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Know your legal eligibility

Gov Zero

Governments provide a variety of financial help to people in need, with the eligibility/entitlement rules largely defined in legislation. But understanding those rules is incredibly hard, especially when under duress. This project is a community and social sector collaboration on a public, anonymous and interactive service that helps people know their legal rights to services & to an explanation from government, built upon a world first community reference implementation of legislation as code.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

This project aims to help address social injustice and improve wellbeing by supporting people, communities and the social services sector to better understand the rights enshrined in legislation. This service, provided by grassroots community organisations, empowers citizens and residents in Aotearoa New Zealand to engage with and gain access to the benefits and support they are entitled to, and to invoke their legal right to an explanation about any decision affecting them, which is a special right under the New Zealand Official Information Act (Section 23). This transparency and accountability helps address the usual power imbalance between departments and people at their most vulnerable.

The innovation in this use case is in two parts: 1) how we work and 2) what we are delivering.

On how we work, we established as a completely virtual group, drawn together by a shared passion to address injustice, influenced by the Taiwanese Govzero movement, but adopting a Te Ao Māori approach to establishing our community, governance, authorities and culture of operations. Our establishment is values based, and we intentionally work inclusively and openly, including adopting a completely transparent fiscal model using Open Collective. We are also working openly with Citizens Advice Bureau and Community Law, both of whom support hundreds of thousands of people every year, providing both a real set of needs and challenges, as well as a pathway to rapid adoption and impact for the nations most vulnerable. How we work represents a cross sector, cross border and completely open and transparent model for addressing wicked policy problems, and we look forward to feeding insights and policy improvements into government as they emerge.

On what we are delivering, legislation as code provides much needed digital public infrastructure that anyone can rely upon as a reliable reference model, for services, policy modelling, testing or any other purpose. No digital legislation system would be considered authoritative (including ones run by departments) as only the human readable legislation is currently passed by Parliament, and we don't know of any systems tested in court in NZ. So we hope this project will not only provides a traceable and trustworthy foundation for people to know their legal eligibility to government services (independently from the confusing mashup of legislation and operational policies found in most government services), but also provides some social infrastructure for testing, modelling and reforming government policies, where anyone can get involved and propose policy options for consideration.

The project includes:
1) A publicly available and open source repository of Rules as Code, starting with the Social Security Act, but intended to continue to grow until all prescriptive legal rights are included and kept up to date by the community over time. We used openfisca, the French Government rules as code tool, which is the best suited to codifying a reference model of prescriptive and financially calculated laws, like social services and taxation. It is available at
2) A first service built on the legislation as code, which we call "Know your benefits". The MVP service is being rolled out by December 2022, and will continue to expand and deliver new functionality through 2023.

Whilst our initial goal is to support people to get the help they are legally entitled to, we are also hopeful our community development and project work will provide a pathway and enabler to more participatory policy making that is more test driven, while enabling and empowering New Zealanders to engage with government departments more confidently, rather than from a position of fear or disempowerment. We also hope such a focus on legal entitlements might encourage departments to build more explainability into their software systems, especially with the increasing use of automated decision making systems starting to emerge. Such systems are rarely explainable which creates enormous issues for accountability and access to justice. Our community repository of legislation as code gives everyone a chance to learn about and test their legal rights with any system.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

The project is innovative in how we work, what we do, and through innovating with the service itself:

1) A genuinely multi-sector approach to addressing major problems, with a combination of voluntary and funded contributors, working together best by building social infrastructure based on an Indigenous knowledge system.

2) We are building the world's first community repository of legislation as code, which will both support great social services, but will also create a means to rebalance power, improve access to justice and encourage a more collaborative and open approach to both law making, and to the public services based on laws.

3) In the "Know your benefits" service, we use interactive stories so people can see what benefits a range of personas are likely to be eligible for, encouraging them to "play" with the rules and learn what might be. Often social services only tell you want you are eligible for today, but don't help people better plan their lives and choices.

What is the current status of your innovation?

