Social research by government agencies
In the years after 1945 society was seen as becoming more complex. There was a degree of acceptance that government intervention could solve social problems. This brought increased government social research, collecting information to develop social policy. In the 1950s and 1960s small social research sections were added to the departments of Labour, Justice and Education.
There was increased concern over teenagers’ behaviour and juvenile offending, reflected in the 1954 Mazengarb report (the published results of an investigation into juvenile delinquency). In 1958 a Joint Committee on Youth Offending was established, involving researchers from different government departments.
The 1976 Task Force on Economic and Social Planning highlighted gaps in social research, one of the factors in establishing the New Zealand Planning Council (NZPC) in 1977.
During the 1970s and early 1980s the Town and Country Planning Division of the Ministry of Works carried out social research in the planning processes for large projects. This became more formalised in the late 1970s, with the first comprehensive social-impact monitoring assessment, carried out for the Huntly thermal power project.
Social science, class and Truth
In 1946 educational psychologist Athol Congalton investigated the degree to which a group of secondary-school boys were aware of social-class divisions. He concluded that they, and New Zealanders in general, did have some idea of a system of social classes. This view proved controversial, with the newspaper Truth describing Congalton’s study as ‘a new snooping level in its pernicious probe into the private affairs of the people.’1
Social indicators research
Social indicators research uses a range of statistics, including health, education and crime figures, to understand social changes. In 1976 the Department of Statistics set up a Social Indicators Unit. They published Social trends in New Zealand (1977), compiled from pre-existing data, and carried out a one-off social indicators survey in 1980. Social indicators research went into a 20-year hiatus but was revived in the 2000s.
The New Zealand Planning Council set up the Social Monitoring Group (SMG). The SMG carried out social indicators research and published the report From birth to death, intended to document social trends over time. The SMG produced a series of four more reports from 1989 to 2003.
Social research and the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s
Throughout the 1980s a wide range of social research was carried out by government agencies including the Housing Commission, Department of Labour, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Transport, Department of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Works and Development and Department of Social Welfare.
The economic reforms of the Labour government of 1984–90 had major social impacts. In 1986 the government established a Royal Commission on Social Policy to examine social conditions and recommend appropriate social policy. The Royal Commission’s report involved a considerable body of social research. When released the report was heavily criticised for its variable quality, range of views and lack of organisation. It appears to have had only limited influence on government policy.
In the late 1980s and the 1990s there was a move away from government social research, including social indicator research. This reflected a lack of interest in social research by Treasury and the economic theorists whose ideas drove the reforms.
The Labour government of 1999–2008 placed emphasis on state intervention to promote social wellbeing and reduce social exclusion. This required more social research to determine the causes of social problems and effectiveness of government programmes. The Ministry of Social Development, created in 2001, had a Centre for Social Research and Evaluation. The Families Commission, a stand-alone Crown entity renamed Superu (Social Policy and Research Unit) in 2014, carried out many small-scale, strategic studies. Some social scientists formed their own businesses to carry out contract research for government departments and local and regional governments.
Social research by non-government agencies
The New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) continued to carry out social research. It was made a statutory body in 1945. It remained an independent body funded through research contracts and purchase agreements with government.
In 1958 the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) was established as a non-profit incorporated society. The NZIER had a team of economists, some of whom carried out social research.
A number of church-based groups including Anglican Social Services (the Family Centre Social Policy Research Unit), the Salvation Army, and the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services carried out social research. With the impact of the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s this research was mainly focused on poverty, socially vulnerable groups and the increasing inequality in New Zealand society.