Reframing Innovation

Innovation & R&D spending – a data-driven conversation

Innovation & R&D spending – a data-driven conversation

In my post on Monday, I looked at New Zealand’s research and development spending. The R&D dollar is just one of the proxies used to try to understand innovation and while it is certainly an important input to the innovation process, it is possible that our low level of reported spending relative to other countries might reflect the fact that we don’t have R&D tax credits. Having said that, Finland operates only a very modest R&D tax credit scheme, yet its businesses outspend New Zealand’s in R&D by a factor of four as a fraction of GDP. It is likely that R&D spending is underreported in both Finland and New Zealand relative to countries that have generous tax credits for R&D.

With this caveat, it is still interesting to drill down into the data on R&D spending. In this post I would like to make use of Figure.NZ’s data to look at R&D spending by industry in New Zealand. As the plot below shows, in 2014, the three biggest spending industry sectors in R&D were computer services, machinery and equipment manufacturing, and other services (there is a similar plot in Get Off the Grass using data from 2010 but aggregated at a higher level).


Computer services is not only now the biggest spender, it is also near the top of list of the fasting growing R&D investors, as you can see in the second chart (below). Investment in R&D by the computer services sector grew by 40% between 2012 and 2014.


Computer services are arguably the biggest success story of New Zealand tech sector in the last decade. Indeed, much of the growth in our ICT exports in the last decade has come from services. Our exports finally seem to be losing weight.


I will end this post with two more charts from that illustrate the mismatch between the success of our ICT sector and the government’s strategy for public sector R&D. Public sector R&D is largely carried out in our Crown Research Institutes (which makes up most of the government sector expenditure in the first figure below) and universities (which makes up the largest share of the higher education expenditure in the figure below that). Health and environmental research are the two biggest areas of expenditure in public R&D, but ICT is well down the list both in government and university research. The ICT sector is arguably our most innovative goods and services sector, but it is relatively low on the priority list for public sector spending.



On the one hand, the ICT sector seems to be doing very well – why worry about its low priority in the public sector? Well, one of the key outputs of public R&D are skilled researchers as public R&D projects is also where young researchers cut their teeth before joining the workforce. In the long-run, if we want to continue the growth of ICT services in New Zealand, then we will need to match this with growth in public support for ICT R&D.


Professor Shaun Hendy is the Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini. Shaun teaches in both the Department of Physics and the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Auckland, and has a range of interests, including materials science, innovation, science communication, and the use of evidence in public policy.

In 2012 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and in 2013 he was awarded the E. O. Tuck medal for research in applied mathematics. Shaun tweets (@hendysh), blogs, and has a regular slot on Radio New Zealand Nights as physics correspondent.

In 2012, Shaun was awarded the Callaghan Medal by the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize for his work as a science communicator. His first book, Get Off the Grass, co-authored with the late Sir Paul Callaghan, was published in 2013.

View Shaun’s Figure.NZ data board.

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Navigating the jagged rocks and journeying through the looking glass

Navigating the jagged rocks and journeying through the looking glass

A case and a space for diversity and connectivity – 

reframing innovation in New Zealand

read time / 25 mins

Thinking about how we might reframe innovation in the New Zealand context, and using data available from Figure.NZ  to do so, has given me pause to consider some often overlooked and what I believe are pivotal components to creating a brighter future – diversity (in this piece, focussing only on gender), leadership & interdisciplinarity. I have used Figure.NZ data to help shape my thoughts. 

You’re captain on a ship being pursued by a flotilla of pirate ships wanting your goods and probably your ship. You’re seemingly cornered, being forced forwards by the chase around you directly to an intimidating barrier of jagged rocks – from which it seems clear there is no escape. It looks like you, your crew, your goods and your seafaring home are doomed. What do you do?

In the latest ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ movie, Alice, captaining the ship, looks at a seemingly impossible situation and then in Alice fashion, together with her crew, achieves the impossible before breakfast.

Nimble with her thoughts and open to opportunities, challenges, and indeed cognisant of the dangers ahead of her, she sees a way through the rocks to freedom and safety and a brighter future. Innovatively, she leads her team, whom she trusts and is reliant upon for the plan to work, to act swiftly together to push the ship to its limits at full sail, lifting the keel up to allow clearance from the rocks. Then quickly, she cuts the sail, to right the ship at the last moment, allowing the tall ship to shoot through a narrow gap.

It’s a big, bold, swiftly enacted, audacious plan and it works. The pirate ships, with men cocky with confidence of a catch, get grounded on the rocks, whilst Alice’s ship sails through. Bold leadership and innovation leads to success.


A New Zealand voyage of innovation

Navigating New Zealand nimbly through the coming decades and beyond in amongst a suite of global, incredibly challenging or jagged issues, and doing it in a way that protects and indeed nurtures and enhances our land, assets and people is effectively the same situation as the fictional scenario for Alice above. This requires innovation.

Innovation (noun) – a new method, idea, product, the action or process of innovating.

Frequently, talk of innovation is focussed on the next, new big product and the process of generating such products. If we can only get people to get in the innovation headspace, then innovation will magically appear. Concomitantly, there is often talk of the riches we will reap from such products – the economic prosperity that will encase us.

Whilst these absolutely are aspects and drivers of innovation (both the creation of new products and the process of striving towards those), I prefer a more holistic viewpoint.

It was Sir Paul Callaghan, with Shaun Hendy, who told us to “get off the grass”. I concur that a move away from reliance on primary production is necessary for our forward progress as a nation.

Noting the definition of innovation earlier, I fear we don’t focus enough on a broader approach regarding these new ideas and methods and the processes of creating those. What are we missing in the innovation puzzle? What haven’t we yet recognised enough from a big picture perspective as a critical component to driving positive change? When we think about new ideas and methods are we looking too narrowly from a product generation and a supply chain perspective?

My journey down the rabbit-hole of the Figure.NZ data has focussed on two areas – interdisciplinary approaches and gender diversity, especially with respect to science-related fields. I believe these are critical, but frequently overlooked aspects of innovation. I also outline why leadership is a pivotal component of both diversity and interdisciplinarity. I have focussed on gender in terms of diversity because this post is sufficiently large just in terms of that facet alone (as is the data in this space), and it may have resulted in an entire book in order to cover all aspects of diversity!

However, I want to make it explicitly clear that ALL aspects of championing diversity and achieving equity are important and I contextualise this in the ‘A case for diversity’ section below. In the remainder of the post, I have constrained my discussion and analyses to gender alone, rather than also covering other areas of diversity, which are beyond the scope of the present discussion. Note also that I tend to write using the term gender, rather than sex (biological- female/male), but the latter is more commonly used in the data provided. I haven’t inserted all graphs from Figure.NZ that I reference as there are many, but I have provided links to all those not graphically shown.

What strengths might we be yet to harness on our voyage?
I believe in New Zealand we’re missing out on greater forward progress, and indeed, somewhat missing one viewpoint of innovation, by sometimes not considering that new methods and new ideas might not simply be product-focused. Rather, focusing instead on people and how they work together, instead of on the yet-to-be-developed end product might well give us the advantage we’re looking for. Indeed, new methods and ideas might pertain to how we work together, who we work with, and how we consider what innovation is.

Reframing Innovation and my invitation from Te Punaha Matatini and Figure.NZ to do so, provides an ideal opportunity to re-examine where we are at and for me to put the lens on (gender) diversity and interdisciplinarity, along with leadership.

In a simple equation, if we’re not utilising the strengths of all of our citizens we are missing out on opportunities to be innovative.


Why are gender equity, strong leadership and fostering of interdisciplinarity important components of innovation?

New Zealand prides itself as being the first country to give women the vote. That Bloody Woman, an incredibly powerful and emotional musical about the human force behind this eventual government decision, may still hit some raw spots for audiences today, in terms of being placed back in the moment of what the suffragettes fought so hard for and in some ways the realisation of how much work is still to be done more than 120 years later. Having greater insight into the life of Kate Sheppard, who may have achieved the impossible, not before breakfast, but after many sustained years of being ‘that bloody woman’, is a useful benchmark for where New Zealand is at now.

The raw spot is that our journey to equity – like that of many other countries globally –  is far from over and that means we are not achieving what we could as a nation.

What Would Kate Do, we ask? She’d ask New Zealanders today, I think, to embrace the strengths of all of us, regardless of our gender, or our ethnicity, or any other aspect of diversity.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change” – Brene Brown

Kate also knew, as did Alice, that she couldn’t achieve her fight on her own. Kate was one of a team of people with a range of skillsets, and after many failures and knockbacks, and continued reconfiguration of the team, their shared vision and common sense of purpose drove success.

Today, as for Kate and for Alice, our diversity (focussing within this piece on gender, whilst recognising that ethnicity and other diversity aspects are equally important) and our ability to collaborate, via strong leadership and interdisciplinarity, is the key to our innovation voyage.

Image Source: Flickr Commons by AJ Cann

Image Source: Flickr Commons by AJ Cann


The case for diversity

This section looks at diversity broadly as a whole. My subsequent analyses of the Figure.NZ data zooms in to just looking at how we are doing with respect to gender diversity.

A significant body of research shows that more diverse teams are more innovative than homogeneous groups. This is true of both social diversity as well as intellectual diversity – the latter being a group of people with diverse individual expertise. Reflecting on Brene Brown’s quote above, diversity enhances creativity.

