Growing Up Together

— some thoughts for the Citizenship Conversation

by vivian Hutchinson

June 2021 21 min read download as Masterclass PDF

THE CITIZENSHIP CONVERSATION is a starting point for how we change the nature of our communities.

It is the beginning of a learning journey of further conversations that enable us to gather the skills, wisdom and accountabilities that will shape our community selves.

Active citizenship is a form of public intelligence that is constantly figuring out how to get the basic things right. And as a society, we need to be investing in this intelligence.

It is not as though an active citizen just needs to wake up and turn up. We also need to grow up ... and that’s not a conversation that we have been used to having.

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CITIZENSHIP IS THAT part of ourselves that we step into when we choose to serve the things that are beyond ourselves. Our citizenship becomes active when we choose to consider all the things we can do to create the communities we want to live in, and to take care of the things that we value. And sometimes our citizenship also involves the acts of creativity that are about disrupting and transforming the existing systems that are no longer fit for purpose.

Every generation thinks they are a unique generation. But perhaps in these days of climate emergency and species collapse this is a notion that is finally becoming true. Climate and biodiversity are the issues that will be changing everything for our communities. And the decisions we make and the actions we take in this generation will be determining the quality of life and well-being for many generations to come.

The trouble is our mainstream consumer culture has not prepared us for these important decisions and actions. We need to wake up and discover the ways in which we can prepare each other.

Our active citizenship is woken up once we start to answer three important questions. The main purpose of any culture is to remember these questions, and the real job description of our very best leaders, teachers and coaches is to help you answer them.

The first question is: Where is your place? This is the question that is asking you to realise what home means to you ... where do you feel that you belong?

The second question is: What is your story? This is the question that is trying to figure out the narrative that you have already started to write with your life.

And the third question is: What is your contribution to the common good? This is the question where you are challenged to pay attention to those gifts and talents that are special to you, and to find some way of weaving that contribution into your community.

In our consumer culture we are always rushing towards destinations, or towards certainty and satisfaction. But these questions do not quickly lead to arrival. Instead, they are asking you to stay longer with a sense of curiosity and wonder and discovery.

These are initiation questions for a majority culture that has forgotten how to do that job. As such, these questions can end up becoming the makers and shapers of our character and everything that we do.

They invoke a process of maturation and ripening which remakes the child and the consumer and the spectator —into a creator, a caretaker and a changemaker.

And all this happens because communities have got work to do, and this is work for grown-ups.

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OVER THE PAST DECADE there have been many initiatives in Taranaki which have been exploring how to invest in our community competencies. Many of these have been led or supported by a group of active citizens called Community Taranaki, which is an informal network of people making a creative contribution to the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of our province.

There are several significant things that Community Taranaki has been learning while creating our citizen-led initiatives, and these insights continue to shape our local strategies for community development.

They include: focusing on a citizen-led approach to community development initiatives; challenging the distortions of the business thinking that has taken over all our public institutions; and addressing the persistent questions of justice, peace and reconciliation between Māori and Pākehā, the Treaty partners of our nation.

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Community development initiatives need to be anchored in fostering the skills, resources and linkages between active citizens. And these initiatives are also an opportunity for us to change the nature of our conversations.

We live in a world where there are 1,001 major challenges that all seem to be connected and need to be addressed at once. Fostering active citizenship and generous engagement on these issues is not only an effective strategy for making a real difference, it is also probably the most sustainable strategy for learning how to get things right.

In practice, this perspective has not been as obvious as it sounds. Government departments, local councils and philanthropic trusts have all preferred to fund events or launch marketing campaigns that are variously and vaguely explained as “community development”. These events and campaigns are usually prompted by local problems or issues, yet they are often disconnected from existing networks of active citizens who are also trying to make a difference on these challenges.

Community Taranaki has explored a different approach which involves fostering the skills, resources and linkages between active citizens, while also creating the places where we can pay attention to what it looks like when our communities are well, thriving and abundant. This is a perspective that has enabled us to learn from what was actually happening in our communities, focus on the assets and gifts that we share, talk about the missing elements, and explore the possibilities that are trying to emerge.

Community Taranaki’s main initiative for citizen-led community development has been the Masterclass for Active Citizenship. This has been run in collaboration with Tū Tama Wahine o Taranaki, a tangata whenua development and liberation service. The four-month Masterclass learning journey brings together a diverse group of local people to awaken their involvement in civic life, or in hapū and iwi affairs, and to strengthen their skills and abilities to make things better in our communities.


