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Incentives for Change

Indicators Working Group

Investigating the use of indicators to help the primary and public sector meet local, national and international reporting requirements

6 criteria for good indicators

What Are We Doing?

Indicators are used by the primary sector to benchmark elements of performance, such as water and chemical use, and track progress towards goals. Local and central governments use indicators to set policy and measure against targets.

The Indicators Working Group’s role is to assemble, synthesise and publish information about indicators. It has reviewed existing agri-environmental indicator initiatives and their use, identified gaps, and is investigating the use of indicators for monitoring and evaluating land and water values. The aim is to find the right indicators and enable and support their use.

This research will help the primary and public sector meet local, national and international reporting requirements, and solve problems resulting from overlapping information needs and multiple ways of measuring.

The group has worked extensively with local and central government, industry groups, non-governmental and research organisations, scientists and representatives of rural communities to develop and promote the use of indicators.

How Can The Research Be Used?

  • The Indicators Working Group (IWG) participates in The Treasury’s Wellbeing Group, which shares information with 14 public sector agencies and private sector organisations about wellbeing, sustainability and resilience indicators.
  • The IWG worked with the Greater Wellington Regional Council to improve their environmental monitoring programme by better integrating the collection of scientific data with the policy process.
  • The IWG prompted discussions at the Ministry for the Environment on how the Ministry’s monitoring might fit into a wider monitoring system, which included discussions with several regional councils on a shared environmental monitoring system.
  • The IWG worked with the Resilient Rural Communities programme in AgResearch to conduct workshops with rural communities and deliver results of the research to the TempAg international research network. The research has been published in a peer-reviewed journal and circulated to the Government and ministries. The research was the basis of advice to government regarding the 1 Billion Trees programme and the M. bovis eradication effort.
  • The IWG held participatory design workshops with government, industry and research stakeholder to develop indicators for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The indicators are informing analysis of potential pathways for achieving these goals. The work informed advice to Statistics NZ during the Indicators Aotearoa consultation process.
  • The IWG produced a proof-of-concept dataset that is publicly available on, demonstrating the possibility of hosting research data for general access on a public data repository.

In the Media

Heartland Strong: How rural New Zealand can change and thrive

Edited by Margaret Brown, Bill Kaye-Blake and Penny Payne

This important book, based on years of research, shows how, and provides useful insights into, the ongoing process of change in rural communities and the resources on which they draw to support their resilience. It offers a positive message and blueprints for progress.


Community Involvement

  • Workshops were held in Huntly, Taumarunui, Te Kuiti, Dannevirke and Masterton, with people who have views on rural resilience, including farmers, teachers, local government, nurses, social workers, church and business leaders. Data was gathered for analysing possible thresholds for community resilience and assessing resilience. This information was reported to the Minister for Statistics James Shaw and shared with the Ministry for Primary Industries, Statistics NZ and The Treasury.
  • A workshop at MBIE to present our work on indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals, April 2018, was attended by policy makers from several government agencies.
  • Multiple workshops with local and central government, industry groups, non-governmental and research organisations have informed 7 individual projects focused on understanding how indicators are being used, and how they could be used to influence land use practice and meet New Zealand’s international obligations.

Team Snapshot

Research Outputs


Testing indicators of resilience for rural communities

William Kaye-Blake, Kelly Stirrat, Matthew Smith, Simon Fielke
Rural Society, August 2019

The resilience of rural communities is a concern, both in itself and for its effects on the agricultural sector. This article investigates the possibility of using official statistics to measure community resilience. The analysis compared self-reported ratings among residents of four rural communities in New Zealand, against indicators from official data sources. The overall self-reported resilience ratings tended to match estimations of resilience based on official statistics. By showing it is possible to identify resilience thresholds for key indicators, the research provides a method for improving quantification of community resilience and offers estimates of the extent of resilience at a given point in time.


Indicators for the Future: Lessons from Next Generation Systems

Bill Kaye-Blake
Report prepared for Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, June 2019

The Indicators Working Group worked with Our Land and Water's Next Generation Systems (NGS) researchers to prioritise and evaluate indicators. NGS involves researchers working with entrepreneurial farmers and land managers, taking an open view of land use with a focus on systems transformation. This perspective adds to our understanding of the use of indicators in the primary sector.

Targets for Sustainable and Resilient Agriculture (TSARA): Indicators and modelling for the Sustainable Development Goals

R. Vibart, K.A. Stirrat, W. Kaye-Blake, M. J. Smith, M. Brown
Report prepared for AgResearch, June 2018

This report presents an overview of the progress made in the 2017-2018 fiscal year of AgResearch’s collaboration in TSARA. The project is conducting two parallel workstreams. This report outlines the process of collaborating with stakeholders to identify potential indicators that can be used to measure progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and assesses the indicators identified.

Indicators in the New Zealand Sustainability Dashboard: An Overview of their Structure and Application

W. Kaye-Blake and J. Whitehead
Report for Our Land and Water, March 2018

This report outlines the concept and structure of the New Zealand Sustainability Dashboard (NZSD), describes the NZSD sustainability indicators framework and details how the individual industry dashboards relate to the wider NZSD project. This report describes the structure of these specific industry dashboards, giving particular attention to how each dashboard uses sustainability indicators, and assesses the feasibility of incorporating new indicators into each dashboard. In addition to the industry dashboards, the NZSD has worked to develop tools to help facilitate the use of sustainability indicators.

Testing indicators of resilience for rural communities

W. Kaye-Blake, K. Stirrat, M. Smith, S. Fielke
Report for Our Land and Water, November 2017

The resilience of rural communities – their ability to adapt to change over time – was investigated through community workshops in four rural communities. The study looked at what residents reported as driving resilience and showed that economic and institutional drivers were more influential than social, cultural, or environmental drivers. Overall, this matched resilience estimations based on official statistics. This shows it is possible to identify resilience limits for more and less resilient communities.

Stocktake of Indicator Projects

W. Kaye-Blake
Report for Our Land and Water, September 2017

A stocktake of existing work on agri-environmental indicators relevant for the Our Land and Water Challenge. Some of these focus on environmental linkages, while others focus on economic and production data. The projects listed cover Government projects, industry projects and science projects.

Signs to look for: Criteria for developing and selecting fit for purpose indicators

W. Kaye-Blake, M. Smith, K. Stirrat
Report for Our Land and Water, October 2017

A large amount of research has gone into developing new metrics and indicators, but very little of this has been focused on defining what indicators are, and there are a wide range of views on the key criteria for fit-for-purpose indicators. This guide categorises and selects the most important and useful of these criteria and considers the trade-offs between them.

Targets for sustainable and resilient agriculture (TSARA): a New Zealand perspective

R Vibart, M.J. Smith, W. Kaye-Blake, M. Brown. K.A. Stirrat, A. Mackay
Report prepared for AgResearch, June 2017

Targets for sustainable and resilient agriculture (TSARA) is a European research programme investigating land uses and changes to land uses, their potential to support progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and pathways to defined future end states. AgResearch is participating in the TSARA programme by using New Zealand as a non-European case study for additional modelling. This report represents the first phase of AgResearch’s collaboration in TSARA. It describes the data required to parameterise the existing Rothamsted Research/TSARA model for New Zealand conditions, and evaluates the feasibility of providing sufficient data to model New Zealand pathways successfully.


Testing indicators of resilience for rural communities

W. Kaye-Blake, K. Stirrat, M. Smith, S. Fielke
New Zealand Agricultural and Resource Economics Society Conference, October 2017

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