“Drafting new legislation, defining institutional roles,
creating new plans.”

– doesn’t it sound utterly yawn-worthy!

These tasks are among the suggestions of the Resource Management Review Panel (1), a body convened to examine how our laws can “improve environmental outcomes and better enable urban and other development within Aotearoa New Zealand’s environmental limits”.

But that’s a really important and exciting mission! So let’s say it like this:

“Radical, practical, inspirational –
how to transform Aotearoa into a learning society
and a wellbeing economy!”

Sounds better, doesn’t it! And that’s what this Review could achieve – if we follow the Panel’s excellent recommendations about resourcing the transition and growing the skills we need to develop, implement and evaluate the wellbeing outcomes of better natural and built environment legislation.

The Panel recommends that additional resources for the transition be provided for mana whenua and key agencies – and that:

“The Ministry for the Environment should work with professional institutes and organisations to ensure those administering the reformed RMA are appropriately equipped and upskilled to implement it.” (1, page 481).

And we have a Nobel Prize-winning economist supporting this growth in skills: Joseph Stiglitz finds that industry training creates a learning society that delivers measurable economic benefits. Here’s what he says in his book Creating a Learning Society (2):

‘Creating a learning society should be one of the major objectives of economic policy.’ (p6); and

‘The transformation to “learning societies” … appears to have had a greater impact on human well-being than improvements in allocative efficiency or resource accumulation.’ (p18).

This is my chosen field. As a strategic environmental trainer, I support environmental experts to deliver the great training only they can do. Among such experts are those who will be charged with upskilling the hundreds, if not thousands, of council and government staff about our new natural and built environments law – as well as our consultants and contractors and the clients and communities they serve.

Here’s their mission:  to develop and deliver training for our natural and built environments professionals that is: –

  • relevant, comprehensive and clear;
  • designed to optimise adult workplace learning;
  • prioritized on the basis of clear and agreed criteria; and
  • able to be rigorously evaluated in terms of the desired outcomes.

The stakes are high. This time round we must avoid the decades of costly errors we made when introducing the Resource Management Act (RMA).

Here are my top ten tips for the best possible results of this vitally important training of our natural and built environments workforce.

Top Tip #1  Identify the target audiences

Two broad groups of specialist audiences will want the upskilling identified by the Review Panel:

  • the people administering the new laws: planning and policy experts and also the full range of other experts involved with natural and built environments; and
  • the professionals giving effect to and complying with the new laws, who represent a wide range of disciplines.

Top Tip #2  Precisely describe the desired changes in practice

Here we need to parse the Act to identify the key methods and outcomes it sets out and carefully define the desired changes in practice they will require. Then I’d recommend conducting carefully targeted surveys of the different groups of professionals involved. My experience is that these people are acutely aware of their training needs and are often frustrated by the lack of relevant training. The results of such surveys are invariably an information goldmine!

Top Tip #3  Set up a Learning Group focused on training

The Ministry for the Environment may need to set up several working groups to give effect to Cabinet’s recommendations on the Review Panel’s report. Our national learning has already started with the Review Panel’s excellent process, so let’s set up a Learning Group to continue to capture what we learn as draft the law, develop and deliver the training, give effect to the new laws and look at the results in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the training.

Top Tip #4  Map all the training needs in a 1-page hologram

Collating training needs in a field as complex as resource management is difficult. Long lists of topics or workshop dates don’t serve the people planning the training, trying to access the training or trying to evaluate its overall effectiveness. Simple lists also make it more difficult to prioritise the different training topics. I find it invaluable to come up with some kind of organising principle or concept – what I call a hologram – that maps the different disciplines. This helps us to identify the best trainers, design the training topics, content, structure, delivery methods (online, on site, in workshops, or a mix of these) and define training outcomes and evaluation criteria. It also helps trainees to navigate their way through the training topics on offer.

Top Tip #5  Develop the training on the identified topics

The experts who can develop and deliver the training are already in the relevant sectors. The collaborative process recommended by the Review Panel for developing and transitioning to the new laws can be accompanied by a parallel collaborative process that resources and supports these experts to develop truly great training.

But experts sometimes struggle to ‘distil out of an enormous volume of expert knowledge the small amount of key information that will help people to bridge a performance gap’ (3). This task is more demanding than most people realise, and our topic experts will likely need support here.

 Top Tip #6  Measure what counts

Right from Step 1, we need to keep building in our training evaluation outcomes and indicators. It’s an enormously helpful way to keep our training focused on the observable and measurable changes in practice that are needed to give effect to the new laws.

The real test of the effectiveness of the natural and built environments training will be:

  • the quality of the outputs required by the new laws; and
  • the quality of the resulting outcomes for the built and natural environments.

And here’s a question we can keep asking ourselves to help us pass that training effectiveness test:

‘What will it take for our new resource management laws to address the harmful and beneficial effects of human activities across the four wellbeings and twelve domains (4) of our Living Standards Framework?’

