About Us

The principal purpose of the Local Governance Think Tank is to undertake research and promote public debate and understanding of the nature of local governance. We draw a sharp contrast between this and local government. The first is the essence of how people play a role in shaping their own futures and those of their communities. The second is simply the current set of administrative arrangements which have evolved over the years for handling a range of local services.

Our commitment is to bring these two closer together so that ultimately they are two sides of a single coin; local governance understood as ‘voice, choice and control for communities over decisions that affect their place’ (with communities including mana whenua as this country’s original place managers); local government recognised as the administrative mechanism whose primary role is to support and implement choices made by its communities.

We do this through a number of means including acting as a link between interested communities and councils in New Zealand, and leading-edge researchers, practitioners think tanks and others globally. In doing so we build on the often poorly understood reality New Zealand local government has both the strongest mandate in the developed world for enabling and promoting local governance and a statutory obligation to do so.

The current practical manifestation of this is our choose localism strategy which brings together two separate streams of research and practice. The first enables councils, working collaboratively with others in their district, to take control of the local economy for the benefit of local residents and businesses. The second supports the establishment of inclusive self-identifying communities with the capability to take the lead role in determining their needs and priorities and how they are best addressed including critically who should take what responsibility for resourcing individual initiatives and for delivering them.

The Local Governance Think Tank is apolitical in that it does not advocate for specific ideologies or interests. Instead its focus is on raising community understanding of the essence of local democracy including disseminating research and understanding of what has worked in different jurisdictions, and how international experience could assist in improving local governance in New Zealand. We couple this with promoting intelligent and informed discussion about New Zealand’s different public sector and other mechanisms which exercise a governing role.

We currently have two key workstreams. Through these we are taking a close look at:

“Democratic wellbeing means that we all have a voice in decisions that affect us. It’s about recognising that wellbeing cannot be done to people. It must be done by and with them.
A lack of trust is undermining democracy and its institutions. This will be compounded if existing and new efforts to adopt more forms of participatory democracy are unable to deliver change and demonstrate impact.” Carnegie UK Trust


Our objectives

  1. Positioning councils as the leaders of governance within their communities working collaboratively with other stakeholders including anchor institutions.
  2. Facilitating informed discussion and sharing between and within councils about strategic issues affecting communities.
  3. The production of original and innovative work which results in positive change.

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”
- Willam Pollard, Quaker (1828-1893)

Why the Think Tank is important

  • Research indicates there is much to gain from improving the relationships between between local government organisations and the communities they serve. More successful approaches to empowering strong communities have at two least significant benefits. First they support better, more relevant and more timely decision-making. Secondly, they play an important role in reducing inequality and strengthening community well-being.
  • A significant proportion of New Zealand’s population is not doing well economically or socially.  Local government has an important role in helping to address inequities within and between communities.
  • Some communities are losing population and key amenities, creating funding pressures and driving demand for new funding streams. This means drawing on new initiatives such as anchor institutions and community wealth building, both priorities for the think tank’s work.
  • The pace of growth for some communities is hindering their ability to provide adequate services and amenities in an affordable, sustainable way. Supporting self-identifying communities and using processes such as local place planning and participatory budgeting have an important role to play in managing the impact of growth.
  • Societal changes including an ageing population, increasing ethnic diversity and changes in technology are driving significant changes in community need.
  • By accessing international thinking and best practice we can ensure informed discussion contributes to better quality decision-making to address these and other issues.

“I’m calling for a Ministry of Possibilities to be established within the Welsh Government, bringing together the brightest and the best from local government, private sector, the voluntary sector and industry to develop new ideas and approaches.” Sophie Howe, the first Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.