.

Social contract

A social contract refers to an actual or hypothetical agreement between government and the people, which defines the rights and duties of each.

Social floor

A nationally defined set of basic guarantees that are aimed at preventing or alleviating income poverty, deprivation and social exclusion.

Social inclusion

Social inclusion is when New Zealanders can live fulfilling lives. Individuals, their families, whānau and communities have a strong sense of identity, can contribute to their families and communities, and have the things they need to realise their aspirations and nourish the next generation.

Social norms

Social norms are the implicit, unwritten rules, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that are considered acceptable in a particular social group or culture. Norms provide us with an expected idea of how to behave and function to provide order and predictability in society.

Social, economic and political context

“Context” is broadly defined to include all social, economic and political mechanisms that influence the exposure and vulnerability to persistent disadvantage. This includes the labour market; the educational system; political institutions; and other cultural and societal norms and values.


Strengths-based approaches involve identifying and building upon an individual’s or community’s strengths and assets, rather than just trying to fix their weaknesses or deficiencies. It is an empowering approach that encourages individuals and communities to take an active role in the process of change and to focus on what they can do, rather than what they cannot do.

Strengths-based approaches can be applied in a variety of settings, such as healthcare, education, social services and community development. The goal is to create positive change and promote wellbeing by leveraging the strengths and resources that already exist within individuals and communities.

Subsidiarity is a political principle that suggests that decision making should be decentralised to the lowest possible level of organisation or authority that is capable of making an effective decision. In other words, it is the idea that a central authority should only perform tasks that cannot be performed effectively at a more local level.

System barriers

In the context of this inquiry, this describes the factors (such as explicit or implicit rules, laws, policies, values, assumptions and mindsets) that show up in the public management system and make it difficult or impossible for persistent disadvantage to be effectively addressed.

System levels

A multi-level perspective of systems sees process and functions at different scales. Fine-scale relationships and interactions happen at a micro level, mid-scale at a meso level and large-scale at a macro level.

System settings

The set of “rules” or guardrails for the design and operation of the public management system.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi

A founding constitutional document. There are both Māori and English language versions of the treaty, with critical differences between these two versions. We acknowledge these differences and that the Māori text best reflects what was discussed with and understood and agreed to by Māori (Waitangi Tribunal, 2014). Following the Waitangi Tribunal (2014) we use “te Tiriti o Waitangi” or “te Tiriti” to specify the reo Māori text. When referring more generally to “the treaty” or an interpretation encompassing both texts we use the English word and a lowercase “t”.

This report uses a range of terms that are commonly used in relation to te Tiriti, which are defined below:

  • honour – fulfil or keep an obligation or agreement;
  • uphold – confirm or support;
  • give effect – put into practice/make operative;
  • embody – give a tangible or visible form; and
  • embed – make an integral part of.

“Honour” and “uphold” tend to be used in relation to fulfilling or supporting te Tiriti and its principles, and “give effect”, “embody” and “embed” relate to operationalising te Tiriti.

 The Offce of the Auditor-General (OAG)

The OAG carries out strategic audit planning, sets policy and standards, appoints auditors and oversees their performance, carries out performance audits, provides reporting and advice to Parliament, and carries out inquiries and other special studies. Staff in the Office are employed by the Auditor-General, an Officer of Parliament.


Whānau are self-defining and are different from the nuclear family or general understandings of extended family. The concept and practice of whānau is linked to a collective responsibility (with individual contributions) in a reciprocal relationship that is distinctly Māori. Whānau are the foundation of Māori society and the fundamental agent of intergenerational change.

Whānau-centred approaches

Whānau-centred approaches are culturally grounded, holistic approaches focused on improving the wellbeing of whānau as a collective. They can include initiatives but can also be applied to policies and systems. They aim to shift attention from individuals to collectives and individuals as members of those collectives, from sectoral interventions to intersectoral collaboration, from crisis intervention to capability building, and from process indicators to measures of outcome.

Whānau ora

Whānau ora as a concept and practice assumes that the whānau group has the potential to bring about positive changes for individual whānau members. The kaupapa of Whānau ora is about empowering whānau to have the voice and choice to own their future.

Whānau Ora initiative

The Taskforce on Whānau-Centred Initiatives in 2010 recommended the creation of the Whānau Ora initiative, as a key mechanism for government to enable whānau-centred approaches. It comprises a group of whānau-centred initiatives and includes the Whānau Ora commissioning approach, which involved 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, not just Māori.