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From New Zealand to Wales – Reflections on working for wellbeing

by ann.webster@oag.govt.nz — last modified Sep 22, 2015 03:12 PM
Ann Webster, Assistant Auditor-General, Research and Development, visited the Wales Audit Office during a recent holiday to share thoughts and ideas on integrated reporting. She shares some reflections from her visit.

Ann Webster visits WAOAs we pulled up to the railway station, the taxi driver asked me what I had thought of Cardiff.  “Loved it,” I answered without hesitation. Visiting Wales, for a New Zealander, was like coming home. People with warm smiles and open hearts welcomed me, candid and willing to share. Running in Bute Park, the air was fresh and clean. I was surrounded by colour, the smell of earth and plants, and a sense of time and history.

It’s easy to see why the Assembly of Wales recently enacted the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

Of course, legislation passed for good intentions creates challenges for public agencies. Agencies and auditors are now asking how governance, decision-making, services, information, and accountabilities would be different if they were carried out to improve the current and future wellbeing of Wales.

It’s a discussion that’s both familiar and relevant for someone from New Zealand’s public sector where we have worked to use public information to demonstrate effective performance and outcomes for nearly a quarter of a century.

Time and global forces have shaped public sectors, particularly how they work to deliver value and be accountable to citizens. Compared with 25 years ago, frameworks, like Integrated Reporting and new technologies have emerged to enable agencies to assess and to be more open about the value that they achieve. The Wales Audit Office, in coming to grips with its new Well-being of Future Generations responsibilities, is working to use Integrated Reporting and new technologies in ways that we can look to learn from. The Good Practice section on its website includes some examples of how it’s doing this.

It’s a good time for these new frameworks and tools to be used so we learn to make integrated decisions within our organisations, particularly if we are to manage the apparently rising perfect storm of social, economic, and environmental pressures. Recent experience suggests that the financial implications of these changes can be material, intergenerational, sometimes unequal, and, above all, difficult to control. What this means for the public sector is that managing the financial implications of change is not just about having money – it’s about using that money effectively and efficiently. How much more integrated will our thinking and decision-making across agencies, sectors, and borders need to become to manage our increasingly global and rapidly changing challenges?

Māori aspire to make decisions and use resources to ensure the wellbeing of generations to come. But what will future generations value for its contribution to their wellbeing? In New Zealand, the Office of the Auditor-General’s work programme theme for The 2015/16 is Investment and asset management. Through our work, we’ll try to provide insight and assurance about many of the public sector’s important physical and financial assets. To get the perspective of future generations, we asked some millennials what they think the public sector’s strategic assets are. They gave us new ways of seeing investment and asset management.

Finally, so much of what the public sector is today is built on the collective effort of those who have gone before us. Both New Zealand and Wales are fortunate in having public agencies that strive for good service, aspire for good results, and benefit from well-established ways of preparing information to help us make decisions and be accountable for them, such as the generally accepted accounting practices we use for financial reporting. But we want to neither forget the past nor rest on our laurels.

There’s a Māori saying that comes to mind:He pai te tirohanga ki nga mahara mo nga raa pahemo engari ka puta te maaramatanga i runga i te titiro whakamua” – “It's fine to have recollections of the past but wisdom comes from being able to prepare opportunities for the future”. Our public sectors number among the world’s best in financial transparency and accountability. The challenge we face is how to make our financial management systems even more effective and the financial information that underlies it more useful and better used. We will need to bring financial and performance information together to inform a more co-ordinated and responsive public sector.

My very best wishes to the Wales Audit Office for your journey in promoting a high-performing and trusted public sector, and my thanks for your taking good care of me during my visit. We look forward to meeting you in the finals of the Rugby World Cup this year.

This post was previously published on the Wales Audit Office Blog.

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