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The Policy Implications of Diversity

By Professor Jonathan Boston, Deputy Director, Institute of Policy Studies,
School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) and presented to the NZ Diversity Forum, 23 August 2005, Te Papa, Wellington, with the aid of Power-point slides published here, initially without its reference slides.


1. Introduction
2. The meaning of diversity
3. The value of diversity
4. Measuring diversity
5. Patterns of diversity in New Zealand
6. The policy implications of diversity
7. The way forward
8. Conclusion


1. Cross-Cutting Issues Project by Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) for Departmental Chief Executives. Two current topics:
- Diversity
- Pacific

2. Diversity project – series of workshops, discussions and papers led by Dr Amanda Wolf, and including Dr Paul Callister, of the VUW School of Government.

3. Many issues, some of which are very complex – only possible to address a few in this session

4. Diversity is a two-edged sword – can be a source of economic strength, cultural vitality and national pride, but also the basis for social conflict, racial tension and political instability …
“Diversity is what makes life interesting, but also difficult.”
Workshop Participant (2002)

The Meaning of Diversity

“Diversity is itself diverse”
(Levin & Rittel, 1994)
‘Diversity’ has a multiplicity of meanings, types and connotations; has both descriptive and prescriptive meanings

In broad terms, diversity refers to conditions or circumstances that are varied, heterogeneous, multifarious or mixed; sometimes it is associated with divisions, divergence, disparities, inequality, etc. Typically, it is contrasted with uniformity, unity, homogeneity, sameness, conformity, convergence, equality, etc.

As a descriptive term, ‘diversity’ is often used as shorthand or a code for social and cultural diversity, and especially ethnic or racial diversity; but there are many different types and forms of diversity – e.g. socio-economic, family and value diversity

The Value of Diversity

1. ‘Diversity’ is currently a fashionable word with primarily positive connotations and associations, but there are exceptions and conflicting views (e.g. concerning the merits of family diversity)

2. ‘Diversity’ is also being used as an ethical principle to guide action – i.e. diversity is regarded as desirable or valuable and thus should be encouraged (by the state):
- Biodiversity enhances the resilience of ecosystems
- Cultural diversity enhances the quality of life, by expanding our opportunities and enriching our experience
- Ministry of Education lists ‘diversity’ as one of a small number of core values to be taught by schools

3. But diversity is not an unqualified good, and the principle of diversity is not universally applicable
- A key question: under what circumstances is diversity morally relevant and when is the pursuit of more diversity an ethical imperative?
- But paradox: the more diverse our ethical views, the more difficult it will be to agree on an answer to this question (and many other questions)

Measuring Diversity

1. There are well-established criteria for measuring diversity, but such criteria are often difficult to apply, thus making it hard to compare different circumstances or determine whether the level or pattern of diversity is changing

2. Also, the analytical tools available to social researchers often risk masking important variations within a population (e.g. due to the use of averages)

3. Three key criteria for measuring social diversity:

- The number of subsets into which a population is (or can be) divided
- The relative size of the subsets (more equal means more diverse)
- The degree of difference within the subsets

4. The three measures may move in different directions

Patterns of Diversity in NZ

1. Is NZ becoming more diverse? If so, in what ways and with what consequences? What does the future hold?

2. Many potentially relevant dimensions:
- Ethnic mix
- Values and attitudes
- Religious affiliations
- Languages
- Income and wealth
- Socio-economic status
- Educational attainment
- Family structures
- Social geography
- Employment and working conditions

3. Only possible to consider a few dimensions

4. Need care in interpreting official data – ethnic prioritization by Stats NZ affects ethnicity counts and masks dual and multiple ethnicity

Slides were included in the original presentation, including:

- Foreign-born population as a percentage of total population 2000-01
- Proportion of NZ population by place of birth 1981 and 2001
- Distribution of live births by ethnicity of child in single and combination groups, year ended 31 December 2003
- Ethnic groups within total Maori ethnic group, 2001
- Ethnic groups within total European ethnic group,2001
- Projected ethnic population aged 0-14, total counts, 2001-2021||


- Available evidence points to NZ becoming more diverse in a number of important respects, but this is not true for all measures of social diversity

- This does not imply that NZ society is becoming more deeply segmented or polarized, but there could be risks if social cleavages become more intense and strongly reinforcing (cf. overlapping or cross-cutting)

- Public attitudes differ on the merits or otherwise of current patterns of diversity

The Policy Implications of Diversity

1. Increasing social, religious and cultural diversity poses numerous philosophical, political and policy issues

2. At a fundamental level, a key question is: how should we live together?

- Should we pursue ‘assimilation’ or ‘integration’, or alternatively some kind of ‘pluralism’, ‘multiculturalism’ and the celebration of diversity; or should we seek a bit of both integration and pluralism?

- What are the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi and the quest for ‘biculturalism’ for public policy in NZ?

- What are the limits to tolerance? What criteria should we use to determine when a cultural or religious practice is unacceptable? Who should decide? And how should the state respond when the values of a particular group are in conflict with widely agreed norms?

