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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 Did We Do?

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 was to assemble, synthesise and publish information about indicators. It reviewed existing agri-environmental indicator initiatives and their use, identified gaps, and investigated the use of indicators for monitoring and evaluating land and water values. The aim was 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 Indicators Working Group 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 work of this group has shown that although indicator information can be incomplete and imperfect, there is enough current information to support changes in policy, production and marketing practices.
  • This research provided a method to measure community resilience at a point in time using Statistics NZ data, enabling better understanding of the resilience of rural New Zealand.
  • The Indicators Working Group (IWG) tested a framework to measure resilience in 5 dimensions: social, economic, cultural, environmental and institutional.
  • The IWG worked with Treasury, Statistics NZ, MFAT and MPI. Researchers participated 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 Sustainability Dashboard programme to describe using indicators in online 'dashboard' visualisations to show how producers are farming sustainably.
  • Researchers 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.
  • This research 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.

Research Updates

The Matrix Of Drivers 2022: climate change is a much bigger issue than all other issues, with 8% growth since 2019

May 11 2022

What Will Change Farming in New Zealand? Agrifood Experts Rank the Issues, with Climate Change on Top

The latest edition of the ‘Matrix of Drivers’ report finds that primary sector leaders agree ...
Rural Community Hubs

Oct 7 2021

Resilience Indicators Supported MPI's Rural Hubs Initiative

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) established 16 rural community hubs in remote communities over ...
Puzzle with image of a panorama with lost pieces inside

Jul 27 2020

How Can We Connect Farmers’ Actions to See the Big Picture on Improving Water Quality?

Farmers and growers work hard to manage their impact on water quality, changing grazing and ...
Critical International Issues Affecting New Zealand Agriculture

Feb 26 2020

The 34 Influences That Will Drive the Future of Farming

Will overseas food trends and challenges, like the rise of ‘fake meat’ and concerns about ...
What is the Indicators Working Group

Jan 13 2020

How Do We Measure Success? Indicators for a Better Aotearoa

There are many ways to measure progress towards our goals as a country – but ...
What is the Indicators Working Group

Nov 30 2017

Can Indicators of Sustainable Land Use in NZ and the EU Be Compared?

Sustainability indicators are well-recognised for their potential to assess and monitor agricultural systems. A large ...

In the Media

Strengths and challenges facing Heartland communities

Radio New Zealand, 6 May 2019

Around 20 percent of New Zealanders live rurally, but the decisions made about them are predominantly decided by from urban people - so there is a lot of room for a disconnect between the countryside and the policy makers. The results have been published in the book, Heartland Strong - How rural New Zealand can change and thrive. Dr Brown and Dr Kaye-Blake speak with Kathryn Ryan.

Rural-urban divide highlighted in major new study on rural communities

Newshub, 24 April 2019

"One overlooked opportunity is the interest and capability of many rural people, who would like to be engaged and valued in making decisions about rural resilience that directly affect them."


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.
  • 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 circulated to the Government and 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.
  • Multiple workshops with local and central government, industry groups, non-governmental and research organisations have informed 7 individual reports 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


Measuring rural community resilience: case studies in New Zealand and Vermont, USA

Payne, P. R., W. H. Kaye-Blake, A. Kelsey, M. Brown and M. T. Niles
Ecology and Society (January 2021)

Methods for assessing community resilience have focused predominantly on disaster recovery. There is a need for quantitative measurement tools for assessing community resilience to slow-moving change such as rural depopulation or climate change. Our research provides a proof of concept across two diverse contexts, New Zealand and Vermont, USA, that community resilience can be quantified and broken down into dimensions of resilience. We assessed how 8 communities across 2 countries perceive resilience and compared their perceptions with indicators of resilience in the form of official statistics. Resilience indicators were found to be weakly related or unrelated to community perceptions of resilience. This result suggests that the proposed method for measuring resilience can be used across contexts, but that there is not one type of resilience that is the key to higher levels of overall resilience. It also suggests that the two proxy measures of resilience, i.e., community perceptions and indicators, do not provide a consistent picture of resilience, raising the question of which is a more accurate measure.

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.

Identifying resilience dimensions and thresholds: evidence from four rural communities in New Zealand

Penny R. Payne,William H. Kaye-Blake,Kelly A. Stirrat, Ranui A. Ellison, Matthew J. Smith and Margaret Brown
Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses, 2019

Community resilience is a critical determinant of how a community can cope with stressors and disturbances, but has proved difficult to conceptualise and measure. This paper uses a resilience framework that suggests resilience is quantifiable, comprises several dimensions and operates with thresholds or ‘tipping points’. A paired-sample case study of four rural communities in New Zealand was used to test the framework. It was found that indicators of resilience in the form of official statistics were not significantly related to communities’ actual perceptions of resilience (overall). Experts were also unable to accurately predict ‘more’ or ‘less’ resilient communities. Communities’ ratings on individual resilience dimensions were only significantly related to overall resilience when summed. These results suggests that the resilience dimensions are compensatory, and ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in the context of community resilience. The findings raise concerns about how to collect data from rural communities regarding their resilience, for making policy decisions.

