Samoan woman illustration

The voices of people in hard-to-reach communities

The Ministry has carried out research with hard-to-reach communities to help inform the development of a service model to build their financial capability and resilience.

How best to target this group is not a new issue for government (and other) agencies. Many of the known and comfortable solutions do not seem to work well for the hardest-to-reach communities. The solutions to helping these groups are often the trickiest to design, to implement, and perhaps even harder to evaluate for impact.

This research serves as a first step to better understanding the needs of people in hard-to-reach communities, the barriers they experience in building financial capability and the types of supports they may need to improve their financial resilience.

Although this project was focused on financial capability and resilience, we hope that other organisations and sectors can use these insights to inform their work with hard-to-reach communities.

Overview of the research

The approach to the research, the key insights and information about the next steps, are provided below.

Five personas

The research introduces five client and provider scenarios from hard-to-reach communities of people who each have particular needs often not covered by existing Building Financial Capability (BFC) services:

  1. Amena – a vulnerable refugee woman
  2. Tane and Anaru – ex-gang members who are very active in helping people in their community
  3. William – who experiences chronic homelessness
  4. Ngaire – a community worker supported an isolated and rural community
  5. Lea – an ageing Samoan migrant with English as a second language

Key insights

The diversity of experience and knowledge accessed through the research highlighted nine key insights:

  1. Some people hide when the going gets tough.
  2. A person can’t learn or plan when they are in crisis.
  3. Living in crisis can become the norm.
  4. This group has a high exposure to violence and being taken advantage of.
  5. People go to where they feel supported, loved and can get ‘low-friction’ help fast.
  6. Providers of help and support in these communities are often culturally or socially isolated as well.
  7. Many people reject mainstream, government services.
  8. For many people services are inaccessible.
  9. Money management and ad hoc budgeting services are helpful for some people.

Responsive tailoring

We concluded from the research that ‘responsive tailoring of services’ is required to meet the needs of the hardest-to-reach people in our society. For many people, other service responses are needed such as wrap-around, holistic services to address both their financial needs and other multiple disadvantage areas at the same time, but it may be possible that some of their other needs are addressed at a much slower pace and via different approaches.

It should also be noted that people in hard-to-reach communities have varying degrees of financial capability, and require access to a spectrum of support ranging from preventative to intensive. Therefore, a ‘one size fits all’ model will not work with this group.

Thirteen ‘responsive tailoring’ design principles were elicited from the research. We will consider these principles when designing and implementing future BFC Services. The principles are:

  1. Create culturally appropriate, tailored visual and written communication tools.
  2. Support the supporters who may be vulnerable themselves.
  3. Train community trainers and provide back-up support.
  4. Develop and encourage communities of practice.
  5. Celebrate the smallest attempts at change.
  6. Work to protect these people.
  7. Trust the clients’ definition of progress and success in tracking their outcomes.
  8. Understand and design for how the brain impacts on clients’ decision-making and resilience.
  9. Catch people when they are ready to engage and face their problems.
  10. Intentionally and proactively target points of transition to support clients.
  11. Meet people where they are both physically and emotionally.
  12. Allow and celebrate innovation as a means of working with hard-to-reach communities.
  13. Facilitate procurement of funding for vulnerable and culturally or socially isolated providers.

Next steps

The BFC work programme is still in progress with an anticipated date for full roll-out of July 2019. We will be using these insights to inform the co-design of the remaining BFC services and products to ensure that they reach the hardest-to-reach communities in our society.

Feedback and comments

We are keen to hear your insights and ideas, either about the research itself, or how we can better design services for hard to reach communities. Please email us at

NB: It should be noted that the findings from the research cannot be generalised to all of New Zealand’s hard-to-reach communities. This is because the sample size was small and it was not possible to include all hard-to-reach groups. Future research will need to explore how to reach the hardest-to-reach communities of people.