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How inquiries support change

Since we began operating in 2011, the New Zealand Productivity Commission’s principal purpose was to provide advice to the government on improving productivity. During its time in operation, the Commission delivered 18 inquiry reports into topics selected by ministers. 

Until now the Commission had only looked at the short-term impacts through independent evaluations of inquiry reports and processes.  

This report examines the value delivered by inquiries and sets out some key lessons that may be of value for other organisations conducting similar work in the future.  

This review has taken a more in-depth look at the long-term outcomes of the work using new measures that complement data and information already collected by the Commission and carrying out interviews with external stakeholders who commented on the longer-term impacts of four case study inquiries. 

A family walking down on a New Zealand beach Impact Assessment Report cover

Engagement, strong analysis and compelling communication were essential to the success of inquiries

We identified that inquiries succeed by finding the underlying cause of an issue, listening to as many stakeholders as possible, collecting and analysing information and data to draw new insights, and putting findings across in a clear and compelling manner. 

The key findings across inquiries are set out below. 

We did a lot of engagement through public meetings, submissions and consultations, all of which helped to gather information and perspectives, build consensus and get our messages across. Generating strong engagement with stakeholders was essential to ensuring inquiries were influential.

We built a reputation for high quality research and analysis, looking across the landscape, digging deep into the data, and coming up with new ways to address issues. Experts in their field contributed to our findings and critiqued the output, ensuring high quality findings and recommendations were the norm rather than the exception. This approach to our work meant our inquiries generated convincing findings that were trusted by stakeholders. 

Final inquiry reports have become important reference documents, used by individuals and organisations long after inquiries are completed. These reports were generally well received, with over 70% of stakeholders rating the quality of the inquiry they were involved with as good or excellent. We found evidence of a wide range of individuals and organisations using the reports to support change and ongoing debate. Clarity of our communications was fundamental to our reports achieving long-lasting influence. 

A positive response to our inquiries and the recommendations we made 

Overall, all the inquiries we reviewed received a largely positive response from the government of the day. Governments agree on most of our recommendations.  

All our inquiries had some recommendations implemented, which included changing legislation, improving capability of government systems, introducing new models for funding and delivering social services, establishing new institutions and informing future inquiries and programmes of work.  

What does this mean for the future? 

The feedback in this report, as well as our experience, is that inquiries play an important role in the public policy system.  

Stakeholders interviewed for this report valued the ability of inquiries to bring together existing work to help them think about and explore a topic; look to longstanding, cross-cutting issues that span agency boundaries; and to provide an outsider’s perspective in considering new or different solutions.  

We also found opportunities to learn from our experience to support the government’s future efforts including, building the work and outcomes of inquiries into the government’s ongoing work programmes, continue to support the debate and discussion of an inquiry’s findings and recommendations, and ongoing monitoring to understand the impact of inquiries.