" The paths to the future are not found but created"

Local Government Think Tank

The local government-backed Local Government Think Tank (LGTT) aims to help New Zealand local government build stronger communities by generating research, providing insight, and informing debate on current and emerging policy issues. The intention is to create a resource which among other things can take a long-term strategic overview of the future of local government and local governance, free from the day-to-day pressures of having to deliver a wide range of services within typically tight constraints. The think tank already has a strong international network of related think tanks, researchers and practitioners.

MDL acts as its research and advisory arm. Contact Peter McKinlay to find out more.


Current projects

Local Government Think Tank. MDL's current work for the Think Tank includes community governance and innovations in funding social infrastructure. Both projects link into MDL’s extensive international network and a drawing on leading-edge innovation.

Council controlled organisations. MDL has been involved in discussions with a number of think tanks internationally on the use of arm’s-length entities undertaking council supported activity. We have also been exploring the merits of councils expanding their revenue through developing commercial activity drawing particularly on current UK research. This is a challenging area and one where the New Zealand accountability model has unique advantages.

Local Government Amendment Bill. We are watching with interest as the new government considers what to do with the Local Government Amendment Bill which was originally intended to force regional corporatisation of major services. The interest the government is understood to be taking in the Scottish Futures Trust and Scottish Water models suggests a principled rethinking of how to approach regionalisation of services. Adapting either of these models to the New Zealand environment will require a high degree of collaboration with local government, something MDL will be considering through its work with the Local Government Think Tank.

Completed Projects

Council controlled organisations. In 2016 we took a fresh look at the role, place and governance of council-controlled organisations within the council 'family'. With the support of a number of bodies in New Zealand and the Australian state of Victoria we were able to carry out a significant cross-country study of the governance, management and accountability of arm’s-length entities which has been very well received. The work supports the proposition that notwithstanding public suspicion of CCOs, the CCO model is best understood as an accountability model capable of providing councils with more effective control over what matters than they can achieve through a conventional council business unit structure. To obtain the report, contact Peter McKinlay.

Local and community governance. We completed a piece of work on this topic in 2016, drawing on our network of international researchers and practitioners. It highlights the very significant differences between New Zealand councils and councils in other jurisdictions in how they work with and engage their communities. This work is being continued through the Local Government Think Tank. It’s expected to result in some significant innovations in the ways in which New Zealand councils work with their communities.
For more information contact us.


What's New?

Local Government Amalgamation. MDL is expecting the debate on local government amalgamation to be replaced by a more productive discussion on how better to manage council service delivery especially for those services which do need to be managed at a scale significantly greater than the typical council. The latest changes to the Local Government Amendment Bill still going through Parliament signal that the government of the time now accepts compulsory amalgamation is being replaced by voluntary negotiation. The same pattern can be seen in other jurisdictions, especially Wales, whose policy settings are close to New Zealand’s. The work of Infrastructure New Zealand in promoting best practice in the procurement, provision and management of infrastructure offers promise for progress. The local government think tank is keeping in touch with this work and ensuring its members views are well represented.

MDL's people

Peter McKinlay'srecent visit to the UK has further strengthened MDL’s linkages with leading think tanks, local government organisations and government officials. We have direct connections with some of the most innovative thinking and practice in local government internationally, including important work on economic development (emphasising the importance of directly targeting the least well off individual/family/communities to offset the all too common reality that conventional economic development tends to increase rather than reduce inequality).

Principal Consultant Adrienne von Tunzelmann continues her close involvement with health and ageing through her appointment to the Governance Group for the NZ’s Ageing Well National Science Challenge and membership of the boards of Age Concern New Zealand and Osteoporosis New Zealand.

New local government resources on our website
We have significantly extended our website resources pages by uploading a selection of papers representative of our recent work relating to local government, including a number of conference keynote addresses, and presentations for individual councils and groups of councils. The collection can be found in our pages covering international, local governance, and a new page dedicated to local government reform.


Must Read

Look here for links to recent international publications to keep up-to-date with what's going on in areas related to our fields of work. Our current favourites are:

Citizens and Inclusive Growth is the most recent report from the Royal Society for the Arts, building on the work of its Inclusive Growth Commission. Its focus is on the role of citizens in the creation of more equitable societies. It provides a very good combination of theory and analysis on the one hand, and international case studies on the other. It makes the case that “inclusive growth goals (combining social and economic objectives) are likely to only be achieved when those who benefit from the strategies are included in their design. Our research therefore builds on the principle that an inclusive economy is predicated on citizen participation. Citizens should both benefit from the economic opportuni­ties provided by growth, but also participate in influencing the policies, strategies and programmes associated with economic growth.”

Creating Good City Economies in the UK. This joint publication from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies and the New Economics Foundation looks at alternative local economic approaches in 10 UK cities. They conclude “rethinking the economic system and how it works for us is no longer a question of exciting ‘nice-to-have’ alternatives to a functioning mainstream. It is a question of urgently building a new, mainstream, practical economic system that actually functions well enough to provide good live sustainably and equitably. That is what this compendium explores - the challenges and the opportunities of rethinking the system; the practical know-how and creative genius already at our fingertips across the UK that should give us a flying start.”




MDL has been recognised for its thought leadership across a number of sectors.  You can follow our latest thinking by clicking on the blog link below:

Latest Blogs

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Peter McKinlay is presenting on 29 September at the 2018 SOLGM Summit on the theme of Future Trends in Community Governance. He will provide an overview of current thinking on real community engagement peppered with stories of council experience from around the globe. He’ll speak about community enablement (supporting communities to develop governance skills to make decisions with councils) and co-production (communities and councils sharing the responsibility of planning and delivering). He will link this to the development of Council Significance and Engagement Policies. Slides from the presentation will be available in the week beginning 2 October on the SOLGM website and the website of the Local Government Think Tank.

Auckland Conversations
Our recommendation for those in or near Auckland: the  Auckland Conversations series. Attendance is free. Top international and New Zealand speakers cover topics as wide-ranging as placemaking and neighbourhoods, liveable sustainable cities, urban transport, economic development, climate change and population trends. Enquiries to: aucklandconversations@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz.

NZ Institute of Public Administration
MDL supports the activities of the New Zealand Institute of Public Administration IPANZ.To see future events or to register, go to the IPANZ website.


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