Information updates held for central government entities

This year’s central government updates attracted over 400 government department and Crown entity representatives to Te Papa on 19 and 20 April.

This year’s theme was “Improving performance, improving public trust.” Steve Walker opened the day by posing some questions for attendees to consider:

  • Do you know enough about all aspects of what your entity does and how it’s being reported?
  • What might you need to find out more about?
  • How do you choose to conform to your reporting requirements?
  • How much focus do you put on telling your organisation’s story, and are you looking for ways to improve your entity’s reporting?

Presenters throughout the day expanded on the importance of these questions and how everyone present might approach them. Much of what was covered can be placed under some common themes.

Performance reporting is more than a compliance exercise

Reporting on performance should not, as several speakers stressed, be an exercise where forms are filled, boxes are ticked, and all is forgotten until next year.

Treasury’s Warwick White spoke about annual reporting, and his desire to see mind sets shift “from compliance to communication”. He would also like to see greater clarity in appropriation requests, including more on what is intended to be achieved, and what value New Zealanders will receive.

Steve Walker talked about using performance reporting to tell your organisation’s story, and the opportunities that now exist, through new accounting standards, to “declutter” reports and focus on the important stuff.

Public trust is reliant on good governance and accountability

Auditor-General Lyn Provost’s speech focused on the newly-launched report Reflections from our audits: Governance and accountability.

There is an undeniable link between public accountability and the public’s trust in the institutions of government. Good governance is key to good accountability, and Lyn’s speech focused on the eight elements of good governance the Office had identified through its work.

Lyn also touched on some of the emerging trends she’s seeing in this area, including co-governance, collaboration, and Integrated Reporting. More information on these topics, with examples, is available in the reflections report.

Risk management needs improvement

One of the weakest governance elements the Office identified was risk management. It is not good enough, Lyn said, to merely identify, note, and approve an exhaustive list of risks. They must also be managed, and outcomes measured.

Three cybersecurity experts – Paul Ash, Phil Weir, and Jonathan Berry – talked about the growing risks to keeping electronic data safe. Cybersecurity is something we should all take responsibility for, Paul said, rather than just leaving it to the IT experts.

Information needs to be relevant, understandable, and applicable

Ricky Utting spoke about Treasury’s programme to raise the performance of investment management and assets. Treasury is looking closely at asset performance information from the 25 investment intensive agencies. Having good asset and investment information is key to maximising their return to the public.

We cannot afford to be complacent

Complacency was, rightly, identified as the enemy of just about everything.

“The public’s trust,” Lyn said, “is something we – all of us – have to earn every day. Once lost, it’s very hard to get back.” To earn this trust, said Mike, entities must provide a true account of themselves.

Steve talked about the need for reporting to keep evolving: “Look for ways to improve the way you tell your story. Make it a compelling read for your audience. Don’t fall into the ‘compliance mind set’.”

Complacency and apathy is partly to blame for New Zealand’s slide from second to fourth in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, according to Suzanne Snively. For all the risks to our clean image she identified, Suzanne ended on an optimistic note: “We have the opportunity to be proud now, but we can be prouder.”

The key to considering Steve’s questions perhaps lies in the Chinese proverb he shared near the start: “Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” Attendees left with plenty of ideas to work towards improving performance, improving public trust.

Page last updated: 22 April 2016