Top Tip #7  Pilot the training before rolling it out

Find a group of willing and expert volunteers to help you pilot your training, be it online, on site, in workshops or a blend of all these. I support my volunteers with detailed feedback forms and carefully chosen questions. This means the pilot training needs to be structured for intelligent shortcuts or longer training times, but such pilots always yield invaluable feedback to improve the training before it’s more widely rolled out.

Top Tip #8  Build in other supporting elements to address what training can’t achieve

Training is not always the solution to a performance problem – and when it is, other supporting elements may also be needed to ensure the training is effective. Use the survey recommended in Top Tip #2 to ask your professionals what other non-training support they will need. Again, they will give you really useful feedback.

Here are some top-of-mind aspects:

  • partnership: numerous stakeholders will be interested in the RMA training – a far wider group than the professionals most directly affected. The Review Panel has already exemplified a high level of engagement which lays a strong foundation for ongoing partnership. In my experience, starting the training process by forming a highly inclusive group of learning partners brings tremendous value to the training development and delivery process;
  • equity of access: all professionals must be easily able to access the training, including those from smaller and more remote regions who may have broadband issues and find it hard to get away from demanding jobs to attend expensive training. Consider offering cost arrangements that will help these people. Come up with other ideas, like bringing other professionals to their regions to form a larger and more diverse group of trainees: the numbers will generate a real buzz in your workshops! and;
  • recognition of training: for the people administering the new laws as well as those affected by them, we need to consider how to encourage, support or even require key people to attend the training. What incentives and recognition will they gain? What recognition of their learning will most likely appeal to these people? How can their professional and vocational sector associations encourage and reward their attendance?

Top Tip #9  Finding the funding

Will this RMA training cost money? Yes, it will. But remember that training is only a cost when you don’t count the benefits. And good training delivers significant benefits across all the wellbeings that we measure in our Living Standards Framework. When you put a dollar value on these benefits – and there are globally recognised methods for doing this – the cost of training is transformed into an investment that delivers significant financial returns.

The Review Panel reinforces the need for ‘very substantial investment in money and resources’ (1, p 459) for the transition process and ‘training and guidance’ to support the desired change in culture to ‘become more outcome-focused’. Generous professionals give a great deal of time to their sector associations, but this transition is too important for the nation to rely on a small group of experts working nights and weekends. If we are to avoid the mistakes of the past, it’s essential to be realistic about the upfront and ongoing budget they’ll need to do the job well.

Top Tip #10  Find a home for ongoing professional and vocational development

The Government’s educational reforms in recent years and in response to the pandemic have focused on the vocational and trades sectors (5). However my work on stormwater training for Water New Zealand (6) shows that professional and vocational skills are intimately interwoven through the many disciplines around the water sensitive urban development cycle.

I suggest that natural and built environment and the many related professionals consider the following – or create another similar idea – to promote our progress towards becoming a Learning Society:

  • broadening the nation’s review of industry training to encompass continuing professional development as well as vocational trades training; and
  • supporting training for the wide range of all built and natural environment and related professionals and trades professionals in the form of a Centre of Vocational Excellence or Workforce Development Council – or some other similar body – on this vitally important topic.

A bunch of a professionals exchanging inspiration and experience to build a better world – what’s not to like?

And that’s how we’ll have everyone lined up along the starting line from well before Day 1 of the new legislation.

This is what transformational government looks like.

Supporting every sector of the economy to roll out training to green itself is such a practical way to transform into a Learning Society – and, as Joseph Stiglitz shows, to gain the economic benefits from lifting our environmental, cultural and social wellbeing.

Training RMA professionals is a great place to start!

It’s all about Learning for Life on Earth.

Interested? Call me for a free 30-minute consultation.


  1. Resource Management Review Panel (2020) New Directions for Resource Management in New Zealand. A report by an independent panel chaired by retired Court of Appeal Judge, Hon Tony Randerson, QC. July 2020. Downloadable from https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/rma/new-directions-resource-management-new-zealand [accessed 30 July 2020].
  2. Joseph Stiglitz (2014) Creating a Learning Society. Columbia University Press.
  3. Clare Feeney (2019) How to Change the World – a practical guide to successful environmental training. Gosbrook Professional Publishing, UK (pages114-115). Available here.
  4. Find out more about Treasury New Zealand’s Living Standards Framework at https://treasury.govt.nz/information-and-services/nz-economy/higher-living-standards/our-living-standards-framework Government’s Living Standards Framework: https://treasury.govt.nz/information-and-services/nz-economy/higher-living-standards/our-living-standards-framework [last accessed 10 August 2020]
  5. Find out more about the reform of vocational education (RoVE) at https://www.tec.govt.nz/ [last accessed on 7 August 2020]. See Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) and Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) at https://www.tec.govt.nz/rove/coves/ and https://www.tec.govt.nz/rove/workforce-development-councils/ [both last accessed on 7 August 2020].
  6. You can see the hologram I developed for Water New Zealand’s stormwater training at https://www.waternz.org.nz/Category?Action=View&Category_id=1055. It’s a 1-page diagram of 11 core training areas encapsulating over 40 specialist training topics.


Other publications