The Collaboration Lab


In New Zealand, adversarial processes have dominated natural resource decision-making processes, leading to stalemate and inaction. The magnitude and complexity of the challenges for New Zealand’s land and water require science and society to interact in new ways. One of these new ways of working is collaboration.

Social science over the past 20 years has emphasised the importance of collaboration for achieving successful outcomes in complex systems. However, there is insufficient long-term evaluation of collaborative approaches, a lack of information about Māori participation in collaborative processes, and a scarcity of studies on how researchers undertake interdisciplinary research. This means collaboration has proven very difficult in practice. 

The Collaboration Lab programme will help address these gaps. The Collaboration Lab will use case studies from the best collaborations occurring throughout New Zealand, to develop tools for developing and implementing pathways towards achieving water quality limits and other community values.


Community: awareness of collaborative processes

As part of the Values, Monitoring and Outcomes MBIE programme, the members of the general public were surveyed in 2015 about freshwater management in three regions—Northland, Waikato, and Hawke’s Bay – comparing areas with and without a collaborative process. The aim of the study was to test whether, in areas with collaboration, the wider community had a more positive opinion of the regional council and perceived greater agreement about freshwater management (as opposed to conflict). The results show low awareness that collaborative processes were underway, with some interesting differences between regions and between people with different levels of involvement in planning processes. As the survey was undertaken in 2015 before any of the collaborative processes had reached consensus recommendations, this report provides a baseline against which future assessments can be compared. There is also an Ecology and Society journal article outlining the findings.

In 2017 a second survey was jointly undertaken by the Values, Monitoring and Outcomes MBIE programme and the Collaboration Lab when some processes were completed and some were not. While there were some changes between 2015 and 2017 many perceptions were largely unchanged and any changes depended on region and level of participation in freshwater management. The findings are outlined in the associated report.