Why? The answer is partly because of the collective intelligence, or CI, that a group of people with different backgrounds brings. Each group member brings different information, opinions and perspectives. It goes further than that though:

Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.

Diversity hence, works through the encouragement of both hard work and creativity and that is even before any interaction between group members takes place. Anticipation is an important component of the diversity equation.

The pain associated with diversity can be thought of as the pain of exercise. You have to push yourself to grow your muscles. The pain, as the old saw goes, produces the gain. In just the same way, we need diversity—in teams, organizations and society as a whole—if we are to change, grow and innovate.

Establishing a diverse team leads to positive outcomes on the bottom line for companies and appears to lead to higher-quality scientific research.


The case for interdisciplinary approaches

Diversity in this sense also encompasses the idea of interdisciplinary (or trans- or multi-disciplinary) approaches and the benefits that they can bring to innovation. Indeed, the wicked or jagged global problems facing us need more than one type of knowledge to solve them. Thus, interdisciplinary innovation is essential to our present and future growth.

This is as a result of the positive impact that arises from working across social boundaries by which we structure knowledge. This concept goes well beyond simply the academic setting of working across recognised research disciplines – e.g. the arts and sciences and business studies, or even the industry-research nexus –  to also be inclusive of government departments, internal functions within a company, working across employment sectors and the nexus or boundary points between all of these domains.

Working in such a way is not without significant challenges because of the very nature of working across knowledge boundaries and bringing together entities which hold differing intrinsic values and therefore motivations. Conventional modes of working within sectors such as science have a long way to go, not just in New Zealand, but globally.


The case for effective leadership

It is impossible to look at innovation, to address and indeed embrace diversity and also foster interdisciplinary approaches, without also considering the pivotal role of leadership.

The idea of what constitutes effective leadership is shifting. Again, returning to Brene Brown’s quote about vulnerability, new models of effective leadership are not based on autocracy, where the leader is positioned as the expert and the holder of power. Instead, they incorporate understanding of collective intelligence and a shift of knowledge and power from an individual to a collective, or team.

Why does such a shift matter? Some research indicates a direct link between leadership style and the wellbeing of employees. Positive-based styles of leadership, including those based on the PERMA formula for wellbeing (positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments), provide space and opportunity to better utilise the strengths and diversity within a team, which in turn drives innovation.

Such a leadership approach can at first seem like it involves a sense of loss of control for the leader, but in allowing this vulnerability and also having a firm foundation of empathy, all members of the team can thrive. Leadership thus, according to Daft and Pirola-Merlo (2009) is both art and science.

Positive leadership is based on collaboration and teamwork, a climate of trust, relationship building underpinned by empathy, a sense of common purpose, recognition of contributions, and development of community and support.

Women are viewed as potentially more effective leaders overall than men, which provides a strong argument for embracing diversity within leadership positions. In fact at every level, in a study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman involving surveys of more than 7000 leaders:

more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows

Also in this same study and analysing  the 16 recognised leadership competencies, how effective women are perceived as, scores higher than men for 12 of these traits. Interestingly, although a common assumption is that women are more effective at the nurturing competencies such as developing others, inspiring others, relationship building etc, the competencies where women are perceived to be more effective from these 360 evaluations also include non-nurturing traits – taking initiative (the highest scoring difference), displaying integrity and honesty and driving for results.

Diverse teams do better. Women make more effective leaders. Interdisciplinarity leads to innovation. What do we know about how New Zealand is actually doing and where we could build to our advantage?


Delving into gender diversity data


According to Figure.NZ analysis of these data, girls are staying at school for longer and achieving higher standard levels than boys. The number of school leavers who have attained NCEA level 3 (i.e. university entrance standard) are skewed towards females across all socio-economic levels (2013).

School leavers who attain university entrance standard in NZ

There is a slight skew towards girls in school leavers who have attained NCEA level 1 literacy and numeracy.

The available data for tertiary enrolments across OECD countries indicates a dominance of females in New Zealand in tertiary enrolment with nearly 1.5 females per 1 male. This is one of the highest rates in the OECD and reflects the school leaver data.

I then looked at specific science and technology related subject enrolments in the Figure.NZ data, as these are areas most typically associated with R&D and innovation at university. Across all tertiary levels, as might be expected, there are gender ratio differences across subjects. These trends tend to hold true irrespective of age bracket. Subjects that have a higher ratio of females to males include: behavioural sciences (particularly striking difference), biological sciences, chemical sciences, and graphic and design studies. Subjects that have a higher ratio of males to females include: aerospace engineering, mathematical sciences, earth sciences, physics and astronomy, and computer science (particularly striking difference). There are a multitude of reasons why this might be –  the Science Grrl STEM report (STEM being science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is particularly recommended reading in that regard, or my own posts (e.g. here, here and here).

STEM-related occupations

Out in the workforce there are also skews in gender representation in various industry sectors. Areas where there are particularly low numbers of women include: forestry and mining; electricity, gas, water and waste services; transport, postal and housing; construction, and manufacturing. Education and training and health care and social assistance appear to be in contrast, female-dominated.

I next focussed on science and technology related sector occupations within Figure.NZ and categorised these by the ratios of males and females. I also classified these occupations by an approximation of the type of position (administrators through to management):

Science and technology related sector occupations:

  Areas skewed towards a higher proportion of female employees Areas skewed towards a higher proportion of male employees Relatively balanced areas with respect to sex
Administration database administrators systems administrators; web administrators;
Technicians sterilisation technicians surveying and spatial science technicians; earth science technicians; telecommunications technicians agricultural technicianssoftware testers; life science technicians; ICT support engineers;
Developers/ designers/ programmers developer programmers; analyst programmers; web designers; ICT quality assurance engineers; web developers multimedia designers


food technologists (marginally)

anatomists or physiologists

systems analysts; network analysts; software engineers; computer network and systems engineers; ICT systems test engineers; physicists; geologists; biotechnologists; geophysicists; chemists; ICT security specialists; environmental research scientists; chemical engineers; environmental consultants; agricultural consultantspathologists (marginally); winemakerseconomists; forest scientists; agricultural scientists; botanists; park rangers marine biologists; biochemists; life scientists; zoologists; statisticians
Management chief information officers; ICT project managers; research & development managers;

Note: I worked with available data within Figure.NZ. These data are derived from the 2013 census. The data have weaknesses- a non-response rate of 2.8% and coding issues due to this being a write-in response. For example, I recall writing a lecturer as my occupation and I may not have specified what area: hence, I may not have been coded as a scientist.

The data show a striking pattern of lower representation of females, with the majority of occupations being male-dominated. A lower number of occupations had balanced male:female ratios. Very few science and technology sectors appear to be female dominated. All management level occupations I looked at appear to be male dominated. I noted in a number of cases some regional differences in gender representation, which it would be interesting to further dissect using the raw data.

Specific striking examples are shown below, with the Chief Information Officer data particularly unbalanced with respect to gender:

Telecommunications technicians in New Zealand

Software engineers in New Zealand

Chief information officers in New Zealand

The average hourly earnings for workers in the professional, scientific, technical and administrative industries in New Zealand similarly shows a marked gender gap – females earn significantly less per hour (2006-2015 data).

Average hourly earnings for workers in the professional, scientific, technical and administrative industries in New Zealand

This is also supported by a marked gender gap in weekly earnings and in median earnings and in average earnings (excl. computer systems) (data not shown for the two latter examples):

Weekly earnings per full-time equivalent employee in New Zealand

Worker turnover rate in New Zealand by sex

Worker turnover rate by sex in the professional, scientific and technical services industry in New Zealand

This gap is of concern given that there has been a significant increase in recent years in people employed in the professional, scientific, technical and administrative industries in New Zealand, and a global trend toward STEM-related jobs and a knowledge-based economy more generally. By contrast, the numbers for employers and self-employed workers appear relatively static.

Since 2002, in line with the turnover data, more females than males tend to be unemployed (all sectors) and this is true across all ages but the over 50’s. The filled jobs data in the professional, scientific and technical services industry also shows this gender gap.


The critical role of business in innovation- examining business size, earnings and gender

Please note these data below are all for general business- I didn’t find STEM-related business data as a subcategory.

Looking at business size and change over time also offers interesting insights. In small businesses of 1-5 employees the 1999-2014 filled jobs data appears to show a widening gender gap.

Filled jobs in New Zealand small businesses by sex

The trend of a (typically widening) gender gap in filled jobs holds true across businesses of less than 49 employees (e.g. here, here and here), whereas there are more female than male employees in businesses over 100 employees in size.

A widening gender gap is also present in the median earnings for employees in small businesses, as demonstrated by the following graph of businesses with 1-5 employees, but also here and here. We need more information to better understand the business situation here, especially any gender-related aspects within STEM-associated businesses and the role that this plays with respect to innovation.


Some of the Figure.NZ data, due to origins from census data may not paint fully representative pictures of STEM or research-related fields. In addition, some of the data arises from Statistics New Zealand or there are other data where the categorisation is professional, scientific, technical (and administrative (the latter is also included for some data sets)). This category potentially includes many other workers in fields that are neither STEM nor R&D related (e.g. accountancy, legal etc). Also, other categories (e.g. mining; electricity, gas, water and waste services; information media and telecommunications; agriculture, forestry and fishing; construction; health care) may include many STEM-related occupations not grouped within data I looked at, meaning we may not get an accurate picture of the total STEM field within the data presented here.