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Several hundred people have been participants so far, coming from church committees, marae committees, sports clubs, service clubs, kaumātua groups, local authorities and social service and economic development agencies. They have been encouraged to turn up not as representatives of these organisations, but as citizens, friends, neighbours and family members.

The main tool of our Masterclass work has been conversation, but our workshops have not just been any old excuse to talk.

We have tried to purposely explore how to host the conversations that matter — the talking that can awaken and affirm our creative role as active citizens and community-builders.

We have been inspired by a comment by the US author Peter Block who said that

“... if we want to change the nature of our communities, then we need to change the nature of the conversations we are having with one another.” — Peter Block

The conversation topics that Block offers in his book Community – the Structure of Belonging formed the initial framework of the dialogue in our workshop sessions. The participants are invited to give a personal keynote on one of the conversation topics, drawing from their own life stories and cultural heritage. We also invite local elders and thought leaders to “stretch” the conversations with their own perspectives from tangata whenua and community development traditions.

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For many, just turning up for a conversation with people who see and think about the world differently can be an uncomfortable and challenging experience. Reaching out to strangers isn’t easy. And what may be less easy is paying attention and giving respect to what might seem to be strange ways of thinking.

But the possibilities that flow from a new conversation really do start with getting over ourselves. When we follow our curiosity and questions, and have the empathy to appreciate a different world-view, then we also get to taste one of the growing-up moments of our collective character.

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We need to address the distortions of business thinking and management processes that have taken over all our public institutions.

Our public lives have fundamentally changed over the last forty years as we have seen a steady colonisation of common assets by private interests and the widespread dominance of business thinking and management practices in all our public and community affairs.

This has come at a definite cost. Our unique cultures of community organising, and our different approaches to co-operation and collaboration on important issues, have been discarded or simply treated with disdain. Consequently, the values and vocabulary of community have faded as its advocacy has been marginalised into silence.

Those of us working in our communities have learned that there are important differences between the business of social services and the art of community development. Yet it is increasingly difficult to interrupt the business fundamentalism of our current times without ourselves falling into a polarizing narrative.

It still needs to be said: the “business model” is not a sufficient world-view to describe our aspirations as people, or to explain the complexities of the communities we create.

The chart above (Regenerating Citizenship and Community) is a way of looking at a mainstream business world-view as compared to a more traditional citizenship and community-building perspective.

It is a chart that could be seen through an oppositional lens — which is a view that would make it much less useful.

We are living in a very unusual period in history when the policies of our mainstream business, government and social institutions are being pushed up onto one side of the page in this chart. It's way out of balance.

In the social service sector, adopting a fundamentalist level of business thinking has proven to be disabling. The by-product of this mind-set is that it turns citizens into clients, and families into queues.

And as our neighbours and friends sink into becoming consumers and dependents, they start to forget the art of interfering in each other’s lives and sorting out their problems for themselves.

We know that this extreme model of doing business is also one of the most expensive ways of addressing our community problems. The economic consequence of this is that there are fewer resources available for creating alternative visions of community development.

There is a definite place for business strategies and the gifts and insights that business people have to share on how to get things done. But we also need to balance this way of thinking with the values and strategies of citizenship and community-building.

By moving our thinking towards the other side of our chart, we can begin to focus on “what’s strong” rather than “what’s wrong”. And from here, we can start to work together to shape the business of our well-being and our common good.

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Our community development initiatives need to acknowledge and address the inter-generational trauma that is still the local legacy of war and the confiscations of Māori land.

For those of us who are inheritors and beneficiaries of communities that are based on the violence and theft of colonial settlement, our sense of citizenship is inevitably linked to the troubles of this history.

It hasn't been a pretty story. It takes a mature nation to step up and act on the issues of justice and redress that are still causing trauma in our communities – so many years after the damage has been done.

We now have over thirty years of experience with formal apologies for breaches of our partnership obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi, establishing co-governance arrangements on resources of national interest, the return of some land and assets, and financial settlements to various iwi and tribal authorities. These compensations have enabled many Māori to begin to repair and rebuild the foundations required for a different future.

But it is clear that the Treaty settlements process has also brought with it a continuing agenda of frustrations and obfuscations. And it has not done enough to address the dark underbelly of racism and white supremacy that still protects the privileges gained from colonial power.