As of the date of submission (October 2022), this project has entered the final phase of delivering the MVP, which is due by the end of the year. We gained a first round of funding from the Cardano community to deliver the MVP, and to deliver a reference implementation of legislation/regulation as code, along with a full suite of documentation and tools to help anyone encode their own regulation/legislation as code as public infrastructure. We have:

  • delivered an evidence based design brief for the service
  • established the architecture and establishment of the system
  • encoded the first 5 benefits in openfisca with robust and publicly available law as code infrastructure
  • created the partnerships with two major social service providers as first users of the system
  • started building the MVP service itself

Once the MVP service is delivered with the first 5 benefits, we will launch it for use, including with a user survey to prioritise expansions and all benefits into the service.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

  • Individuals from different disciplines and background, bringing technical, legal, policy, design, analysis, content management, etc to the table, building a civil society entity capable of many such projects, inspired by the Govzero movement in Taiwan.
  • Digital Legal Systems Lab & Openfisca.
  • Social service expertise: Citizens Advice Bureau & Community Law hope to adopt the service to help clients.
  • Financial & in kind support from Salsa Digital, Catalyst Cloud, the Cardano community.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Citizens Advice Bureau & Community Law have thousands of volunteers who need any help they can get to support clients, so the "Know your benefits" service has an immediate audience & a need to fill.

Any New Zealander will also be able to use the service, and will be able to get better informed about their legal rights, including to benefits, and their right to an explanation from government.

The collective have a goal to reduce injustice and improve wellbeing, so ideally, everyone benefits.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

Firstly, even just talking about legal rights as distinct from operational policies has changed the nature of discussions with several social services. The current New Zealand Government services don't present the rationale for eligibility on ineligibility for social services, let alone a delineation of what is in legislation versus what is in operational policies (rules departments make up for themselves), so this is a helpful but unintended impact.

Impact will be measured through user feedback (CX), by monitoring usage and results from CAB/CL, by monitoring application rates (through OIA requests), & by monitoring requests for explanation.

The project impact will most start when CAB/Community Law start using the service and hundreds or thousands more people each week will start applying for more benefits, and invoking their right to an explanation with the department, which we predict will create some pressure to build more helpful and explainable services from the start.

Challenges and Failures

Encoding the law is always hard work, but the Social Services Act in New Zealand is especially diabolical, as it has been modified so much over the years, and includes a lot of contradictory approaches, definitions, etc. There are benefits, for example, that you are not eligible for unless you are ineligible for every other main benefit, which means you need to codify a lot before you can rule them in or out.

The team all struggled with COVID during the 6 month project, creating productivity issues, and it took a little time to establish our processes, systems, and decision making approaches as a team, because we were building the social infrastructure simultaneous with the project delivery.

Creating a MVP meant having to make hard choices about what to deliver later, but the constant focus on what we deliver to help people today, along with testing and user research to prioritise, helped the team to stay focused on what would actually help most in the first instance.

Conditions for Success

A combination of skills, decentralised/delegated decision making, and transparency are all critical, so you can ensure all aspects of the project are delivered with the same values, goals and purpose in mind. This means everyone is able to confidently innovate within their domain, and go above and beyond the minimum required, whilst still delivering what they are being relied upon to do. Our weekly all hands and online boards/code/artefacts/docs gave everyone full visibility, making it easy for anyone to chip in and help where needed, and to track delivery, dependencies, blockers and where we needed to collectively lean in.

Financial support was also critical, as was a partnership model where some are contributing from within their work capacity. The combination of people contributing time, volunteering, and some being partially funded meant we could create a diverse team of skills, where everyone had commitment and were able to contribute.


The entire project was designed for replication, with documentation, howtos, reference models, and everything was built with the expectation of extendability, replicability and enabling others to build their own rules as code for any purpose. Our hope is to build more of a community around RaC so everyone can get the service, justice, compliance, transparency and participatory policy benefits that RaC enables!

Lessons Learned

We have a lot of lessons learned, from the complexity of working with legislation, to the benefits of taking a shared values and community based approach. We would encourage others to consider civil society partnership models as better practice for government innovation, where people across sectors work together around a common problem. Rather than "internal" or "external" innovation, perhaps we just need cross disciplinary and multi-sector innovation, where government is part of civil society, not separate to it.

We also have lessons to share about working remotely, taking a culturally inclusive approach to building the social infrastructure for collaboration, the importance of shared and open governance, and the benefits of purposefully exploring and sharing the vision, mission and behaviours of any group, so as to work carefully and thoughtfully through ambiguity, challenges, and to maintain trust and confidence in each other along the way.


  • Identifying or Discovering Problems or Opportunities - learning where and how an innovative response is needed
  • Generating Ideas or Designing Solutions - finding and filtering ideas to respond to the problem or opportunity
  • Developing Proposals - turning ideas into business cases that can be assessed and acted on
  • Implementation - making the innovation happen

Innovation provided by:


Date Published:

23 November 2022

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