The business data above are not pertaining to STEM-related businesses only, so these have limitations. However, I think it’s important to note that in my holistic consideration of innovation there appear to be gender differences in data pertaining to the business sector.

The OECD iLibrary has a table on women researchers as a percentage of total researchers (2000-2014). Unfortunately however, the New Zealand data is absent from the table, as is the data from countries we might expect to have similar statistics too (Australia, UK, USA), which means a useful comparison is missing.


Summary of gender data

  • Girls are more likely to attain higher school standards (NCEA) when they leave school.
  • There is a dominance of women versus men at university across all levels.
  • Yet, we start to see gender differences in tertiary subject enrolments in certain STEM subjects.
  • Such gender differences track through to employed positions with most STEM-related occupations having a higher proportion of and number of males over females.
  • Management positions are dominated by males.
  • There is a marked gender gap in hourly, weekly and average and median earnings within this industry.
  • Females in the S&T sector tend to have a higher worker turnover rate.
  • Small business data indicate gender gaps but these data were not STEM-specific. We need to better understand the role of business and gender differences (including filled jobs and earnings), especially in small business and particularly those more closely linked to innovation (e.g. STEM-related businesses).

Interdisciplinarity infomation

I could find little data within Figure.NZ to do with interdisciplinarity- what I could find is covered below. Perhaps that is because we scientists are slow to adopt this approach here? This might also be a problem with interdisciplinarity being a somewhat nebulous concept that makes data capture challenging.


Role of the tertiary sector

New Zealand has a middle-of-the-road approach to public sector spend on research and development among the OECD. Like elsewhere, the tertiary sector has an important role in contribution to this R&D. However, interdisciplinary approaches are slow to come into the tertiary sector globally as noted in this Nature Special Issue on Interdisciplinarity.  Moreover, as there has, until recently, been less fostering of links outside the tertiary sector to more fully develop an interdisciplinary approach within New Zealand, then this could relate to how innovative we are or aren’t. Recent initiatives such as the National Science Challenges directly aim to create a space for problem-driven collaboration to address this, so change is in progress, and will take some time to show impact in the data.

In terms of looking at what tertiary level multidisciplinary programmes we have within New Zealand I note that universities have far fewer tertiary students enrolled in mixed field programmes than wānanga, institutes of technology and polytechnics, or private training establishments, but it would be important to know what indicators have been measured for these data to get the full picture:

Tertiary students enrolled in mixed field programmes in New Zealand

Moreover, the Ministry of Education data on mixed field programmes we currently have in the tertiary sector suggests that they are only in employment skills, general education, and social skills, as opposed to methods of scientific research and research training.

This is potentially a gap in terms of what we could be doing to create an interdisciplinary approach to study at tertiary level, the types of mixed field programmes we could be offering and their relationship to R&D and innovation (see here for a German example that provides an interesting model).

However, a strong caveat here is that perhaps putting all these institutions together as the ‘tertiary sector’ is misleading, as they fulfil very different roles and it might indeed be a case of comparing apples with oranges. Another caveat is that interdisciplinarity happens at the margins and as such we don’t know what we don’t know. Gaining data on interdisciplinarity and making inferences is challenging. Additional data from elsewhere may provide further insight.

Globally, it is possible though that the academic sector can move beyond the present scenario of academic knowledge as the basis for R&D, to universities acting as a fundamental driver for innovation through driving new business models and company structures, as well as cost-saving in public health and social development. New Zealand could be well placed in this space, if universities are willing to be nimble and novel in their approaches (for examples, see Oxford Martin School, Green College UBC, and Karl von Linde-Academy).

It may be too that specific interdisciplinary courses are not what’s required, but rather looking at an appropriate mix of professional skills, including teamwork and problem solving, for interdisciplinary approaches. Interdisciplinary practitioners, in general, are self-selecting. If we provide interdisciplinary postgraduate degrees for example, we are simply giving licence to that selection, which is useful. Should we be thinking in New Zealand about investing in diverse professional training, rather than maintaining a traditional research model (and alongside that training innovative researchers) or invest in both these strategies? Certainly the National Statement of Science Investment is addressing this in removing sector buckets – for example, the Endeavour fund. Seminars and workshops to build bridges are also important early stages of fostering interdisciplinary innovation.

Having too broad an interest can be deemed by those within specific disciplines as chaotic, with a strong push to maintain the silos that already exist. For example, as someone with broad research interests and bigger picture thinking, I was told as an academic by my HOD at the time, that that didn’t look good on paper and I needed to narrow things down to one or two interests only. This experience is quite typical for those interested in interdisciplinary work. Advice on interdisciplinary innovation however, recognises the benefit of mixing mavericks (as influencers) and managers, and of putting expert generalists with specialists.

Discipline preservation over time may lead to ‘cognitive rigidity’ due to the building and maintenance of a particular kind of elite, which may lead to a failure to thrive of those that don’t fit the model of that particular discipline. Diversity within academic disciplines, as elsewhere, does matter for innovation. And using my personal example, biochemistry itself was a new inter-discipline once whose origins as crossing knowledge boundaries perhaps have now been forgotten by those silo-ed within it.

Interdisciplinary innovation results from a creative tension between the ways in which these structured knowledge boundaries (within disciplines) are maintained and are indeed beneficial, and the ways by which these knowledge structures shift and change. The most valuable innovations from interdiscplinarity are typically those not anticipated at the outset (as they involve not only new answers, but also new questions).

Effective ‘pole-star’ leaders who can act as brokers between knowledge boundaries and translators of different languages are the enablers for interdisciplinary innovation. Pole star leaders can also guarantee success in outcomes, whilst maintaining the essential conditions for serendipity and curiosity – how many such pole star leaders do we have within New Zealand?

Interestingly, the qualifications of people who work in the New Zealand tech sector are in general low, with the majority having level 1-4 certificates or no qualifications.

Qualifications of people who work in the New Zealand tech sector

Do we need a more skilled (with respect to qualifications obtained) tech sector to also aid in fostering interdisciplinary approaches and drive innovation, or is on the job experience the most critical when it comes to expertise? Education may potentially act as a barrier as it promotes the division between disciplines through knowledge boundaries and creates elitism. Imbalance in qualifications between sectors who are trying to foster interdisciplinary connections may also be another obstacle.

Misconceptions and prejudices that different groups have about each other can be blockades to interdisciplinarity functioning. The different approaches different sectors, institutions etc, take to defining a problem and determining the appropriate method to understanding it can be an additional barrier to interdisciplinary activities- the understanding of the ‘other’. For success, there is a need to break through from a single discipline team and their social networks and their social capital to a new shared vision with new social capital.

Different disciplines also often have different core values.  Yet, working towards understanding of new shared values is critical to find new suites of technologies (e.g. nano, bio, cogno, info –based) to approach jagged issues.

With the important role the tertiary sector plays in R&D, the ability to speak the same language and share the same values might be an important component of creating greater interdisciplinarity between science and tech sectors and beyond. The average level of qualifications in one sector versus others may be an obstacle towards that goal. Designers in particular, are skilled at spanning boundaries and have an important role to play, or for us to learn from, for interdisciplinarity.

The predominant source of conflict in interdisciplinary fields typically centres on poor communication. A lot of resources are required to establish common culture via socialising. Developing effective personal relationships is a time consuming and necessary first step and fostering excellent communication skills in students is essential.


The role of business

In looking at data on professional, scientific and technical services business births and deaths in New Zealand from 2001-2015, an interesting recent trend (from 2015-2015) appears to be businesses starting and ceasing operation mapping each other, rather than mirroring each other, as occurred previously.

Professional, scientific and technical services business births/deaths in New Zealand

A flattening growth trend has been seen for enterprises in the scientific research services industry from 2009 onwards. Data on business survival rates in this same industry (professional, scientific, and technical services) from 2007-2015 paints an interesting picture of a potentially greater failure rate of businesses established in 2010 versus those established in 2006, though more data would be needed to understand what exactly might be behind these trends.

Business survival rates in the professional, scientific and technical services industry in New Zealand

If small business plays an important role in driving innovation, the gender gaps noted earlier may mean we are missing out on key knowledge input and diverse functioning teams that might lead to greater innovation. This includes new enterprises formed, as well as greater chance of business survival. Understanding why women appear to be less likely to be present in a small business is critical, including whether this is typical across small business or whether there are specific sectoral differences. This also includes understanding why there is a marked and widening gender pay gap. There is likely much analysis being done in this space that isn’t yet within Figure.NZ data.

In addition, a recent German report by Elsevier’s Analytical Services (Mapping Gender in the German Research Arena) found that:

  • “Publications authored only by females are the most internationally collaborative;
  • Mixed-gender research teams are more likely to produce interdisciplinary publications compared to male-only or female-only teams;
  • Publications for which the majority of the authors are female focus on different research topics compared to male-only publications in a gender balanced research area.”

This analysis looked at Scopus publications and piloted a novel methodology to analyse gender in publications.

If we want more interdisciplinarity to lead to greater innovation, including more women in STEM teams is critical.