When experts disagree: the need to rethink indicator selection for assessing sustainability of agriculture

De Olde E, Moller H, Marchand F, McDowell RW, MacLeod CJ, Sautier M, Halloy S, Barber A, Benge J, Bockstaller C, Bokkers E, de Boer IJM, Legun K, LeQuellec I, Meffield C, Oudshoom FW, Reid J, Schader C, Szymanski E, Sørensen, CAG, Whitehead J, Manhire J
Environment, Devepment and Systainability, May 2016

Sustainability indicators are well recognized for their potential to assess and monitor sustainable development of agricultural systems. A large number of indicators are proposed in various sustainability assessment frameworks, which raises concerns regarding the validity of approaches, usefulness and trust in such frameworks. Selecting indicators requires transparent and well-defined procedures to ensure the relevance and validity of sustainability assessments. The objective of this study was to determine whether experts agree on which criteria are most important in the selection of indicators and indicator sets for robust sustainability assessments. Ranking surveys completed by experts in the Temperate Agriculture Research Network and New Zealand Sustainability Dashboard reveal a startling lack of consensus about how best to measure agricultural sustainability and call for a radical rethink about how sustainability assessments are used to ensure maximum collaboration and trust. The process by which indicators and sustainability frameworks are established could make assessments more transparent, transformative and enduring.


Heartland Strong: How rural New Zealand can change and thrive

Bill Kaye-Blake, Margaret Brown, Penny Payne
Massey University Press, 2019

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.


Pointing the way: Indicators for a better Aotearoa New Zealand

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

This report summarises the programme of work undertaken by the Indicators Working Group and offers a few high-level lessons. The key recommendation is that a joined-up approach that produces harmonised data for collaboratively developed indicators, available from a single source, could provide a stronger evidence base for farmers and growers, communities, researchers and government.

Assembling indicators of market access risks for food exports

Bill Kaye-Blake
Report for Our Land and Water, December 2019

The purpose of this research was to identify and test indicators of the level of consumer interest in specific market drivers. The drivers were previously identified in research by the Matrix of Drivers project. This analysis compares the importance of 7 market access drivers across 5 countries. The results suggest there is little consistency across markets: different drivers are important in different places. Climate change and carbon prices are relatively important, although not in all markets.

Resilience indicators for rural New Zealand towns: Statistical analysis

Bill Kaye-Blake
Report for AgResearch, June 2019

The AgResearch Resilient Rural Communities (RRC) programme engaged PwC to conduct analysis of official statistics for rural areas of New Zealand. The analysis extended earlier work that was based on holding workshops in four rural communities, to have a larger data sample. We obtained data from 308 Area Units from the 2013 New Zealand Census to develop indicators for social, economic, and cultural resilience.

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, with a focus on systems transformation. This report provides a long list of potential indicators and a short,prioritised list of the indicators most relevant for farming systems.

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 (Huntly, Te Kuiti, Taumarunui, Dannekirke) and analysis of data from the 2013 New Zealand Census. 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 have an empirical measure of resilience, both from community and Census sources.

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 describes an expanded set of indicators that can be used to measure progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals and show how they can be incorporated into the TSARA land-use model. The modelling demonstrated the ability to use New Zealand data in the model, and to show trade-offs between environmental and economic indicators.

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, and their potential to support progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 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. This report contains a list of potential indicators that could be used to measure progress towards SDG 2: Zero Hunger (targets 2.4 and 2.5).

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

This report defines an indicator as: "a relevant variable that is measurable over time and/or space that provides information on larger phenomenon of interest and allows comparisons to be made." It found 6 criteria for fit-for-purpose indicators and considered the trade-offs between them: Accepted by stakeholders; Valid; Clearly defined and standardised; Based on available or easily accessible data; Easily communicable; Performance-based.

Stocktake of Indicator Projects

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

This 'stocktake' report identifies and describes 28 projects or programmes that were involved in assembling indicators about agriculture and the environment. 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.

Co-Innovation Leads to High-Impact Indicators

Loretta Garrett (Scion), Anne-Gaelle Ausseil (Manaaki Whenua), Tracy Williams (Plant & Food Research), Estelle Dominati (AgResearch) and John Dymond (Manaaki Whenua)
Report for Our Land and Water, September 2016

This paper was commissioned by the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge to test the hypothesis: “Co-innovation leads to high impact indicators.” The Challenge had already made a clear commitment to deliver its outcomes using co-innovation approaches, involving stakeholders in design and implementation processes to help ensure results are representative, usable and deliver impact. The research team reviewed existing indicator initiatives, assessed current approaches to the design and use of indicator sets, and explored the opportunity for co-innovation to guide the development and implementation of indicators for monitoring and evaluating land and water values. This report was used as a discussion paper at the Oceania Ecosystems Services Forum in March 2017.


Indicators Working Group

Bill Kaye-Blake
Our Land and Water Symposium, August 2019


Heartland Strong: Building rural resilience

Dr Bill Kaye-Blake
Boma Grow Agri Summit, April 2019

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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