Mitigating the biases of evidence-based public policy through co-design: Lessons learned from Aotearoa New Zealand Youth Justice

Mr Benjamin Bielski1

1Oranga Tamariki, , New Zealand, 2Ngāti Kahungunu, Wairua, Aotearoa

Although the global trend toward evidence-based public policy and service design should be welcomed, it must also be approached with caution. Minority groups, especially indigenous populations, are disadvantaged by the unbridled application of evidence-based public policy. In 2015, an independent panel was appointed to overhaul Aotearoa New Zealand’s care, protection and youth justice systems. This presentation explores the Panel’s approach to this overhaul and demonstrates how the Panel utilised co-design with Māori to reduce overrepresentation and mitigate structural biases that otherwise manifest when evidence-based design is used.

Mahuru, a new youth remand service developed by Ngāpuhi Iwi Social Services with support from Oranga Tamariki, provides a case study on the importance of genuine co-design.  In this presentation I draw from this example to further the thesis that co-design with user groups is a necessary component when developing any service that purports to reduce the overrepresentation of indigenous populations. I provide lessons learned that are applicable to youth justice, as well as service design in general.

Finally, this presentation explores the complexities of co-design that manifest exclusively in the youth justice context. I explain how the unique and complex youth justice environment may constrain the ability to co-design but also has potential to improve it. I conclude that to reduce disparities and create youth justice services that work for indigenous populations, we must enable indigenous populations to genuinely participate in the design and delivery of youth justice services.


Ben Bielski works for Oranga Tamariki as Principal Advisor Youth Justice Residences. He has experience in service design and co-design and led Māori engagement for the development of Oranga Tamariki’s care continuum.  Ben graduated from Otago University with an LLB(hons)(first class) and BA (Philosophy) and has published extensively on the future of Treaty settlements in Aotearoa and access to justice.