Summary of interdisciplinarity information

  • Mixed field approaches appear low within universities (recognising though there are problems with the tertiary sector data categorisation) and mixed field approaches in other tertiary areas may not adequately cover the full range of interdisciplinary options.
  • There is considerable room for growth in promoting interdisciplinary approaches in New Zealand and to look at appropriate training for interdisciplinary students and support and protection of those that self-select in this career space.
  • Teaching communication skills, collaborative team work approaches, relationship development are pivotal to interdisciplinarity.
  • Workshops and seminars between organisations are important bridge building exercises.
  • Have we identified pole-star leaders? Are we providing sufficient time, resources and space to develop relationships and establish common culture?
  • A mismatch between qualifications across sectors may make cross-talk challenging due to differing ‘languages”, elitism, and the different kinds of knowledge.
  • Diversity is intrinsically linked to interdisciplinarity. There might be a relationship of gender gaps (or other diversity categories) to business births and deaths, flattening enterprise numbers and higher recent business failure rates, especially within small businesses.


How do we shoot through the jagged gap?

Diversity, including gender balance, positive and team-based leadership, appropriate management, and interdisciplinarity are all key components of innovation. In many cases, willingness for change, or an element of disruption is also important. And maintaining time and space for collaboration and relationship building, alongside curiosity, serendipity and creativity are essential.

Fostering a culture of working across knowledge boundaries, of relationship development, working with people’s strengths and utilising collective intelligence are also imperatives.

We are a small nation and in theory we are very connected. We need to better leverage these connections to promote the importance of diversity and interdisciplinarity. Looking at the opportunities that our tertiary sector provides for innovation and then actively building relationships with other organisations is important. This includes better recognition of the strengths and expertise present in our regions. The recently announced regional research institutes are a step in addressing this.

Efforts that not only attract young people into STEM fields, promote retention and utilisation of women in the labour market, improve infrastructure for women and improve public recognition for women’s active participation in STEM are essential. In terms of what has been implemented elsewhere, Korea has been actively working to address diversity issues with respect to gender in STEM fields for a number of years, due to their very low rates of participation by women.

Korea has, for example: created a National Centre for support of women in STEM, established a database of women in STEM, conducted a survey for women in STEM (presumably to better understand their experience of working in this industry and any barriers) and implemented the WISE programme (this shares some similarities to the Athena SWAN programme for equality). What initiatives, similar to those Korea has implemented, might work in the New Zealand context, particularly with a view to enhancing our innovative capabilities?

Our unique value proposition in New Zealand is our inter-connectedness, our strong desire for equity as a nation, our small size and our strong tradition of blue skies or curiosity-drive research. We need, with overarching goals, to maintain the latter.

Recent initiatives from the government are, I believe, helping to provide an appropriate environment for innovation. The National Science Challenges in themselves are a big bold step, and although they have had their share of criticism, they are intended to support greater space for creativity and interdisciplinarity.

The Nation of Curious Minds strategic plan and the activities implemented from the plan (and with which I am involved) also offers opportunities and new ways of working = innovation. Projects funded by the Unlocking Curious Minds fund are reaching new audiences and fostering interest in STEM in young people and across communities in innovative ways.

In particular, the Participatory Science Platform (PSP) that I am National Coordinator of is providing resources to bring communities, scientists and educators together to work on locally meaningful projects. This novel way of working together with co-design at its basis is innovative for New Zealand. The PSP is breaking down barriers, with people working across knowledge boundaries and it is humbling and inspiring to see these projects in action and to imagine the possibilities that these kinds of projects could lead to.

I’d put $10 (because Kate’s on the note) on this: that if we embrace diverse teams (gender and otherwise), foster appropriate positive leadership, provide the right nurturing environment for interdisciplinarity to develop and add in a dash of disruption, it will provide the space and environment from which innovation can grow. We can journey through those jagged rocks. Who is keen to walk through the looking glass with me?

View my complete Figure.NZ data board to see all the data referenced in this post.


Dr. Victoria Metcalf is a marine biologist, geneticist and science communicator committed to making a difference. She has made seven trips to the Antarctic and has been researching Antarctic fish and invertebrates since 1998. Dr Metcalf also has an interest in New Zealand aquaculture species. She is learning more about how key species have adapted to their environment and the potential impacts of warming temperatures, ocean acidification and pollution.

She is passionate about engaging the public with science and has a role in the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor as National Coordinator for a novel flagship initiative called the Participatory Science Platform. This initiative seeks to engage communities, educators and scientists to work together on locally meaningful projects. You can find Vic Metcalf on Twitter at @VicMetcalf_NZ and read her science blog at Sciblogs.

Disclaimer: Comments, opinions and analysis are Victoria’s own.

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He aha te mea nui?

He aha te mea nui?

This blog looks at reframing innovation in the context in which most of my research in the last decade has been – transforming Māori communities.

Some scene setters:

The Māori Economy is estimated to be worth $42.6 billion (BERL Report, 2013).

The Ture Whenua Māori Bill intends to recognise and provide for the mana and tino rangatiratanga, protecting Māori land-owner rights to retain, control, occupy and develop their land as they see fit.

Māori have an entrepreneurial and innovative culture (e.g. He Kai Kei Aku Ringa Action Plan, 2012-2017).

Māori/iwi economic growth must coincide with Māori social and cultural well-being. These two trajectories are brought together by Māori economic development (Smith et al., 2015).

Proposed herein the innovation, or new idea, isn’t so much a new idea, but rather a reframing of existing ideas so that they come into focus.

The idea is simple – economic development isn’t just about making money.

We need to remember the much broader scope and activity of economics.

Adam Smith posited cultural and social imperatives are an important part of developing prosperous nations where all people would benefit (Smith, 1759, in Beugelsdijk & Maseland, 2012)

So even though on the face of it an increase in personal incomes and GDP are generally accepted as a good thing, how are they realising the cultural and social imperatives Adam Smith discusses?

DHimg1 DHimg2

Indeed, neoliberal policies have led to increased inequalities and increased violence (Springer, 2015).

Recent market failures and financial crises show the influence, greed, and power of the financial markets and their impact internationally (Keen, 2011, in Smith et al. 2015).

To many of us it doesn’t seem that much has changed – have we not learnt from the Global Financial Crisis?

Maybe a shift in thinking is required. What might we learn from indigenous knowledge and world views?

Buen Vivir or ‘the good life’ is a philosophy applied by the people of the Andes. It places indigenous communities at the core of economic discussions, and includes pluralities such as ancestral and traditional knowledge, a collective (versus individual) focus, and human and environmental relationships, which provide the conceptual glue to ensure harmony and the non-abuse of resources (Fatheuer, 2011 in Smith et al. 2015).

Such an approach is mirrored in many Māori organisations, through principles and practices of Kaitiakitanga. Indeed, outdoor clothing company Patagonia, in their Common Threads Partnership challenges us to “act on behalf of the natural world as it sustains us”

Common Threads Partnership from Patagonia on Vimeo.

Both buen vivir and kaitiakitanga provide visions, previously ignored by many, for prosperity where people can nourish, greater social cohesion is achieved, leading to increased human well-being with fewer resource impacts on the environment (Smith et al. 2015).

Well-being economics is “the expansion of the ‘capabilities’ of people to lead the kind of lives they value, and have reason to value” (Sen, 1999, p.18).

This expansion of capabilities refers to a person or a community’s ability to be able to achieve well-being if they have access to education, health care, social safety nets, and the freedom to make choices for themselves (Smith et al. 2015.)

There is a chorus for ‘more than money’ economics – for cultural and social benefits. What about happiness economics? e.g. (Layard, 2011) are we measuring that?

Satisfaction is on the increase, but is satisfaction satisfactory?


In summary, the Māori economy might be worth $42 billion – but are Māori happy?

The Ture Whenua Māori Bill will provide for tino rangatiratanga – but who is speaking for Papatūānuku?

How can New Zealand shift to well-being and happiness ways of thinking?

Therefore, the reframing and sharing leads to innovation, not by creating any new information, but by sharing and connecting existing knowledge. The real innovation comes from challenging status quos that could be leading us to disaster, and by daring to imagine futures currently unimagined and then creating them.

Beugelsdijk, S. & Maseland, R. (2012). Culture in economics: History, methodological re ections and contemporary applications (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Sen, A.K. (1999). Development as freedom. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Smith, G.H. (2013, November 22). Transforming Māori economic development. Presentation at Ko Te Amorangi ki mua, ko Te Hāpai Ō ki muri: Dualities in Indigenous Leadership and Economic Development Conference, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, Whakatāne, NZ.

Smith, G, Tinirau, R, Gillies, A, Marriner, V. (2015). He Mangōpare Amohia – Strategies for Māori Economic Development. Whakatane, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.

Springer, S. (2015). Violent Neoliberalism: Development, Discourse, and Dispossession in Cambodia. Palgrave MacMillan, US. 219pp.


Dr Hikuroa is an Earth System Scientist with interests in the integration of mātauranga māori and science to realise indigenous development. Some recent projects include: Restoring the mauri to Te Kete Poutama – a toxic-contaminant bearing industrial waste site on waahi tapu; A Kaitiaki Geothermal Development Model; Determining the impacts of the grounding of the MV Rena on Otaiti; Restoring the mauri to the Tarawera River; Restoring the mauri to Ōkahu Bay. All projects have been undertaken by invitation, with and within Māori communities. Dan has established himself a world expert on integrating indigenous knowledge and science to reach solutions that neither body of knowledge could yield in isolation. Most recently he has co-edited a book for emerging Māori academics and been invited to speak internationally on his published ideas regarding the social responsibilities of scientists.

