SuPERU release The sustainability of public social research institutions in New Zealand report

In 2014 the Families Commission Act was amended to give the Families Commission a new function alongside its role as advocate for the interests of families (and whānau). In addition to advocacy, the Commission was made responsible for monitoring and evaluating programmes and interventions in the social sector, and providing social science research into key issues, programmes, and interventions across that sector.

To make it clear that it was embarked on a new path, the Families Commission rebranded itself as the Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit, or Superu.

It thus joined a long line of initiatives in New Zealand aimed at boosting the use of research and evidence in the social sector. Few of these past initiatives have survived, and indeed Superu lasted less than three years before it was given notice that it too would be disestablished.

This report was not commissioned to enter into the debate about social science, social research or social investment. Nor was it to fully analyse the reasons for Superu’s demise. Rather, the underlying consultation was seen as a high level sweep of knowledge about a relatively narrow range of past social sector research initiatives, to identify any generic factors contributing to their success or failure. The aim of this report is to inform future initiatives and improve their chances of success.


  1. Stats NZ has pointed out a few inaccuracies and gaps in the report, particularly in the history and progress of the household survey programme and development of the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI). These aren’t major errors but the report will become part of the public record and be referred to in the future, so we are posting these corrections and explanations. This more comprehensive history also has value as a standalone record. Read the correction from Stats NZ here.
  2. On page 63 the report states “In 2012, this new entity was also abolished and the residual functions of science policy and oversight spending transferred to the new Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.  Actual management of public-good type research was transferred to the Marsden Fund under contract with MBIE.  The Marsden Fund grant criteria include social science but do not require applied social research for government departments.”

This paragraph is incorrect, as management of public-good type research was not transferred to the Marsden Fund.  The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) continues to run all science investment funds with the exception of some internationally-focused research initiatives in the ‘Catalyst Fund’, managed by the Royal Society New Zealand Te Aparangi and completely separate from the Marsden Fund.

The  funds originally derived from government departments for ‘social science’ (as described in ‘For whom the bell tolls’) that went into the previous Ministry for Science and Innovation, were transferred to MBIE as part the Heath and Society Fund of $5.4 million a year (in 2014) excluding funds allocated to, and managed by, the Health Research Council under contract to MBIE.

The Health and Society Fund was not for social science per se but focused on research addressing societal issues.  Every year, the setting of investment priorities followed discussions with government social sector agencies, and assessment panels reviewing applications always included government social sector agency representatives.  Social science as a set of disciplines was also expected to be delivered from all six MBIE investment funds.

The Health and Society Fund was amalgamated with the other five topic-focused investment funds into a single fund following the National Statement of Science Investment 2015 and this single fund was rebranded the Endeavour Fund shortly thereafter.

Read the report here.

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