The year in review – part 1

This is part one of Len Cook’s reflections on the 2016-17 year and coincides with the release of the annual report for the Families Commission/Superu.

Superu has the opportunity of being an arm’s length yet active participant in invigorating the place of evidence to determine the social services and policy that are delivered by government, NGOs, family and whānau.

The uniqueness of this placement comes from Superu being well connected with the activities of government, having highly trusted relationships across community organisations, putting a window on the changing nature of families, and bringing attention to the special nature of whānau and cultural capital. Our key asset has been a critical mass of experienced evaluation experts, and a context which enables us to be relevant to a wider community than is usually expected of the core public service in this area.

The 2016/17 year was one of two quite distinct parts. In the first part, the broad programme of Superu continued to advance apace during the first nine months of the year. Then, since April 2017, we have been in the process of disestablishment.

Our year

  • Support for government policy initiatives included the evaluation of the Integrated Safety Response for family violence, the Youth Mental Health Project evaluation, and the development of evaluation frameworks for the Tāmaki regeneration and the Office of Disability Issues. We also supported Treasury in the Budget process through the development of an evidence rating scale and helped assess bids and evaluation plans.
  • The fifth Families and Whānau Status Report was published.
  • Through bringing together information that relates to whānau, Superu has begun to make visible the contribution of cultural capital to social services and well-being, and what brings about diversity among New Zealanders generally. In collaboration with Te Puni Kōkiri, we jointly arranged a conference on understanding and measuring whānau wellbeing, and published the results.
  • The connection with the NGO sector was further developed. An extended range of resources was developed for community organisations and their funders. These enable NGOs to better use evidence and evaluation and to draw on their own potential to evaluate their work.
  • Superu has managed the government contract with the University of Auckland for the Growing Up in New Zealand (GUiNZ) longitudinal study, as well as that for the Family Violence Clearinghouse. I believe that this year the GUiNZ study has been placed on a stronger long-term footing with a reduced sample size and new funding approach. The contestable fund that now exists is already widening the range of researchers across New Zealand who can access this vital resource about New Zealand’s children.
  • Superu addressed several research questions that were set by Ministers of the Crown through the Ministerial Social Sector Research Fund. Under this fund Superu was responsible for the quality of the research but not the method of release of the findings, which was led by Ministers.
  • Superu continued to lift capability in communicating science to those who need the results. This is of significance to decision-makers in the social sector and research bodies in government. The Hub website now contains a large share of government research studies, and has become the first port of call for access to such work. Superu itself is a major contributor adding some 50 studies in 2016/17, which well exceeds what many larger organisations have been able to contribute.

The in-principle decision of Cabinet in April to disestablish Superu set in train the departure of staff, and nearly half of staff had gained other employment by the end of June 2017. This reflected the high demand for people with evaluation expertise, and the widening user base and regard for the work that Superu led. Confirmation of the in-principle decision was provided in the following July.

Until the repeal of its enabling legislation, Superu will remain active in its statutory responsibilities with respect to families and whānau and will further its support of NGO work on evaluation. These activities will cease when the Families Commission Act (2003) is repealed, which could take until the end of the 2017/18 financial year.

As a consequence of the voluntary departures of Superu staff and the lengthy disestablishment period, Superu is to delegate some functions elsewhere in the public service, collaborate with organisations with strengths we wish to draw on, and engage short-term staff to fill roles.

In part 2, to be published on 7 December 2017, Len looks at the importance of using evidence and evaluation in the social sector.