A note from Figure.NZ

Unfortunately, we don’t have data available on Dan’s blog post topic of the Māori economy. Whilst Statistics New Zealand has collected some data on Māori authorities, which we’ve published, there’s a real lack of open-access, in-depth data collected on the topic.

It’s a great example of how important collecting and publishing accessible data, with Creative Commons licensing, is for communities on topics such as these.

Know a source of data on Dan’s topic that’s not mentioned here? Let us know at

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At risk youth or innovative resourceful youth?

At risk youth or innovative resourceful youth?

I wonder what was the most difficult thing you learnt in the last three months? Recently I went on a family trip to the USA. It was the first time I had travelled outside Aotearoa New Zealand in 18 years. Everything had changed. The Visa was online. The passport application was online. We tried AirBnB online. Even talking with the friends and family we were going to visit was mostly through Messenger, email and FaceTime.

In a short space of time I had to learn a bunch of new skills (which slightly freaked me out). Learning usually comes easy to me, but as we navigated international airports, train stations, hotels etc., it was my 14 year old who kept showing me and teaching me how to access the information I needed. She made me acutely aware that learning comes in a range of ways and that we need to be open to learning in different and innovative ways, especially as we get older. I wonder what gets in the way of you learning new things?

In February 2016, Bill English released some information on the profile of youth at risk, who we consider part of the vulnerable children within our communities. This was focused on young people aged 0–14 years and came from the Statistics New Zealand created Integrated Data Infrastructure.

This data has been collected in response to the concern that there are common factors in these young people’s lives that lead to poor outcomes later in their lives. This means they will have a bigger cost, financially and socially, to our society both now and in years to come if we do not address the causal and contributing factors.

There are two statements within that profile which I would like to pull out. The first is that one of the four key factors that leads to poor outcomes is having a mother with no formal qualifications. This is identified internationally as being a factor that will increase the likelihood of a child living in sustained poverty. Alongside that is the statement that this group of young people are three times more likely to leave school with no qualifications themselves. This will not only lead to poor outcomes for themselves later in life, but also for any children they might have or that might live in their household, especially if they are female (as the statement above suggests).

“There are many contributing factors as to why young people absent themselves from the formal education system, many of which have roots in a young person living in poverty.”

When we look at the numbers for early exemption for school leaving we see that young people in the two lowest socioeconomic quintiles are more likely to leave school via early exemption and without qualifications.

Early school leaving exemptions for 15-year-olds in New Zealand

School leavers with NCEA level 1 qualification or higher in NZ

The age of these young people is 15. We know that there are many young people younger than 15 that also fall into this space. The ethnic breakdown of the first graph also shows those young people most likely to leave school early are Māori. The results of young people leaving school early are varied but there is a high likelihood of them ending up connected to the youth justice scene (youth crime).

Children and young people charged in court in New Zealand

The Wellington City Mission Alternative Education programme, Mission for Youth, has found over the last two years that the average age of the rangatahi (young people) enrolled has dropped to 14.5 years and that 80% of our rangatahi identify as Māori. Many of our rangatahi experience the effects of intergenerational poverty. These young people are incredibly creative, innovative, adaptable and resourceful.

Alternative education is, in its essence, an innovative approach to re-engaging with young people who have been excluded from mainstream education for a variety of reasons. This engagement in alternative education increases their likelihood of both gaining a qualification and no longer being connected to the youth justice system.

“Alt Ed looks to the needs of the young person, not the problems being presented.”

The challenge is to create an educational pathway for each young person which takes into account their abilities, any additional assistance they may need (such as around dyslexia, behaviour disorders, health and addiction needs) and what their hopes and dreams are. This is done with a team approach keeping the young person at the centre of that team but including teachers, youth workers, social workers, health workers and whanau so that goals can be set in meaningful ways. This is done knowing that when a person is hungry, struggling with health issues or distracted by home issues, their ability to engage in learning can be diminished. In any given day the team have to be prepared to change and adapt the plan as a young person’s needs can change very quickly, especially when their external environment is unpredictable. Innovative creative solutions around social enterprises, work experience, physical activity, street art, current political youth issues, music, dance, drama and more are tailored for each student’s individual pathway.

Over the last year (July 2015 to June 2016) rangatahi (student) attendance has increased from 27% to 60%, 75% of the rangatahi have not reoffended and 50% have moved onto other educational programmes (as opposed to employment) which will lead to qualifications.

A big part of the solution is learning to reframe things, to enable our young people to look at things including their own abilities in different ways using a strengths based viewing point. This reframing is a life skill that digs deeply into innovation. Part of this innovation is about offering these young people a village of people who are there for them, who are committed to walking alongside them, listening to them and mentoring in those skills of reframing things and applying their own unique skills to the world.


Reverend Tric Malcolm, Wellington City Missioner since March 2014 and an Anglican priest for 15 years. Tric has a background in youth work, mental health, elder care and community parish ministry. Tric has always been passionate about social justice and advocating for those who are vulnerable within our communities.

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Innovating the New Zealand education system

Innovating the New Zealand education system


This word has been thrown around a lot lately. In a recent guest lecture at the University of Waikato, I spoke about innovation being a mix of creativity, serendipity and courage. New Zealand is uniquely qualified for all three of these attributes so it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that our little country ranks 15th on the 2015 Global Innovation Index.

Our number 8 wire DNA means we tend to look at seemingly complex problems and find simple and creative solutions. Our lowered sense of class hierarchy means we strike up serendipitous conversations with people regardless of rank or station.

The last attribute in this mix is courage.

“Courage to take a leap of faith while believing our idea, our solution has true value.”

Courage to enter a market when we may have very little commercial experience, connections or know-how.

The New Zealand Government has worked hard to foster an ‘innovation’ environment. Over the last 5 years start-up incubators have popped up and millions of dollars have been made available for Kiwis as ‘innovation grants’. Considering the tech sector’s GDP contribution has now surpassed NZ dairy and tourism, it seems like a winning ticket.

Contribution to GDP of the New Zealand tech sector, compared to dairy and tourism

However, this tech boom and the money being thrown at it has a lining of caution. Caution that innovation is part of the journey, not the destination. That, at the front end there needs to be adequate education; at the back end is investment accountability.

A few months ago, I attended the New Zealand Future of Work Commission conference and was subsequently invited to participate in their leadership workshop. As one of ~12 national thought-leaders in the tech space (and one of only 2 women), we discussed and debated with policy-makers how we could get our country’s future back on track by addressing digital equality and education reform. During this workshop I stressed that throwing tablets into classrooms doesn’t mean we are creating value. Technology itself should be invisible – it should be about the educational value the students create with it.

“Technology is a tool, not a final product.”

More locally, I was asked to attend a Hamilton ICT (Information and Communications Technology) Forum by industry leaders. The group was experiencing an enormous skill gap with ICT graduates and an acute shortage of experienced ICT professionals to enable growth. As such, a common theme between this group and the NZ Future of Work Commission emerged. It outlined a stark disconnect between how we are currently educating our youth and what the tech industry actually needs. Since technology rides an exponential curve, by the time you’ve finished reading this article, the disconnect has worsened.

To further validate industry’s cry for reform, let’s take a look at the most recent NZ census report showing the mean personal income in the New Zealand tech sector by qualification:

Mean personal income in the New Zealand tech sector by qualification

Based on this data, there is no financial gain in entering the tech sector with anything greater than a Level 5 and 6 Diploma. In fact, you are financially disadvantaged when entering ICT after tertiary study. If our tertiary ICT education system was actually of value to the tech industry, why aren’t the more qualified people being paid more? Why are they being paid less?

“This should be simple arithmetic, but it isn’t.”

As New Zealanders, we are born with innovation running through our veins. Why can’t more ‘innovation grants’ be directed into re-writing our secondary and tertiary technology education systems? Why can’t ‘innovative’ be a term used to describe our curriculum?

For example, what if secondary and tertiary school students were guided by their teachers to design their own online learning programmes based on key knowledge requirements for a technology subject? This would shift the students into active learning (e.g. LdL) which has shown to increase knowledge gain to 50% compared to 12% by students in traditional, lecture-based classes. The teachers can, in-turn, learn from the very digital natives they are trying to teach.

The online learning programmes the students create could be presented to the open NZ education market through a forum like Pond, initially for comparison alongside the traditional curriculum. As rated feedback is received and positive outcomes are verified through higher test scores, the government could take the most successful programmes, reward the winning groups with innovation grants and approve those programmes as the baseline educational tool for that technology subject. As the tech industry needs change, the key knowledge requirements change and are again submitted to the open NZ market. The previously-designed online programmes are cross-examined against the new requirements and adapted by the students again, if needed. The cycle then continues with the winning programmes receiving innovation grants and a new curriculum baseline being adopted.

A second iteration of this would be co-creation funds being made available for the tech industry AND schools to apply for as partners, to design better technology education programmes together.

Not only does this concept teach the younger generation coding and learning design, but it solves the problem of the industry:curriculum disconnect for the whole country.

