Watershed Partners

Co-Design the Future of Education with Citizens

by Sandra Daniel

The classroom of today has changed little since the Industrial Revolution and with the pace of change in all industries outpacing our capacity to keep up, the pressure is on for us to reconsider our approaches to the traditional learning model. Not to mention the big elephant in the room: was it working in the first place? The question, of course, is not if but how. How do we change our education system to reflect the diverse learning needs of a diverse and evolving citizenry? How do we create a system capable of evolving with the pace of the digital age? More importantly, how do we prepare our children for the future they will inherit?

The current Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, leader of the New Zealand Labour Party, sought to answer this question when she took office on October 26th, 2017. A key priority for her government was a thirty-year strategy to reform the education system. The strategy to execute on that priority relied on two bold decisions:

  1. Take a 30-year approach to go beyond small wins and achieve something truly transformational across three generations.
  2. Be citizen-centric and develop the reform through collaboration across all key stakeholders in the system to prevent bureaucratic and politically driven decisions.

In February 2018, the Minister of Education Chris Hipkins followed up on this commitment by releasing details of an extensive three-year work programme to develop an education system that meets the needs of the 21st century from early learning through secondary and beyond. After seeking feedback on how things were working now, he sought to build the basics for what the future of education should look like for all of New Zealand. To do this, he brought together more than 1400 citizens from across New Zealand into two Summits called "Kōrero Mātauranga let's talk about Education”.

Our role in these summits was to create a values driven, decision-making framework that 1400 people could access and engage in, providing their government with guidance and direction on how to move forward with such a complex and difficult task. To do this, we worked with the Collaborative Design company called Wheretofromhere?, who was designing and running the Summits, to integrate a digital tool called the Values Explorer into the two day Summits.

The Values Explorer enables groups of people to define, share and explore their values in relation to a question or context. It is designed to be a ‘conversation starter’, creating a common shared experience and language set for participants to begin exploring a topic that matters to them. During the sessions, in the Summits, participants were asked to select up to ten values (out of a custom curated list of forty-nine) that they felt should be “woven into New Zealand’s education pathways”. The three most important values chosen by over 1500 participants across two Summits were “Hauora – Wellbeing”, “Creativity” and “Whānaungatanga - Family Community”. Historically, the education system in New Zealand - and arguably around the world - has been oriented around academic achievement, individual performance, and behaviour. This was a strong statement that showed up time and time again in both Summits across discussions, speaker panels, and participant feedback and in small group forums.

By bringing to the surface the values that shape why and how people make decisions we were able to create a decision-making framework that shaped the creation of the key elements of the Future of Education strategy. This enabled the public service to move beyond their own assumptions about what people wanted, relying instead on data driven insights that at a very deep level, reflected the principles people wanted the education system to adhere to. The value in bringing this level of depth of meaning and understanding to the conversations was profound for both the development of the system and as a thinking tool for how people considered their own biases and assumptions.

To learn more about this project and the country’s investment into the future of education in New Zealand, check out our case study: