Peter McKenzie Project Update (April 2020)

The Peter McKenzie Project PMP Is now well underway with six funded initiatives and another soon to come on board. At a time we are facing the devastating impacts of the Covid-19 virus, both internationally and in Aotearoa, ngā kaikōkiri have already started reflecting on the implications and opportunities so that they are well placed to ensure whānau and tamariki are supported and able to live their best lives. They are seeing this crisis as a further opportunity to break from `business as usual’ and create transformational change. And it is a chance for PMP to reflect on what we are learning and how we might create a different and stronger future for our whānau. So what we are we learning?

We have learned that using a systems change approach is neither straightforward nor clear. Systems change work is complex, messy, creative and visionary – and completely possible. From the outset the PMP Committee has had an appetite to try new things.  They are most interested in initiatives that could potentially create transformational change in futures of children, rangatahi and their whānau. They see PMP as an incubator for systems change work. As a result, the way PMP funds, supports and evaluates initiatives has had to be creative and flexible.

The Call for Ideas was challenging. Ngā kaikōkiri have pointed out that decades of overburdening and underfunding services have affected the bandwidth and capacity of organisations to think in the systems space.  It became clear that the development of ideas and thinking, especially in a New Zealand context, needed investment to build capacity and capability, to grow systems change work and to improve its efficacy. As a result, the way the PMP sought proposals needed to change. Asking groups already overwhelmed by non systems-based work to develop proposals was simply too onerous. The Committee asked groups to outline their ideas in short form. Those with ideas PMP wanted to pursue were then funded and given time to explore their idea further, and submit a full proposal.

It was also clear that systems change and the elimination of poverty requires a longer term view, hence they have implemented longer term funding relationships with ngā kaikōkiri.

Evaluating initiatives that use trial and error and are constantly adapting has also been challenging. Most kaikōkiri are using a developmental approach, for example exploring how indigenous knowledge can be used to support social change. The PMP committee is encouraging ngā kaikōkiri  to share what they are learning, including any ‘failures’, along with promising practice and any early outcomes.

To encourage deep learning, the Committee is also supporting Ngā Kaikōkiri to meet together, grapple with ideas and learn from one another, at hui, workshops and through the establishment of a travel fund to enable groups visit one another. Ngā Kaikōkiri have found this helpful. As one group said:

 “My team have just come back from TSI and are reworking our meeting structures, evaluation tools etc so these practical exchanges are really useful.  We gain more from understanding what hasn’t worked as much as what has.  It’s quite cathartic to know everyone else has problems, and inspiring to see how they have worked their way through them.  This is both practically useful and a good wairua boost.”

Ngā Kaikōkiri are learning that systems resist change. Transformation can be painful.  It is challenging to move from programmes and services to systems level changes, as systems comprise people. They have found sometimes you need to go slow to go fast.

We are also learning how to improve our communications, and the efficacy of our messaging. It is clear that research, evidence, examples of effective practice, compelling stories, even the government’s own working groups, are not sufficient to shift attitudes, behaviour, or action as fast as we would like. The Workshop has undertaken research to help us better understand what messages could shift the persuadable, and Ngā Kaikōkiri are now using this research in their communications. We are also starting to align our communications with those of Ngā Kaikōkiri to amplify and reinforce their messages.

The Committee has identified gaps and areas which they would like to support and are working proactively to try and support work in these areas. We are trying different ways of working with government. For example, we have established a cross-party Parliamentary discussion group to which we invite speakers, including those with personal experience of poverty.

Lastly, PMP is learning from other JRMT projects, in particular, how to value and uphold the mana of Ngā Kaikōkiri.

The most exciting aspect of the approach is that it is showing promise. We are already starting to see examples of systems changes unleashing positive outcomes for our tamariki and whānau. As Tokona te Raki have told us, the value of systems change work lies in unlocking better alternatives, because when insights and imagination meet, transformational futures can emerge.