The fact that students also gain valuable entrepreneurial skills would help create a better start-up ecosystem in New Zealand.

I look forward to the day the media can re-frame our country’s success not by an All Blacks win, but by the wins we are achieving in technology education and innovation. Until then, I will continue to champion a stronger NZ tech economy through smarter strategy and lobby for education reform in technology.

For more data about the tech sector, check out my board on Figure.NZ. Or read more thoughts on a healthy NZ tech future.

If you want to support my voice in lobbying for education reform in technology, get in touch.


Rachel Kelly is a University of Waikato Alumni, who graduated with a Master of Science (First Class Honours) in 2005. In 2006, she moved to California to work for a global biotechnology company where she managed and grew multi-million-dollar business units within the USA, South East Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa. Rachel returned from California in 2014, launching a successful sales and marketing consultancy called SparkTank Ltd.

Over the last 17 months, Rachel has worked within the technology commercialization space through KiwiNet, offered advisory to various tech start-ups and SMEs including Clevercare, FlipIt, Climsystems and Aeronavics, and designed sales enablement solutions for such companies as 2degrees Mobile, Trustpower and Pinnacle Midlands Health Network.

She is often invited to guest lecture on creativity, innovation, and commercialization; to guide government policy on modernized education and digital equality; to judge MBA Dragon’s Den and local business competitions; and to mentor business events such as the Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) and Innes48.

Rachel currently holds governance roles with Rotary International, NZ Technology Industry Association, Newstead Residents Association, and a new technology initiative (currently unannounced) in Hamilton. As a member of the Institute of Directors, she is committed to governance excellence and authentic leadership.

Rachel, her husband and two young children have chosen to settle down in Hamilton, and hope to make a big impact within the local and national technology sector moving forward.

You can find Rachel’s articles on local and national technology strategies on her LinkedIn page.

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How grassroots innovation turned around the youth vote after decades of decline

How grassroots innovation turned around the youth vote after decades of decline

“The rules are made by the people who turn up” – that was one of many slogans for the RockEnrol campaign in 2014. Why? Because we had learned that when it came to voting for the rulemakers, 3 out of 5 young Kiwis weren’t turning up.[i]

Young people make up 20% of the voting population, while people over 65 make up 15%. The major difference in voting patterns? Only 5.2% of people over 65 did not vote in 2011, compared with 42% of those under 25.


Age and Turnout 1996-2011 (% of roll)

Source: Professor Jack Vowles, Victoria University

There is a tonne of research in this area as to why. Young people don’t identify with the left-right political spectrum, they care about issues but not party politics. Young people don’t know who to vote for, or they don’t think their vote will count.

In fact, when surveyed only 20% of non-voters answered “I am not interested” as their reason for not voting. Meaning that 4 out of 5 non-voters have some other reason, and those reasons are much more complex than most people think.[ii]

Digging into the data.

The first thing you’ll notice if you look into the qualitative data is that there is no such thing as the “youth vote”.

Of the approximately 580,000 18 – 29 year olds[iii] in New Zealand, the ones least likely to vote are of Māori, Pasifika or Asian descent. Recent migrants are less likely to vote than long-term migrants, and those with a low level of income or education are also less likely to turnout at election time. Same goes for young people who live in rural communities.

International research tells us that young people rarely cite a preference for doing something else on election day as the reason for not voting, nor are they protesting by not voting. Young would-be voters feel they have less security in the welfare system and labour market compared to older voters, and that they and their interests have been excluded from formal politics – both party and institutional.[iv]

In short, if you are part of a group that is marginalised economically and socially, you’re much more likely to be marginalised politically too.

The “cycle of mutual neglect” or “rational actor theory”.

What we also know from research is that young people don’t vote because parties don’t appeal and parties don’t appeal because young people don’t vote. There is a mutual distrust between political parties and young people by and large. In a very recent trust survey put out by Victoria University, MPs are the second least trusted group in society with just 8% of New Zealanders saying they trust them lots or completely, alongside media and just ahead of bloggers who are the least trusted group in New Zealand at just 5%.[v]

Outdated outreach mechanisms and slow-moving political machines

Despite under-30’s large numbers and demonstrable ability to turnout to vote in record numbers for candidates who appeal to them and their issues directly (think: President Obama in 2008 and Bernie Sanders in 2016)[vi] New Zealand’s political parties do not seem to think that the young are a demographic whose vote is worth chasing.

Political parties (and the electoral process that surrounds it) have been slow to take into account young people’s forms of political activism, interests and means of communication. The internet is the most obvious example of this.

In 2014, it still wasn’t possible to enrol online as a first-time voter. You needed to have filled in a paper enrollment form first, which you can pick up at your local post office. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know too many 18 year olds frequenting the post office these days.

Take also the prospect of online voting as an example; 75% of people aged 25 -34 are willing to cast a vote online. Compare that with the 38% of people aged 65 – 74 and the generational disparity becomes obvious.[vii]

Willingness to vote online in general elections in New Zealand

Personally I am not an advocate for online voting as the silver bullet. My tech-minded friends who are much smarter than I inform me that technically we’re not at a level where we could do it safely yet (think Anonymous hackers). There is also a huge risk of increased coercion with online voting. I think more work needs to be done in this space.

But one thing the political elite could take away from this demographic trend is that if you want to appeal to young voters then your online game better be damn good.

RockEnrol to the rescue.

Looking back now, 2014 was a bizarre election. Eminem, Edward Snowden and a fair amount of Dirty Politics all made an appearance. But it was also the election that saw unprecedented attempts to get out the youth vote. RockEnrol was one of those attempts.


RockEnrol volunteers in Myers Park, Auckland (Photo credit: Chris Pemberton)

RockEnrol is a non-partisan, youth-led and volunteer-powered campaign combining popular culture with grassroots community organising to build political power for young people by encouraging them to use their vote. Our goal was to increase the number of young people casting a vote in 2014 and we succeeded. The number of 18 – 29 year olds who voted from 2011 to 2014 jumped from 42% to 49%.[viii] Sure that’s still less than half of our young people voting but after decades of decline a spike in the alternate direction can only be a good thing.

Here’s how we did it in 7 (not that) easy steps:

  1. We looked like the people we were trying to target.
    Of those old enough to stand as MPs, people under 30 are massively under-represented in Parliament. Almost 9 out of 10 MPs are in their 40s, 50s and 60s, even though those age groups make up only half of the eligible voting population.[ix] RockEnrol was run by young people, for young people. Our volunteer median age was 21.5.
  1. We didn’t reinvent the wheel, we adjusted it for context.
    RockEnrol was modelled off the US organisation ‘Rock The Vote’ who have turned out more than 5 million young voters since they launched 25 years ago. We thought why try to do something totally new ourselves when our much better resourced brothers and sisters in the US have already tried (and tested) out hundreds of tactics to turn out young voters. Tactics we stole from Rock The Vote? Voter registration (aka enrolment) and pledge to vote, volunteer phone banking, Facebook advertising, in-person canvassing and community events. For instance, what we know from the Rock The Vote’s experience is that by combining a pledge to vote (either by phone or in person) with a follow-up get-out-the-vote phone call on Election Day, we can increase turnout by 11 percentage points,[x] so that’s exactly what we did.
  1. We combined sizzle with steak.
    The formula for RockEnrol was this: Make a pledge to vote (for whoever you want) in the 2014 Election. A pledge consists of giving us your name, email and phone number – either in person or online – and ticking a box that says “I promise to vote on September 20th” and as a reward for your pledge you then get a free ticket to a RockEnrol party happening somewhere around the country. We had 60 free gigs – organised by RockEnrol volunteers – all around the country. Homebrew, Tiki Taane, Tali, Third3ye, Esther Stephens & The Means, Optimus Gryme and heaps of other artists volunteered their time for free (or very cheap) to pull off this mammoth effort.At the party you see a bunch of other young people who are going to vote (providing social proof) and you start to think, “hmm maybe voting isn’t lame”.  And while it’s fresh in your mind, we have a booth set up at the event with a keen young volunteer who is there to make sure you’re enrolled and you have the information you need. Then in the lead up to Election Day, one of our volunteers sends you an email and gives you a call to make sure you remember your pledge to vote. They ask which voting booth you’re going to and how you’re going to get there, because (as we’ve learned from Rock The Vote) when people talk through their plan they’re much more likely to follow through. RockEnrol was essentially parties with purpose.
  1. We collaborated.
    RockEnrol was by no means the only contributing force toward the spike in the youth vote. You had advanced voting which made the act of voting much more accessible to voters. You had the Internet Party who – despite a low number of votes – had thrown an explicit conversation about targeting young voters into the mix.We were also part of a coalition of groups and individuals trying to get out the youth vote called the Virgin Voter Collective, and according to independent Horizon Research conducted after the 2014 election, approximately 70,00 18-34 year olds were influenced to vote by the entirety of our coalition’s activities. Not bad for a grassroots effort.
  1. We met young people where they were… literally.
    We prioritised social media as a channel of communication with our target audience. We enrolled people in nightclubs, University dorms, and campus cafes.
  1. We offered a different narrative.
    We put the onus of low youth voter turnout on the political system, and not on young people. All too often we hear the narrative that young people are too apathetic, too lazy, too self-indulgent to vote and here we were a group of young people demonstrating the exact of opposite of the stereotypes held by some. We bought more young people’s views to the table, and offered a different perspective than the usual political commentators.
  1. We took young people seriously.
    We asked young people what issues they care about. Our volunteers had thousands of civic conversations with young people. We treated young people as a constituency worth caring about, something I still think political parties in New Zealand are by and large failing to do.

