GDS Index

Part of the McGuinness Institute’s CivicsNZ project

New Zealand’s government department strategies under the microscope

The GDS Index aims to illustrate how New Zealand might strengthen government department strategies (GDSs) to be more effective, responsive, measurable, comparable and durable through public consultation, engagement and ownership. If government departments make the content of GDSs more useful, these strategies’ users will be better able to assess their quality and, where appropriate, to work with government to deliver better outcomes more cost-effectively.

Government Department Strategies Index Handbook – He Puna Rautaki ranks each of the GDSs in terms of essential information. The GDS Index Handbook does not rate the strategy as such; it rates the strategy document’s provision of essential information and clarity of communication, so readers can then assess the strategic approach for themselves. Each GDS is reviewed against the Scorecard to determine how well it articulates each of six elements. The Institute regularly updates the GDS Index Handbook so that information can be measured, analysed and tracked over time.

If you have any suggestions of points of clarification, please email us at

Definition of a Government Department Strategy

GDS Index definition


The Scorecard is used to assess the content of a GDS document and whether this content is sufficient for a reader to assess the quality of the strategy. It is not used to assess the quality of the strategy.

GDS Index Scorecard

2023 GDS (in progress)

In 2024, the Institute is updating the GDS Index to 31 December 2023. As part of this process, the team has done some initial search for any potential GDSs to add to our dataset for the 2023 GDS Index. A copy of this work is provided below as an Excel spreadsheet. This will be updated as we receive responses to our OIA to departments (dated 29 January 2024).

The Draft Master Excel contains a sheet for each department, where each row represents one GDS. The rows in blue are copied directly from the 2021 GDS Index, while the rows in green represent potential GDSs that the Institute has found by reviewing department websites.

Draft Master Excel, Version 1 (dated 29 January 2024)

2021 GDS Index


Government Department Strategies Index Handbook – He Puna Rautaki

June 2022
Download (PDF, 20 MB)

Working Paper GDS Index Methodology


The Methodology explains why the Institute produces and publishes a GDS Index and how, in detail, the 2021 GDS Index was created.

Download (PDF, 12 MB)


GDS Index Handbook Image

Complete Lists of GDSs

The Lists paper provides different lists of GDSs in the 2021 GDS Index. 

Download (PDF, 15 MB)


The Scoring paper provides the detailed scoring and ranking for each GDS within the 2021 GDS Index.

Download (PDF, 7 MB)


The Analysis paper outlines the main observations from the Institute’s most recent analysis of GDSs in the 2021 GDS Index.

Download (PDF, 15 MB)

Working Paper GDS Index Methodology

Best Practice

The Best Practice paper is intended as a guidance document for policy analysts when preparing strategy documents.

Download (PDF, 12 MB)

Strategy Maps

The purpose of the Strategy Maps paper is to catalogue and collate all strategy maps that the Institute has identified within GDS documents during research for the 2021 GDS Index.

Download (PDF, 15 MB)

Analysis of Climate Change

The Climate Change Analysis paper outlines the explicit and implicit mentions of climate change within GDS documents from the 2021 GDS Index. 

Download (PDF, 16 MB)

Working Paper GDS Index Methodology

Analysis of Poverty

The Poverty Analysis paper outlines the explicit and implicit mentions of poverty within GDS documents from the 2021 GDS Index. 

Download (PDF, 3 MB)

Letters to MPs and Chief Executives of government departments

Letter to MPs

Download (PDF, 284 KB)

Letter to CEs of government departments

Download (PDF, 217 KB)

Previous GDS Indexes


2018 GDS Index
On 2 May 2019 the Institute published the 2018 GDS Index. For the first time the Institute also published the Government Department Strategies Handbook – He Puna Rautaki (see below). At the 2019 launch Wendy McGuinness discussed why government department strategies are important corporate documents, the process the Institute took when conducting the research, and the obstacles and challenges experienced. This work is intended to contribute to a broader discussion about how to build strategic capability in the public service. See Wendy’s presentation slide show from the launch.

Of the 413 GDSs that have appeared on the 2018 GDS Index, 265 have been archived. The remaining 148 GDSs are operational.

These 148 GDSs in operation as at 31 December 2018 have been rated against the Scorecard. The highest-scoring GDS on the 2018 GDS Index was A Biosecurity Science Strategy for New Zealand (October 2007), published by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The publications for the 2014 GDS Index, 2015 GDS Index and 2018 GDS Index can be found below.