The reality is that there are far too many New Zealanders who have gone through the Treaty settlement process and have been left without peace in their hearts and reconciliation in their minds.

It takes another whole level of maturity for us as citizens to work towards fair and connected communities that do not avoid the historical issues that our national leaders are still trying to resolve.

Our challenge is not just to face up to the facts and consequences of a difficult history. At the same time, we need to create the spaces where we can actively shape the healthy communities that we want to live in together. This type of collaboration requires a different set of skills and attitudes than the ones that have been asked of our leaders as they have worked to address the grievances and negotiate levels of settlement.

In many ways, this important work for peace and reconciliation cannot be left just to the business-as-usual of politicians, government contractors and tribal deal-makers. It needs the awakened engagement of ordinary citizens.

If we really want our country to heal from the conflicts of the past, then everyday people need to make their own sense of how this past is alive and connected to what is happening in the present. This awareness enables our family members, neighbours and friends to have more honest conversations about how we can transform our communities into places that might look and feel very different from how they are today.

This is a citizen-level of reconciliation, and it is worth taking the time to get it right. For it is upon this work that we get to build the authentic foundations of our future communities.

The modern renaissance of arts and culture, sport and business throughout the Māori world is challenging all New Zealanders to create a very different country than that envisaged by the colonial settlers of the 19th century.

We are continuously being invited to step up to a cross-cultural task of community-building. There is a lot to welcome here, and it is going to keep on challenging and astonishing us all.

If we get the foundations right, then our communities can start to regenerate in ways that might be seen as the natural next step for a post-grievance and post-settlement nation.

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NEARLY TWENTY YEARS ago, I was honoured by the Queen for my contributions to New Zealand as a social entrepreneur. I was awarded a Queens Service Medal in recognition of my work in race relations, in social justice, and job creation.

One of the many projects I had started was the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs. At the time I was working with my friend Garry Moore who was the Mayor of Christchurch and, in 1999, he asked me to come to Christchurch to a meeting of district councils and local authorities on governance issues. At this meeting I asked the Mayors to come together and form a Taskforce for Jobs. I was proposing that our country set itself a national goal:

that all young people in our communities will have the opportunity of paid work, or to be in training or education.

To everyone’s surprise, seven Mayors immediately stood up and said: “Yes, we are going to do it!” Several months later, the first meeting of this Taskforce attracted over half the Mayors in New Zealand and, before long, over 95% of the Mayors in our country were participating members.


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Nothing like this had ever happened before in the history of our local government where so many Mayors had come together on a social and economic issue.

And I think it is significant that the call to form the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs did not come from a politician, or existing policy advisers, or from the local government organisations or institutions.

It came from a citizen. It came from someone who didn’t want to live in a country that has no use for a large number of its own young people.

I loved working with the Mayors, and did so for nearly seven years. I was contracted as a consultant and adviser and helped individual Mayors around the country develop their own strategies for taking leadership on employment issues.

Most of the Mayors had obviously different political views from me. They were usually conservative, sometimes extremely so. But they knew the value of jobs and a good livelihood to the well-being of people in their districts. Although the issue of employment was not usually considered to be a direct responsibility of local government, they could see that the issue could certainly benefit from local leadership.

This is where the Mayors and myself found immediate common ground: they also saw themselves first and foremost as active citizens. And they too did not want to be presiding over any place that had no use for a large number of its own young people.

One year, I was helping to organise the annual general meeting of the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs, which is held at the same time as the Local Government conference.

I found myself standing in the foyer of the Aotea Centre in Auckland during one of the coffee breaks of the conference, and there was a man walking around who was a senior partner at a prominent legal firm which had one of the city councils as a client. The law firm was sponsoring the coffee break.

This leading lawyer was talking with a group of Mayors, and he stood engrossed as they told him stories about starting up cadetships and apprenticeship schemes in their councils to employ young people, creating schemes to track young people once they leave school, holding graduation ceremonies for apprentices in order to boost the profile of the trades at a time of skill shortages, and also meeting with government departments and government ministers in order to create plans that would ensure that every young person in New Zealand is either in work or education.

And then these Mayors pointed over in my direction.

The lawyer made a bee-line for me and he asked: “How did you get the Mayors to do this? and, By whose authority do you do this work?”

I replied: “My citizenship.”

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THE CITIZENSHIP CONVERSATION is a catalyst for how communities awaken. It can lead us into inquiries that we haven’t been used to having.