3. Note that some types of diversity are the direct result of government policy (migration, tax, welfare, etc.), but many types of diversity are not amenable to direct (or indirect) government control

4. Governments can respond to diversity in a variety of ways, using a range of policy instruments – e.g. prevention, discouragement, encouragement and enforcement

5. Diversity brings benefits, but also imposes costs

And therein lies one of the central dilemmas of political life in developed societies: sharing and solidarity can conflict with diversity. This is an especially acute dilemma for progressives who want plenty of both solidarity (high social cohesion and generous welfare paid out of a progressive tax system) and diversity (equal respect for a wide range of people, values and ways of life). The tension between the two values is a reminder that serious politics is about trade-offs.
David Goodhart (2004)

Diversity poses many difficult policy issues:

A. Education:

What should the policy of the state be towards faith-based schools, and should there be any limits on what they can include in their curricula?

- Should the state seek to constrain what is worn by students in (public) schools?

- France has banned certain religious symbols and customs in public schools – but are such things incidental or intrinsic to who we are, and can we really leave them behind at the school gate?

- Sweden requires female students to wear normal sports gear for sports classes, which conflicts with the customs of certain religious groups

B. Treatment of women:

- What should the policy of the state be towards the treatment of women by certain minority groups?

- Should the state enforce non-discriminatory policies and gender equality in all spheres of public and private life?

- Is equality of opportunity a vital principle and if so, what are the policy implications?

C. Urban settlement:

- Should we seek to avoid different cultural groups leading very separate, parallel and potentially polarised lives in more-or-less segregated communities?
- How do we ensure that the different cultures can both sustain their distinctiveness while also mixing with each other?

D. Freedom of speech:

- What limits should we place on what people can do and say?

- What self-restraint should be exercised by those wishing to comment on the cultural practices of others with which they strongly disagree?

- Note that protecting liberty may sometimes entail the active suppression of illiberal movements and ideologies

- Preserving ‘value diversity’ in the public realm is not possible where illiberal movements dominate public life

E. Preferential treatment:

- Diversity is sometimes used as an argument to justify the preferential treatment of a particular group

- For instance, in the educational arena, it is argued that diversity enhances the quality of the learning environment, thus bringing educational benefits, not merely to disadvantaged groups but also to the wider student body

- But the diversity argument for preferential treatment is less strong than the social justice argument

- Since the Orewa speech by Don Brash in early 2004 there has been a strong reaction against policies that involve preferential treatment for Maori (and other minority groups); unfortunately the public debate has been very limited and one-sided

F. Institutional Design:

What are the implications of increasing diversity for the way we design and manage our public institutions and give expression to our changing national identity?
- Constitutional design – head of state, separate ethnic representation
- The nation’s flag
- The nature and content of public ceremonies
- The use of religious symbols, language and practices (such as blessings and prayers/karakia)
- The content of oaths and affirmations
- The names of major landmarks and public institutions
- Which events should be marked by public holidays?
- Should ‘spiritual values’ be recognized in legislation as relevant to the exercise of public power?

G. Delivery of government services:
- “One size fits all” increasingly untenable
- Greater need for varied and specifically tailored services
- Greater need for more flexible delivery
- Greater need for consultation, partnership
- Implications for devolution of control, composition of workforce

H. Other Issues:
- Security
- Universal v targeted assistance
- Cultural competence

Poor handling of the issues raised by diversity poses political and social risks:
- The escalation of discontent, resentment, racism & hatred
- Increasing acts of intimidation and racially-inspired violence
- Negative political responses to certain minority groups

Note overseas experience:
- The advocacy and use of violent means to achieve political ends
- The descent into ‘hell’: political instability, social turmoil and ethnic ‘cleansing’/genocide – Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan, etc.

The Way Forward

1. Wise and sensitive political and community leadership is critically important:
- Our political leaders need to foster cultural understanding, partnership and good will, not exploit cultural differences for short-term political gain
- Our community leaders (including religious leaders) need to encourage cross-cultural and inter-faith dialogue, seek common ground & build relationships based on trust and mutual respect
- More generally, those in positions of power and responsibility need to focus on our shared humanity, the value of human life and human dignity, the pursuit of the common good, and the upholding of fundamental human rights and liberties

2 Need to work through our differences and deal with the inevitable policy tensions in a constructive manner:
- Need for honesty, good faith & mutual respect
- The process is important: openness, consultation, dialogue & participation
- Must be willing to confront the ‘hard’ issues
- Need to recognize our own distinctive historical, cultural and constitutional and Pacific context – overseas models and experience are useful but we have to chart our own path
- Importance of being good international citizens
- All sides need to be willing to find solutions and to compromise


1 NZ is becoming more culturally and socially diverse

2 This raises far-reaching policy questions

3 As diversity increases, we will need to work harder to foster social cohesion, social inclusion and racial tolerance, and redouble our efforts to secure social justice and cultural justice

4 This includes building a strong commitment across all cultures to a set of core, non-negotiable, humane values, such as those embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Updated 29 August 2005


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