RockEnrol will be back in 2017 and it is my hope and ambition we’ll continue to see the number of young people voting rise. I’m confident it will.

[i] Down, Down, Down: Turnout in New Zealand from 1946 to the 2011 Election, Professor Jack Vowles, Victoria University

[ii] Non-voters in 2008 and 2011 general election, Statistics New Zealand

[iii] Population by age group in New Zealand, Figure.NZ

[iv] Slideshare from Dr Jennifer Curtin, Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations at Auckland University

[v] Who do we trust? March survey 2016, Victoria University

[vi] Bernie, Barack and young voters, Vox

[vii] Willingness to vote online in general elections, Figure.NZ

[viii] New Zealand general election: Varieties of communication 2014, Professor Jack Vowles of Victoria University

[ix] The difference between you and an MP, Ours infographic

[x] Winning Young Voters, Rock The Vote Handbook


Laura O’Connell Rapira is Cofounder of RockEnrol and Director of Campaigns at ActionStation.

RockEnrol is a youth-led campaigning organisation that combines grassroots community organising, digital tools and popular culture to build political power for young people.

ActionStation is an independent, member-led not-for-profit organisation representing over 100,000 New Zealanders holding power to account, standing for human rights, a healthy environment, transparent democracy and economic fairness.

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Interesting things that I learned

Interesting things that I learned

When Shaun Hendy offered me the chance to write a blog for this project, I jumped at the opportunity. I have been working for interesting and innovative organisations who trade in knowledge for over 10 years, and before that I was a patent examiner – so the opportunity to explore innovation from a different angle, with interesting data from Figure.NZ seemed like a cool thing to do.

The thing that I didn’t expect was unexpected knowledge. Figure.NZ have an interesting collection of graphs, and drilling through the stuff that came up in my searches, I happened across some very interesting facts about the innovation space that surprised me, and challenged my assumptions. This is a bit of a rambling journey where I have grouped my discoveries into three main areas – Wellington and the tech sector, girls and knowledge, and (to keep it totally on topic) innovation in NZ.

Wellington and the tech sector

I have been living and working in the Wellington Region for the last 25 years, and I think it’s a pretty great place to be.

EGrinter1So when I came across this graph, representing the percentage of the population employed in the tech sector last year, I felt a sense of pride. We have the largest percentage of people working in ICT compared to all other regions – INCLUDING AUCKLAND!

At Viclink we often deal in the high tech manufacturing space, which is also represented in this graph, and it’s interesting to note what a small percentage of the Wellington population is employed here.

So why is this interesting?

Despite only 5.6% of people in the Wellington region working in the tech sector, it provides 9.8% of the GDP of the Wellington region, as shown below. That’s almost double – a pretty productive sector. Further – even though only 0.9% of the population is employed in the high tech manufacturing sector, it was accountable for 5.7% of the exports from the Wellington region. That is quite significant, and tells me that we are doing things here that the world wants. Our companies might be little, or we might be doing only a few things, but they are having significant impact.

EGrinter2 EGrinter3

What is even better is knowing that the high tech manufacturing sector is set to grow. Substantial effort is being put in by local councils and government bodies to support the growth in this area. Viclink has some exciting startups and partnerships being formed. One of these is a deal between researchers at Victoria University and Milestone Science and Technology Ltd, based in China, which will see the creation of three new companies including one in Lower Hutt to develop and manufacture HTS products using components sourced from other New Zealand companies. If we continue to maintain this approach to our new partnerships, startups and projects in this space, we can achieve some pretty amazing things

Girls and knowledge

Whilst my personal background and qualifications are in commerce and biotechnology, I have largely been working with teams in the physics, maths and engineering spaces since 2005, most recently in a university context. These areas of science are typically male dominated. With communications part of my role it meant ensuring that the amazing female researchers who were working in that space got plenty of airtime.

So the graph below came as quite a surprise to me. It clearly demonstrated that in New Zealand the boys are substantially outnumbered by the girls at a ratio of almost 3:2. Digging a little deeper into the data, this ratio has been pretty steady between 2007 and 2013.

Gender ratio of tertiary enrolment by select OECD countries

The prevailing view in many science subjects is that the number of girls were dropping off at PhD level, and in general this is not true either. The graphs below show that yes, it was indeed true that girls outnumber boys at undergraduate level. However even at PhD level there are more women enrolled overall than men.


What does differ is the field of study males and females are choosing, as shown below.

Domestic students enrolled in tertiary studyTotal filled jobs by industry in New Zealand

Women are shying away from anything to do with technology, computer science, engineering, etc. This is reflected in the lack of gender diversity in tech startups and other related fields, and this lack of diversity gets a lot of media coverage. I see this annually with only about 20% of the participants of our annual Victoria Entrepreneur Bootcamp being female, and very few of those being from a technology background. Instead these women have usually studied subjects such as biology, health, design, or commerce.

However there has also been quite a bit of media lately recognising that Wellington is becoming known as a great place to be a female founder of a tech company. Part of this success can be attributed to meetup group known as the Female Founders Exchange, a group of fantastic female role models who support each other to succeed.

So for those female students who are choosing technology subjects and want to be an entrepreneur, Wellington is not only a great place to be a tech startup in terms of having a thriving tech industry as noted in my first segment, it is also the best place in NZ to be a female founder.

Innovation in NZ

As the Entrepreneurship Manager at Viclink, my role is primarily about encouraging the development of entrepreneurial skills in our students. I was excited to discover that New Zealand is the second easiest place in the OECD to be an entrepreneur.

Ease of entrepreneurship index score for select countries

One of the key outputs of a university is people. Students graduating with knowledge in their chosen field and ready to apply it in their chosen career. We see entrepreneurship as a possible career pathway for innovative students.

People are just as important in innovative businesses as shown below. The three most important sources of ideas or information underpinning innovation are people related – staff or customers. And whilst the biggest barrier to innovation is cost – the next three are all related to lacking key personnel with the skills necessary to implement the innovation.

EGrinter10 EGrinter11

At some point in my life – I was a patent examiner. And I find it very interesting (but not surprising) that access to IP is not a particularly significant barrier to innovation, nor is it strongly represented as a source of innovation, except in the sense that it’s the knowledge, skills and ideas of people that allow both the generation and implementation of innovative ideas. To me this reinforces the importance of our role in ensuring our graduates are well prepared for life in innovative roles.

So what did I learn?

The process of going through the Figure.NZ graphs and exploring data that related to innovation and my role reinforced a few things to me.

I run a programme supporting the development of young entrepreneurs, and have always talked about our focus being on the people, rather than the ideas or startups themselves. Once the individuals learn the skills to start businesses, they can apply it again and again to all their future ideas and innovations. What I discovered here validated our approach, and the importance of people in innovation. Turns out that NZ is an easier place to become an entrepreneur than other countries, and here in Wellington we have a healthy tech sector, making it this legitimate career choice for graduates.

Women are underrepresented in the programmes that I run. Although some have suggested that this may be a factor of marketing and messaging – the majority of our startups are in the tech space. I have long thought that there is a strong correlation to the numbers of students coming through these fields of study, and it’s nice to see evidence of this. However, it also presents an opportunity to connect those women who are studying tech subjects with the well-established networks in the tech industry, and continue to inspire young women into this space so it can continue to flourish.

Finally – the tech sector in Wellington is interesting, productive, and generates significant export revenue for the region. Its growth is well supported, and we at Viclink are excited to be contributing to that growth with a promising pipeline of projects, partnerships and startups in this space.


Emily Grinter is Viclink’s Entrepreneurship Manager, responsible for developing, co-ordinating and delivering a range of programmes and initiatives (including the Victoria Entrepreneur Bootcamp) that will help to foster an innovative, entrepreneurial culture across every faculty at Victoria University of Wellington.

No stranger to the University, Emily has studied at Victoria (she holds a BSc in Genetics and Molecular Biology, and a BCA in Management) and worked there, firstly as the Centre Manager for The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, and more recently as a Research Funding Advisor for the Research Office. Emily has also worked for Industrial Research Ltd (now known as Callaghan Innovation) as a Science Support Co-ordinator, and as a Patent Examiner for the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand.

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Innovation is the key to survival in business

Innovation is the key to survival in business

This doesn’t seem to be a universally accepted proposition in New Zealand. The total innovation rate for New Zealand businesses is less than 50%.

Total innovation rate for New Zealand businessesThink Walkman and iPod. Innovation can kill a product. Think Blockbuster and Netflix. Innovation can kill a company.

Admittedly those are extreme and often used examples of disruptive innovation and “replacing goods or services being phased out” is not a high ranking reason for innovating in New Zealand.

Reasons for innovating in New ZealandThe impact of more subtle innovation is perhaps less headline worthy. How do utility companies send you the invoice for their services? Do they come in the post or arrive by email? It’s probably your choice. This small innovation which changes the way in which the bill is delivered (to align with your preference) doesn’t change the core service (getting your power) but it improves the overall customer experience and reduces costs.