This conversation is how we get to grow up together, and it can shape the public intelligence that helps us get the basic things right. It is the basis upon which we step up to the cross-cultural task of community-building, and it can help us regenerate the values and strategies of a common good.

It can also release a commitment to collective action that is sorely needed right now.



Notes and Links

vivian Hutchinson QSM is a community activist and social entrepreneur who has worked mainly on issues of race relations, social justice, job creation and philanthropy. He is a co-founder of Community Taranaki, and author of How Communities Heal — stories of social innovation and social change (2012). He is also one of the creators of How Communities Awaken - Tū Tangata Whenua - a Masterclass for Active Citizenship which is run in partnership with Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki

First published online in June 2021

This paper Growing Up Together is part of a larger series of essays by vivian Hutchinson entitled How Communities Awaken. For more information, visit

Tū Tama Wahine o Taranaki and Community Taranaki were awarded the ACE (Adult and Community Education Aotearoa) 2020 Award for Community Programme of the Year for the Masterclass for Active Citizenship. For more information, visit

Community Taranaki ... Masterclass for Active Citizenship, Community Circles at the NPDC, Community Action Incubators, for more see

Community Taranaki has pursued a variety of local projects since 2011, and there has been a team of extra-ordinary Taranaki active citizens who have shaped the ideas behind them and helped to make things happen. This group has included Elaine Gill who was a long-time City Councillor and has been a driving force behind so many community groups over many decades; Dave Owens who set up the Great Fathers project which advocates nationally and locally for Dads to have a much closer emotional relationship with their kids; Ngaropi Raumati who is the founder of Tū Tama Wahine o Taranaki who took our Masterclass and challenged us to make it an authentic bi-cultural learning journey; Lynne Holdem who practices as a psychotherapist and has been a driving force behind Supporting Families in Mental Illness in Taranaki and is a national leader of the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists; and Wayne Morris who is a local artist and musician and an international educator in creativity.

Peter Block ... is the author of “Community — The Structure of Belonging” (2008) available at, and is also co-author (with John McKnight) of “The Abundant Community — Awakening the Power of Families and Neighbourhoods” (2012) at For more information on Block and McKnight’s work see

Photopage: Masterclass — MASTERCLASS FOR ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP — Some of the participants in the How Communities Awaken — Tū Tangata WhenuaMasterclass for Active Citizenship in New Plymouth, Taranaki 2011-2019 photographs vivian Hutchinson, New Plymouth District Council, and Jane Dove Juneau

Photopage: Conversations — CONVERSATIONS THAT MATTER — Some of the small group conversations at the How Communities Awaken — Tū Tangata Whenua — Masterclass for Active Citizenship in the Whanau Room of Tū Tama Wahine o Taranaki, New Plymouth, Taranaki 2011-2019 (middle left) A Guide to the Masterclass for Active Citizenship (2020) published by Tū Tama Wahine o Taranaki and Community Taranaki. photographs by vivian Hutchinson

chart "Regenerating Citizenship and Community" ... created by vivian Hutchinson for Community Taranaki in 2017 – many of the ideas and concepts here have been influenced by the work of John McKnight / ABCD The Asset-Based Community Development network / Paul Born and the Tamarack Institute / and Cormac Russell of Nurture Development

New Zealand Mayors Taskforce for Jobs ... an archive of the collaboration between The Jobs Research Trust and the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs from 1999 to December 2005 can be found at

Photopage: Taskforce — THE MAYORS TASKFORCE FOR JOBS and THE JOBS RESEARCH TRUST — (top) some of the members of the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs ... working towards the “zero waste” of New Zealanders. The Taskforce was launched by Mayor Garry Moore in Christchurch on 6-7 April 2000. photos by vivian Hutchinson. (middle) The Mayors Taskforce meeting at the Beehive cabinet table 2nd October 2002 with Prime Minister Helen Clark, and the Deputy PM and Minister of Economic Development Jim Anderton. photo by NZ Government (bottom left) The Jobs Letter, essential information on an essential issue ... published fortnightly by The Jobs Research Trust from 1994-2006. (bottom right) the active citizens of The Jobs Research Trust (left to right) Rodger Smith, vivian Hutchinson, Dave Owens, and (seated) Jo Howard. photo by Penny Howard.

ISBN 978-1-92-717633-7 This paper is licensed for distribution under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License