8 February 2022

Big conversation series: wellbeing and local governance

We are continuing to explore the 'big conversations' surrounding the Review and local government in Aotearoa. One of these conversations is about the role local government plays in wellbeing. We invited experts to join us to discuss social, economic, environmental, and cultural wellbeing and the different frameworks that can be used to understand wellbeing.

Big conversation series: wellbeing and local governance

One of the main purposes of local government, as stated in the Local Government Act 2002, is to promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural wellbeing of their communities.

But what do we mean by wellbeing? And how could local government support wellbeing more fully in the future? We discussed this as part of our ‘big conversations’ workshops in November.

Our ‘big conversations’ are a Panel workshop series, where experts are invited to join us to further our thinking about some of the important issues relating to the kaupapa of our mahi.

Who joined the conversation

To help unpack this ‘big conversation’ we invited Professor Girol Karacaoglu, Dr Sasha McMeeking, and our former Executive Director of the Review, Bryan Patchett, to share their work and experience.

  • Professor Girol Karacaoglu is the Head of the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington. He spoke with us about the importance of intergenerational wellbeing and helped us consider the concept of wellbeing not just for today but also for future generations.
  • Dr Sacha McMeeking is Head of Aotahi School of Māori and Indigenous Studies at University of Canterbury and is also Co-director at Tokona Te Raki Māori Futures Collective. Sacha shared her thinking about Māori wellbeing approaches and spoke about how wai (water), whenua (land), and tangata (people) are all part of a connected and integrated system of wellbeing. She brought together multiple views and ideas on Māori wellbeing.
  • Bryan Patchett was the Review's Executive Director during 2021. He shared his experience of working with central government, local government, and iwi partners to turn wellbeing aspirations into action in the Eastern Porirua Regeneration Project. This project is focused on achieving significant social, environmental, economic and cultural wellbeing outcomes for the people of Eastern Porirua.

How do we determine wellbeing?

We discussed the many frameworks that can be used to understand wellbeing, including from human rights perspectives, Treasury’s Living Standards Framework, inter-generational approaches and through Te Ao Māori lens.

The many dimensions of wellbeing provided for an insightful and multi-levelled discussion that allowed us to stretch our thinking, including place-based wellbeing.

‘‘It is important to us that we explore wellbeing from all angles, including the practical side for local authorities to implement wellbeing initiatives. This conversation was a great way to help us understand the multiple and varied aspects of wellbeing from a range of perspectives.’ ’ — Panel member, Antoine Coffin

Key points from the conversation

  • We cannot separate people from the natural environment when considering wellbeing – people and nature are innately connected.
  • Leadership is an extremely important for realising the promise of wellbeing projects. This includes leadership that can bridge the gap between the strategic design intentions of wellbeing projects and the realities of implementing them on the ground.
  • Theory and frameworks cannot provide a “one size fits all” approach to wellbeing. Different frameworks may have relevance for different places and communities.
  • Enabling wellbeing within whānau and communities will allow people to thrive and is essential to the present and future wellbeing of New Zealanders.

Recommended reading

To prepare for this ‘big conversation’, we read a wide range of articles and publications. The links to this reading material are provided below.


He Ara Waiora Framework - Te Tai Ōhanga, The Treasury

He Ara Waiora is a framework that helps the Treasury to understand waiora, often translated as a Māori perspective on wellbeing. This framework presents a holistic, intergenerational approach to wellbeing. While its principles are derived from mātauranga Māori, many of its elements are relevant to lifting the intergenerational wellbeing of all New Zealanders.


Creating shared prosperity through the circular economy - Community and Social Innovation team at Auckland Council

This look book discusses Māori and Pasifika economic resilience, and directly and meaningfully advances objectives to tackle poverty, inequality and the climate emergency.


Well-being at the local level - Arthur Grimes

This report considers what the reintroduction of the ‘four well-beings’ into the Local Government Act might mean for local decision making in Aotearoa.


Climate adaptation, mitigation, and urban design - Robert Steuteville

Urban planning and design are among the most effective tools in dealing with climate change. This article explores mitigation and adaptation in terms of climate change.


He Ara Waiora / A pathway towards wellbeing - Emily O'Connell, Tia Greenaway, Trevor Moeke, Sacha McMeeking

This discussion paper is part of a series of papers on wellbeing in the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework. It explores the question of: how could tikanga Māori help create a more future-focused tax system?


Understanding thriving communities - Prepared for the National Lottery Community Fund
by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing and Happy City

This report looks into what enables people and communities to thrive and what the conditions for success are. It takes a comprehensive approach to understanding people and communities.


Asset-based community development for local authorities - Jenni Lloyd and Emily Reynolds

The communities we live in and the relationships we have are the primary source of our physical and mental health. This guide shows that by investing in communities, local authorities can focus on cultivating the conditions for people to flourish.

Tell us what you think

What influences your wellbeing? How do you think local government should support wellbeing in the future? Let us know here.