Lessons Learned from Royal Commissions, Inquiries and Reviews

Kia ora and welcome

For the past ten years, the team at Allen + Clarke have been supporting central government deliver successful reviews and inquiries.

Overview of Inquiries in Aotearoa New Zealand

With the announcement of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Lessons Learned from Aotearoa New Zealand’s Response to COVID-19, central government is seeking to strengthen Aotearoa New Zealand’s preparedness for, and response to, any future pandemic. An open inquiry is warranted when the impacts of an issue or policy attract such significant public interest that establishing or restoring public confidence is required. While many state agencies have the power to investigate or review government policy or practice, there are three significant forms of inquiry:

  • Royal Commissions – the most serious investigation into matters of public importance.
  • Public inquiries – for matters of significant public importance that need to be undertaken independently of the government.
  • Government inquiries – established by one or more Ministers to provide authoritative responses on immediate issues.

The role of public inquiries

Any government entity can investigate matters relating to their decisions or operations. Inquiries that are done under the Inquiries Act differ from these in that they are independent and transparent in nature. This transparency is an important aspect of the process, as it allows the public to:

  • freely tell the inquiry members about their experience of the matter being investigated
  • gain insights to how the state has operated and set policy
  • hold the state accountable for responding to the findings and recommendations
  • (re)build confidence in government agencies.

The findings of inquiries can be important for developing policy, (re)allocating resources, and/or avoiding further harm. Correcting wrongdoing and giving people a voice who may have been impacted by state actions or decisions are instrumental in achieving justice.

Our Contribution to Reviews and Inquiries

We’ve built expertise in supporting reviews and inquiries over almost a decade. For example, in 2018 we contributed to the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction. Our role has varied from helping to design and facilitate public engagement, to drafting the report based on what was revealed in the Inquiry.

The inherent public interest in the matters being inquired into can attract a high degree of engagement in them. This was evident in the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction which attracted more than 5,000 submissions.

Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction

Allen + Clarke was galvanised into a support and leadership role within two weeks of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction being launched in 2018. Our team fulfilled a wide range of essential functions for the Inquiry, including:

  • co-leading the Secretariat
  • strategic policy advice
  • research
  • planning
  • design and facilitation of community engagement across 26 locations and online
  • analysis of over 5,000 submissions
  • delivery of several reports, including the key report that was translated to 10 languages.

Crucially, we carried out these functions by maintaining a close working relationship with the Inquiry panel, and remaining flexible and responsive in our overall approach. Flexibility was particularly necessary for this Inquiry that was guided by very broad Terms of Reference, which reflects the complex landscape of addictive substances, and myriad of challenges in maintaining good mental health. We pride ourselves on pragmatically working alongside our clients, and our role in co-leading and supporting this Inquiry is representative of that.

Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Attack on Christchurch Masjidain

Allen + Clarke provided in-house support for the establishment of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Attack on Christchurch Masjidain and ongoing advice to the Executive Director of the Inquiry. We put the necessary tools and resources in place for the Inquiry to begin, including:

  • securing office space and equipment
  • recruitment and on-boarding services
  • design and establishment of policies
  • development of processes and systems
  • financial reporting
  • meeting management services with external and internal stakeholders.

As the Commission finalised its report, we assisted with the report production and closedown activities, including the disposal of records and decisions about public access to them.

Ensuring a Successful Inquiry

Any inquiry, including the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Lessons Learned from Aotearoa New Zealand’s Response to COVID-19, needs to strike a fine balance between enabling flexibility for the inquirers to decide how they will investigate, whilst adhering to the Terms of Reference (ToR). The ToR must be made public, for complete transparency. From our experience supporting inquiries, we’ve found that you can’t be too careful in forming the ToR.

Click here to see the Terms of Reference for the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Lessons Learned from Aotearoa New Zealand’s Response to COVID-19.

The ToR is crucial because they set out key aspects of an inquiry, including the timeframe and the extent and type of engagement. These aspects help to shape public expectations for engagement, transparency of process and the resulting findings and recommendations. It’s imperative that inquiries are set up in a way that provides a strong basis for gathering meaningful evidence and helping determine what went wrong or what could be improved in the future. It’s just as important to ensure that the ToR, the approach to investigation and the engagement of participants reflects Te Tiriti o Waitangi to fullest extent.

We’ve found that the process of inquiries usually comprises of ten phases, regardless of the timeframe.

Lessons Learned From Supporting More Than 17 Reviews and Inquiries

Our experience in supporting inquiries has advanced our knowledge in areas that are significant to the health and safety of all New Zealanders. In facilitating community engagement and analysing submissions, we were fortunate to hear from the communities affected by the issues of the inquiry. These insights continue to inform our work, allowing us to see links between government policies and anticipate the impacts of them on different parts of the community.

Supporting inquiry panels in forming their recommendations based on the findings has also refined our expertise in identifying the ideal impacts of investigations and reviews.

Terms of Reference

Shape everything. The ToR and specifically the timeframe – dictate the approach to evidence gathering, quantum and types, and potential engagement methods e.g., number of interviews.


A carefully designed programme enables the inquiry to meet its completion timeframe, ensures all elements are properly investigated, and engagements are tailored for participants.  Keeping on track is hard!


Often evidence gathering squeezes out time for analysis and deliberations (discussing what the evidence means in context and looking to the future). Balancing probability of likelihood of events against certainty is a common challenge.


Recommendations should be enduring, able to withstand organisational or political change. A few recommendations can be more powerful in creating change than many. The intention of each recommendation must be clear and achievable.


Inquiries are intended to provide accountability and confidence, and to strengthen systems. They are commissioned by the Crown, but should be written for the public.


Inquiries should be established with the end firmly in sight.  The Inquiries Act sets out decisions that are required before the report is delivered, such as the availability of evidence. Planning and resources must be allocated early on.

Our Review and Inquiry Experts

Kelley Reeve

As Executive Director of four Government inquiries since 2013, Kelley has extensive experience in supporting panel members, resource and financial management, programme development and implementation, report publication and team recruitment. Her commitment to high-quality, lasting outcomes, guides Kelley’s way of working.

Matt Allen

As Programme Manager for the 2018 Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, Matt was responsible for leading a team to engage with stakeholders, analyse information, develop findings, and draft the report of the Inquiry and supporting technical documents. Matt’s responsive working style made him an adaptable leader and a trusted advisor to the panel.

Jennifer Locke

Having been involved in five inquiries to date, Jen has extensive experience advising on scheduling, engagement and task management, progress tracking and many other critical secretariat inquiry roles. Jen’s strong organisational skills help to ensure panel members are supported and key milestones met.

Jason Carpenter

The public consultation process for the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction in 2018 was led by Jason. He shaped the approach to gathering and analysing over 5,000 submissions to this Inquiry. Jason carefully formed the approach to this analysis to ensure the key themes and ideas from submissions would be suitable for both the Inquiry Panel and the public.