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Part 2: Engage effectively with the people receiving the services

Reflections from our audits: Investment and asset management.

2.1
Whether investing in or managing assets, there needs to be clarity about the services people expect to receive from the assets, and effective engagement with those people about the services. Seeking the views of people is essential to understanding their needs, so that their needs and expectations can be matched with what the assets deliver. Engaging with people needs to be done on an ongoing basis.

2.2
People's expectations for open, accessible, and reliable information is increasing. Being able to engage with stakeholders and to explain why you did something is the essence of public accountability, and is the basis for trust and good administration. Engaging with people about services and the assets used to provide those services means having reliable information.

2.3
More often than not, public entities could reduce or allay concerns about what they are doing if they kept people better informed and were as open as possible. We often find that the situations that lead people to ask us to inquire into aspects of a public entity's work are where the entity has not been open about matters significant to the community.

2.4
Improving transparency, by reporting and communicating about the performance of assets to stakeholders, is about the relevance, rather than the amount, of information. Our review of public sector financial assets showed that much of the information that public entities communicated to people was highly technical. It was a challenge to make the information accessible, understandable, and useable.2 However, it needed to be to get effective engagement.

2.5
The New Zealand Superannuation Fund did well at clearly writing and communicating to stakeholders about its investment beliefs, policies, and approaches. Public entities could learn from what the New Zealand Superannuation Fund did to make technical information more accessible, understandable, and useable.3

2.6
In 2014, a new requirement was introduced to the Local Government Act 2002. Local authorities are now required to prepare a consultation document for their communities to set out and seek views on the significant issues in their long-term plans. The intent of the consultation document is to facilitate good engagement with communities by concisely and clearly presenting significant issues, plans, and projects. This change in the Act included presenting the proposed content of the local authority's infrastructure strategy.

2.7
The quality of the consultation documents for the 2015-25 long-term plans varied, and many local authorities missed the opportunity to effectively engage their community about the long-term challenges to their infrastructure assets.4 In our report, we noted that there needed to be clearer and more concise information about current levels of service and proposed levels of service5 to enable communities to effectively engage with their local authority about the levels of service they wanted and were prepared to pay for.

2.8
Being plain about the realities is essential to create the right debate with stakeholders. Minimising issues and deferring decisions or difficult conversations serves no-one well in the long run. It can result in a decline in service, spikes in cost, or assets failing.

Have you openly engaged with the right people about the right issues in making your significant investment decisions?
How will you continue to engage with people about those decisions and the services the assets provide?

2: Office of the Auditor-General (2016), A review of public sector financial assets and how they are managed and governed, page 33.

3: Office of the Auditor-General (2016), A review of public sector financial assets and how they are managed and governed, page 4.

4: Office of the Auditor-General (2015), Consulting the community about local authorities' 10-year plans, page 3.

5: Office of the Auditor-General (2015), Consulting the community about local authorities' 10-year plans, page 17.

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CoverReflections from our audits: Investment and asset management

ISBN 978-0-478-44271-7