“Its not what you think but how you think that always makes you right”

― Anonymous Government

Dear Members

This week marks the 100th newsletter CanCERN that has sent out in a bid to keep residents and communities informed about residential earthquake recovery and the work we are doing to progress resident’s objectives. Milestones are important so this week’s newsletter is more of a reminder of what we are trying to achieve and less of the detail. I’m sure the detail will still be there for newsletter #101!

We wish we could say we have achieved the original objectives set exactly three years ago by the founding members of CanCERN. Unfortunately, although the objectives have been articulated more clearly based on what we have seen and learned over the last three years, in essence they remain the same. Although we can recognise small successes and sporadic attempts by agencies to work in a way that is consistent with our principles, there is neither the consistency or the understanding of their importance for us to consider a different focus.

CanCERN’s strategic priorities are:

  • to involve by facilitating community and resident engagement in discussions about the recovery of Christchurch and its communities
  • to influence by ensuring decisions about the recovery of Christchurch and its communities is shaped by the values, priorities and knowledge of residents, and
  • to inform by informing residents and member groups about recovery planning and decision-making and CanCERN’s influence on these.

Everything that CanCERN undertakes is underpinned by the following key principles:

  • Information must be transparent and accessible – withholding information at the expense of the people is unacceptable
  • The thoughts and the priorities of the people must be known, not assumed
  • Active engagement is the only acceptable outcome – co-creation of processes, documents, resolutions, outcomes, etc
  • Caring for the people is an intentional action – intentionally assessed, intentionally planned for, intentionally actioned with the people and for the people
  • Engagement is designed to progress local resident outcomes and is resident-centric

It is interesting when you compare our priorities to those of decision-making agencies and organisations. Essentially they are the same – community involvement in the recovery. You could say we are all in agreement (on paper at least) about the ‘what’ of earthquake recovery. We want it fixed, we want it better than it was, we want residents of Canterbury to be part of the rebuild of the city, we want it to be fiscally responsible.

The real issue comes when we look to the ‘how’. Decision-makers have assumed they have the expertise to dictate how things are done. There is a sense that they believe they know how the information should be rolled out to residents, how first priorities should be set, how processes of engagement should work, and how they care for and support people. We would disagree because it is the ‘how’ that dictates whether the community will say they were an active part of the recovery or a frustrated bystander.

We believe the two biggest ‘recovery killers’ have been bureaucracy and ‘business as usual’ thinking.

Any agency that thought they could work in the earthquake recovery environment continuing to use the same ‘BAU’ systems, structure and priorities has failed and CCC is the best example of this. They have failed to realise that it is not just the physical environment and the work that was changed by the earthquake, it was the people and their expectations. They had an opportunity to reconnect with a community that generally did not care to be engaged before the quakes but they didn’t recognise the need to review their systems, structures and priorities and that opportunity has largely been lost now because most residents have once again disengaged. That is a lost opportunity to create something better and many agencies have fallen into this trap.

Bureaucracy in earthquake recovery is perhaps more sinister and the result of it has not just been to disengage residents but also to disempower them. The protectionist approach of bureaucratic systems puts the needs of the legal people, the policy writers and the drivers of the bureaucracy above the needs of the people it supposedly serves. Engagement with people in the community is happening and has integrity but then it has to pass through the filters of legal, policy and finally, in the case of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority,  Minister Brownlee. This leader works for the government so his filter is a government filter – a filter that has to make decisions based on what is believed to be in the best interests of the country. We are not the country; we are the people of Canterbury and bureaucratic hierarchies mean we have no ‘Canterbury people’ filter ensuring our needs and priorities hold as much weight as the others.

So CanCERN will continue to hold the flag for a voice of the people; to work with the agencies to advocate for and establish processes that support the resident’s ‘how’ because that is the only way residents and communities will be engaged in a true community-led recovery.  Rightly or wrongly we have chosen to work inside the tent and figuratively thump our hands on the table and demand the return of common sense, clear accurate resident-centric communication… our five bottom lines.

Even though the repetition and groundhog day conversations are frustrating at best and soul destroying on a really bad day, CanCERN was established to advocate for full resident engagement in the earthquake recovery and the job is not yet complete.

100 newsletters on and three years since the establishment of CanCERN seems a good time to acknowledge some of the great people who have worked with us to either progress our principles and priorities or at least try to understand them. Many thanks to these people and apologies in advance for the hundreds (and yes, there are literally hundreds) we won’t be able to name; we hope you know who you are.

  • CanCERN members and representing community leaders (past and present) – you are CanCERN
  • All of those community leaders, advocates and organisations we meet with, share ideas with, learn from and network with – the more people in this space advocating for the same principles, the better
  • Ivan Iafeta and Jo Fitzgerald – you may work for CERA but we know you believe in our principles and work hard on our behalf to challenge the processes and make them better
  • Roger Sutton and Michelle Mitchell – we will keep trying to take the bureaucracy out of the public service!
  • Samson Samasoni, Peter Rose, Renee Walker – we don’t always agree but we appreciate the attempts to get closer to that place
  • Iain Sillars – you’re a great guy and an asset to your team and this recovery
  • Our funders and supporters – Tindall Foundation, Todd Foundation, Hugh Green Foundation and Sharp – much appreciation for supporting our principles and providing the vehicle for us to do this work

No list of people to be thanked is complete without a nod to the contractors who are doing the hard yards for the residents and communities. We don’t have much to do with you but we love your work!

To the residents and communities we serve – those who after three years are still struggling to feel heard – thank you for your continuing support. We realise there are few tangible positive outcomes to see from your constant input but without it we have no voice to take to the table. We are wholly reliant on your participation in this recovery and honour your experiences, your knowledge and your wisdom.

Kia Kaha Everyone.

The CanCERN Team