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Discussion paper

An Indigenous Approach to the Living Standards Framework (DP 19/01)

Issue date: 
Friday, 1 February 2019

Executive Summary

The move by the Treasury to explore ways to view national wellbeing as representing more than the traditional Gross Domestic Product (GDP)-based measures is a welcome shift. However, to understand the collective impact of policies on the intergenerational wellbeing of all New Zealanders, the Living Standards Framework (LSF) cannot be blind to the things that drive us as a society: it must reflect who we are, what we value and how we can grow a shared sense of prosperity.

A new way of thinking about wellbeing has potential to benefit all New Zealanders. This paper argues that wellbeing considered from an indigenous perspective moves the public policy discourse beyond Western constructs of wellbeing and enables an improved lived experience of wellbeing for everyone.

While this paper has a focus on wellbeing for Māori specifically, it articulates a way of looking at wellbeing that can be applied to the full range of populations within Aotearoa New Zealand, and to indigenous populations universally. It offers a way of accounting for various values and beliefs that drive people's experiences of wellbeing and of responding to the needs, aspirations and interests of collectives and the individuals within them. The approach supports a holistic view of wellbeing in which people can identify for themselves the outcomes they want to have balanced or prioritised. This approach positions the public sector to advance wellbeing in a different way and look to respond to the various needs, interests and aspirations of New Zealanders.

Although the LSF is intended as a decision-making tool to influence the stocks and flows of capitals that represent the potential drivers of future wellbeing, it is yet to fully develop a good description of the wider system that delivers wellbeing, and how wellbeing should be understood. This paper offers an extension to that description.

There is no one way to look at wellbeing. People view wellbeing differently depending on their values, beliefs and social norms. The way Māori view wellbeing is different from the way other New Zealanders view wellbeing. It is informed by te ao Māori (a Māori world view) where, for example, whenua (land) is not seen just for its economic potential, but through familial and spiritual connections defined by cultural concepts such as whakapapa (genealogy) and kaitiakitanga (stewardship). A te ao Māori perspective of wellbeing is also informed by life experiences - similar to that of other indigenous populations across the globe - of significant disparity and inequitable access to the tools, resources and opportunities that form the foundation to wellbeing.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Aotearoa New Zealand's founding document, puts significant weight on partnership, active protection of Māori interests and redress to address past wrongs - including ongoing disparity and inequity experienced by Māori and their ability to access and benefit from capital stocks in various forms. When taken together they convey an obligation on the Crown and Māori to work together. To do this, the Crown - Ministers, departments and other agencies - must seek to understand te ao Māori, particularly as it relates to improving the wellbeing of whānau now, and over generations to come. Fortunately, te ao Māori offers a way to consider wellbeing within a holistic, robust and long-standing system.

The indigenous approach proposed in this paper suggests one way to be clear about the linkages between the four capitals of an LSF and their contribution to current and future wellbeing. This approach provides a way to:

  • make the needed linkages between the four capitals, and the values, beliefs and practices that drive both Māori and non-Māori aspirations towards wellbeing
  • link the four capitals to a holistic set of whānau-centred outcomes that can be linked to overall wellbeing at both macro and micro levels
  • articulate a single, coherent and robust mechanism for policy-makers to appreciate those things that Māori consider to be important to their wellbeing.

Applying the indigenous approach allows the LSF to be better tailored for Aotearoa New Zealand. It also helps define a way in which decision-makers can better deploy the tools they have at their disposal to design and deliver policy that achieves improved wellbeing for New Zealanders. The approach achieves this because it is both system facing and people facing. It is uniquely able to consider wellbeing at both micro and macro levels, and enables linkages to be made between the wellbeing of whānau, the individuals within them and the communities that comprise them, and the overall concept of national wellbeing.

The approach comprises three elements:

  1. first, an acknowledgement that the drivers of wellbeing differ between diverse populations and need to be understood in their own contexts
  2. second, an indigeneity lens that provides a perspective on wellbeing that needs to be applied in order to enhance wellbeing for Māori
  3. third, a proposed set of seven wellbeing domains that describe a holistic and intergenerational way to understand wellbeing, and in which to explore the needs, aspirations and interests of populations in wellbeing.

The proposal by the Treasury to develop an LSF represents an important point in the Aotearoa New Zealand public policy discourse. It looks towards the introduction of a wider set of measures that consider the collective impact of policies on intergenerational wellbeing and presents an opportunity for Aotearoa New Zealand to debate the way that, as a nation, it considers and pursues wellbeing for its citizens. It is hoped that this discussion document will help to enrich the discussion further still.

This paper is a first step in embedding a focus on Māori wellbeing and Māori concepts of wellbeing into the LSF and, ultimately, the policy approach of the broader public sector. This will be an ongoing conversation and journey that will need to be informed by Māori and non-Māori alike. Theapproach presented here, is intended to stimulate discussion and ideas so that bespoke solutions can be applied within a range of government activity (including, for example, the focus of the Tax Working Group, and the development of indicators within the wellbeing domains to measure and drive Aotearoa New Zealand's performance) - it is a starter for conversations, not an end point. Increasing the awareness and capability of the Government to engage with an indigenous approach is the place to start to achieve progress for Māori wellbeing.


This paper is part of a series of discussion papers on wellbeing in the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework. The discussion papers are not the Treasury’s position on measuring intergenerational wellbeing and its sustainability in New Zealand.

Our intention is to encourage discussion on these topics. There are marked differences in perspective between the papers that reflect differences in the subject matter as well as differences in the state of knowledge. The Treasury very much welcomes comments on these papers to help inform our ongoing development of the Living Standards Framework.

Last updated: 
Friday, 1 February 2019