Responding to customers and reducing costs are both recognised by New Zealand businesses as important reasons to innovate. However, the number one reason New Zealand businesses say that they innovate (more than 80% of all innovating businesses) is to increase revenue. If this is going to happen, then innovation needs to create value for customers. If people can’t see the value in something then they won’t be paying for it.

Surely all New Zealand businesses want to survive and to thrive? What about the more than 50% of NZ businesses who say that they are not innovating? Why are they not innovating?

The two most significant barriers to innovation identified by New Zealand businesses are the cost to develop or introduce innovation and a lack of management resources.

Main barriers to innovation for businesses in New ZealandThese challenges can seem significant when viewed through the lens of innovation by New Zealand businesses getting global recognition. Xero is a high-tech business that is building a cloud platform offered globally to “change how you tackle the books”. It was named at number 1 on the Forbes Innovative Growth Companies List in both 2014 and 2015. At the helm, Rod Drury has been recognised internationally for his skills as an entrepreneur. Xero has recently confirmed that it will be able to break even without further capital raising but there has been a long period of significant cost. The company’s most recent round raised $147m. It is easy to see why cost and lack of management resources may be perceived as a barrier.

However, innovation does not only happen at that end of the spectrum or at that scale. Coffix sells cups of coffee in Auckland and Hamilton. It was started by an engineer who wanted to make buying a cup of coffee more affordable. The innovation came in the business model. It involved maintaining quality but reducing costs (by only offering take-away coffees and reducing the options available – no caramel soy decaf lattes on offer) and did not require any particular innovation management resource to develop. It is creating value for customers and revenue for the business.

New Zealand provides a very supportive environment for innovation. We score highly on the OECD’s ease of entrepreneurship index and the availability of venture capital to entrepreneurs. The most prevalent sources of ideas or information for innovation, existing staff and customers, are available to every business in operation.

At its essence innovation is simply making things easier, better or more convenient for customers. There are always opportunities to improve. A culture of innovation needs to permeate all New Zealand businesses.

See all of  Jonathan’s FigureNZ data boards for more insights.


Jonathan has a keen interest in innovation, commercialisation and entrepreneurship. He has worked in law and banking in New Zealand, Europe and Asia and is the CEO of boutique law firm TGT Legal. After completing a Master of Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship, he co-founded Wine Grenade, a company which has commercialised intellectual property developed by Plant and Food Research. Wine Grenade has been a finalist in the NZ Hi-Tech Awards and the NZ Innovator Awards.

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It’s Just Innovation

It’s Just Innovation

The first time I visited a prison, I was 12 years old. I went with my father and a group of musicians to hold a church service for the inmates.

We repeated the service in various parts of the prison, and in the minimum security wing I was allowed to sit and talk with the men after church.  I sat down next to a Māori man, let’s call him Bill. Not having been told it was impolite to do so, I asked Bill what he had done to end up in prison.

He told me he was in prison for driving without a license. I was shocked. Surely you couldn’t go to prison for driving without a licence?

“You can if you do it often enough,” he explained.

Bill had been in prison before, more than once. The first time he’d been too young, he told me, to realise prison wasn’t cool. Each time he got out he’d been determined not to do anything that would land him back inside, and every time he’d failed. It was hard to find a job, for example, that didn’t require him to drive. Eventually, he would get pulled over, found to be driving without a licence and sent back to prison.

Even as a 12 year old I could see Bill was stuck in a vicious cycle.

I also understood, even then, that Bill was more likely than my dad to be pulled over, to have his licence checked.

“Next time I get out, I’m going to get a bike,” he explained, “I’ll have a way to get to work and to visit my kids, and I won’t end up back in here.”

Over the past 30 years, I’ve often wondered whether Bill got that bike, and whether he managed – against the odds – to stay out of prison for good.

So what does Bill have to do with innovation?

To be honest, I’m wary of the way we talk about innovation. In a country where discrimination remains entrenched, inequality is growing, and the odds of people like Bill altering the course of their lives in any significant way are low, the fact that we describe something like Uber as ‘innovative’ seems, at best, silly and, at worst, downright cynical.

To be fair on innovation, all it claims to be is “something new or different”, which I concede is a definition even Uber could meet. My beef isn’t really with innovation, my beef is with the fact that we’re so keen to talk about things that are “new and different” that we often skim over history, deny reality and ignore complexity.

So here’s a dose of reality: research carried out in New Zealand between 2002 and 2007 showed a considerably higher rate of re-imprisonment for Māori offenders (55%) than for NZ Europeans (45%) and Pacific offenders (36%). Analysis of the variables contributing to this disparity pointed to the fact that:

“Maori offenders as a group tend on average to be younger than Europeans”[i].

Likewise, when considering the disproportionate number of Māori in prison, analysts emphasised the impact of “the very large numbers of young Māori entering the criminal justice system for the first time each year.”[ii]

Reflecting on this I thought about Bill, and looked up rates of youth charged with traffic and vehicle regulatory offences in New Zealand, by ethnicity.

The first thing worth noting about this graph is that in 2007 the number of young Māori people in New Zealand being charged with traffic and vehicle offences in New Zealand was equal to the number of Pakeha young people being charged – despite Māori making up only 24% of the total youth population, compared to 72% Pakeha.[iii]

But perhaps you noticed something else about this graph? Did you see the sudden drop in youth being charged with traffic and vehicle offences after 2008? What’s that about?

Well, something genuinely innovative happened in New Zealand in 2002, something that may well lie behind this sudden drop-off.

In 2002, the Youth Offending Strategy was launched, building on the changes implemented by The Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989, which laid the foundation for a genuinely innovative approach to young people who offend.

“[T]he New Zealand system represented the first legislated example of a move towards a restorative justice approach to offending which recognises and seeks the participation of all involved in the offending and focuses on repairing harm, reintegrating offenders, and restoring the balance within the community affected by the offence.”[iv]

In other words, in 2002 New Zealand rolled out a new approach to children and young people who commit criminal offences. More than ten years later, apprehension rates for children and young people have fallen.

I’d like to stop for a moment to let you take that in, because it’s not something you’ll hear very often in the news: the number of young people being charged with criminal offences in New Zealand has dropped over the past two decades.

In 2007, 5067 young people were charged in New Zealand courts – that equates to 100 out of every 10,000 young people in our country. By 2012 that number had reduced to 3016, or 74 out of every 10,000. This is the lowest rate in 20 years.[v]

This is very good news. This is innovation doing what it’s supposed to: breaking old, entrenched patterns; turning things around; opening up new possibilities.

But the news is not all good. Over that same period, disparities in youth justice outcomes for Māori have increased, and apprehension rates for Māori children and young people remain four to five times higher than for non‐Māori.[vi]

This increase in disparities is driven by greater improvement in outcomes for non-Māori youth, rather than by a worsening of outcomes for Māori. In fact, the number of Māori youth charged in court has dropped as well, but at a much smaller rate than for Pakeha or Pasifika youth.

Number of Youth Charged

The number of youth charged in court has decreased for all major age and ethnic groups

So, what next?

Smarter people than me have reviewed all this data, and much more, and concluded that there are at least three key areas for further innovation in our youth justice system:

  1. Deepen engagement with family, whānau, and communities.
  2. Improve the data available to inform frontline decision‐making in the youth justice system.
  3. Extend access to the youth justice system to young people aged up to 21 years.

Each of these warrants its own exploration, but since the official Youth Crime Action Plan focuses largely on the first and second of these, I’m going to close with an argument in favour of the third.

Currently, children aged up to 16 years can be dealt with by the Youth Courts, but the government is looking at a plan to extend this to young offenders as old as 19.

Our youth justice system is not only innovative. It also appears to be achieving at least some of the changes it was created to achieve.

For example, the number of children and young people given an order in court in New Zealand has dropped for all ethnic groups since 2008.


For anyone concerned that children and young people who offend are being let off too lightly, two thoughts:

  1. The Youth Court system has allowed the community, including the family and the victim, to play a role in holding the young person to account in a way that is meaningful to them.[vii]
  2. Youth Courts have also exercised their power to apply adult sentences in serious cases in a small by significant number of cases, as shown in this graph.

New Zealand youth given an order in court by ethnicity:


All over the world, people are studying our youth justice system, wondering how they might be able to replicate some of these positive outcomes for themselves. Without ignoring the very significant areas for improvement, this is the kind of innovation we should be celebrating.

This is also the kind of innovation we should be extending, specifically by lifting the age of access to Youth Courts in New Zealand to at least 19 years.


Marianne Elliott is Director of Strategy and Story for ActionStation – a movement to reignite participation in our democracy and restore ‘people power’ by building a community of active citizens and facilitating collective action for progressive change. ActionStation is an independent, member-led not-for-profit organisation representing over 100,000 New Zealanders holding power to account, standing for human rights, a healthy environment, transparent democracy and economic fairness.

Marianne’s background is varied – trained as a human rights lawyer, she worked in Timor-Leste, the Gaza Strip and Afghanistan before returning to New Zealand in 2008. She is also the author of Zen Under Fire, a memoir about her work in Afghanistan, and co-owner of an organic Mexican restaurant in Wellington.





[v]  Youth Crime Action Plan, Ministry of Justice, 2013 p12

[vi] Youth Crime Action Plan, Ministry of Justice, 2013


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