Helen Chapman’s experience provides support for the idea that in order to plan for the future you have to understand the past.
The University of Otago History graduate wrote her Honours year dissertation on the dismantling of Dunedin’s tramway system in the 1940s and ’50s, and the political process that led to that decision. Helen’s interest in this topic was sparked while she was holidaying in Europe.
“There were trams all over the place in Europe, and I knew that we had had tram systems in New Zealand once, but that they had been dismantled. The question was: ‘Why did they do this? What was the rationale behind it?’”
After completing her degree, Helen found employment almost immediately, working as a policy advisor for the Ministry of Transport in Wellington. Her role at the ministry involves analysing policy, advising ministers, speaking with stakeholders and helping to craft new legislation.
Helen’s studies have given her valuable insight into the policy problems she is dealing with in her new role, especially as the issues faced by councillors in the 1930s were not entirely different from the issues faced by legislators today.
Helen outlines an example of using the lessons of the past to inform and shape the future. “Many of these issues are ongoing,” she says. “For example, the fact that the tramway system required a lot of capital input in order to be renewed and that many people wondered whether this was actually the best value for money is something you could look at in terms of what’s happening with rail now.”
With the public purchase of KiwiRail and ongoing issues around public transport, road safety and sustain-ability, there are no stop signs in sight for the future of quality policy advice.