Change has arrived at Willis Street Work and Income Office in Wellington and this is only the start.  Four service delivery sites around the country are trialing a new front of house model aiming to create a more welcoming and responsive environment that puts people at the centre of service delivery.

Along with beneficiary advocates, a social worker, and community services providers, I was invited to the Willis Street Office (one of the four sites) and to the design hub where new fit-outs and furniture for sites are tested.  This work is one of a suite of work programmes led by the Ministry of Social development (MSD) to transform our social welfare system and put heart back into front line services.

Change starts at the top

Minister Carmel Sapuloni, Minister for Social Development, has made clear the dignity of every adult and child walking through a Work and Income Office matters. ‘It can be difficult to ask for help. Creating a friendlier, warmer environment helps. Giving people more privacy, a space that’s welcoming and inclusive for everyone, and creating a child-friendly zone for children to learn and play is important”.

Who had input into the design?

Broad consultation with users, advocates representing distinctive groups i.e the disability community, and community service providers sits underneath the design of the fit-outs currently being trialed.  A good example of a seemingly effective co-design process between government and NGOs.

Haere mai Welcome: some initial first impressions

The before and after photos of the Willis Street Office speaks volumes about the progress made by MSD.  It is still early days working through what works for different sites, but the signs of positive change look good.  Here are some of the things that stood out for me on my visit.










  • First impressions – I received a welcoming hello from security guards as I walked straight into the office. I was disappointed to see them wearing a uniform, but I understand replacing a uniform with a polo shirt and pants is still to be rolled out.
  • Concierge desk – A young person stood behind the Haere mai welcome desk ready to greet people as they entered and to direct them to where they needed to be. A great addition to the front house area, providing an immediate point of contact as people walk into the service site.
  • A spot of colour to lift spirits – The bright green walls, together with the scattering of orange chairs lifted the whole waiting area, making it feel warm and bright and a pleasant place to wait. Great job!
  • Youth art – The inclusion of local youth art on the walls was a nice touch and made the environment feel inclusive to young people seeking support.
  • Seating arrangement – I was impressed by the seating arrangements. Rather than rows of chairs, there were clusters of chairs and sofas to create a range of separate waiting spaces. Some smaller to create quieter spaces and others larger and more public.  The addition of plants also helped to achieve these different spaces.  And our seniors were not forgotten with the provision of appropriate seating and a separate space.
  • Carpet – The use of different coloured carpet helped to demarcate specific sections of the service site i.e. reception, child’s space.
  • Water cooler – Any church congregation would say a cup-of-tea breaks down barriers but providing a water cooler is a good start.
  • Children’s area – I noticed a table on which there was a few reading books, an i-pad which (I was assured) had educational games on it, and an etch a sketch which children love. For younger children I saw an awesome chalk table to play at. More children’s reading books could be added to this space. New Zealand has an array of outstanding children’s writers so there are no excuses here.
  • Kiosk area – I noticed a separate area where computers are available for people to use, with Wi-Fi access and charging ports.
  • Toilets – bathroom facilities are available at 14 services centers. Where they are not available Work and Income staff will direct them to the nearest available facility and hold their place. This is no doubt a welcomed step forward to crossing legs or missing an appointment.