Image: Cover detail from ‘Community-up system change for health and wellbeing: Healthy Families NZ Summative Evaluation Report 2022’, designed by Toi Āria: Design for Public Good, Massey University (Anna Brown, Jean Donaldson and Morgan Dallas).

4 November 2022

Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigator Dr Anna Matheson leads the team that has released a new report evaluating the Healthy Families NZ initiative.

Healthy Families NZ is a large-scale initiative that aims to create a healthier Aotearoa New Zealand by addressing the systems and environments that impact our health and wellbeing. It was launched in 2014 as a new approach to preventing chronic disease that recognises the importance of a systems change approach, along with existing population health efforts.

This initiative is happening in 10 different place-based communities around Aotearoa New Zealand, and involves innovative health promotion teams working to improve the way that organisations collaborate together and building on existing health and wellbeing initiatives to make change on the social determinants of health and wellbeing.

Anna, in partnership with Nan Wehipeihana, leads the team that has evaluated Healthy Families NZ throughout its existence. They have just released their fourth report, which focuses on the last four years, from 2017 – 2021. The recent phase of the evaluation concluded that Healthy Families NZ is continuing to make successful progress and has remained grounded in integrity to the purposes of the initiative. For the evaluation team, Healthy Families NZ is clearly demonstrating that comprehensive and effective action guided by local voices and local needs to address the determinants of health and wellbeing can be achieved.

Dr Anna Matheson leads the team that has released a new report evaluating the Healthy Families NZ initiative.

Complex systems and thinking about how to change systems is a strong focus of Anna’s academic work. She co-leads the core Te Pūnaha Matatini research project ‘Ki te toi o te ora: System change to reverse health inequality and environmental degradation’. This academic background makes her perfectly placed to undertake this evaluation work. “Healthy Families NZ frames itself as a systems change initiative,” she says. “It’s trying to shift the systems that operate locally, and influence the wider systems that impact local stuff.”

The team took a complex systems approach to evaluating the initiative, which considered the different communities involved and their different contexts, and asked what was working for who, where, when and how. Healthy Families NZ is a complicated initiative to understand, so Anna engaged another Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigator, Anna Brown, and the Toi Āria team to design the report.

The published report uses each community as a case study, drawing upon data like interviews, surveys and demographic data, but also asking the communities themselves to explain their successes in their own words. The team then used these quantitative and qualitative sources to explore the six key evaluation questions that Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand wanted answered for the report.

Overall, Healthy Families is “working well, but it’s a drop in the bucket!” says Anna. “Very little of the budget for health in Aotearoa New Zealand gets spent on trying to prevent disease and address the social determinants that we know are the main causes of inequities and poorer health outcomes.”

“Healthy Families NZ is a comparatively small investment, but the potential for it to make a huge difference down the track is significant, including saving the healthcare system money in terms of treatment for things like chronic diseases.”

She hopes that the report clearly articulates what Healthy Families NZ does, so that good policy decisions can be made from it.