Workshop 2023

Drafting a Constitution for the 21st Century

Drafting a Constitution for the 21st Century

On 28-29 August 2012, fifty participants between the ages of 16 and 28 came to Parliament from throughout New Zealand to draft a constitution for the 21st century


New Zealand is one of the few countries this century to invite citizens to review their nation’s constitution. The August workshop aimed to create a space in which young New Zealanders could explore the future of this country’s constitutional arrangements and contribute to the current review of constitutional issues.

The idea for this workshop came out of an event the Institute ran last year, StrategyNZ: Mapping our Future. Sir Paul Callaghan presented a keynote address at StrategyNZ and his influence has been fundamental in the development of this workshop.

Funding: The EmpowerNZ workshop was private funded by the McGuinness Institute, an independent think tank based in Wellington, New Zealand. The EmpowerNZ initiative, which includes both the workshop and the website, has received no public funds nor is it affiliated with the Constitutional Advisory Panel.


The participants were free to discuss any issues that they considered of importance; the focus of the workshop was on open-minded, outside-the-box thinking.  They were not be limited or constrained by previous ideas about what a constitution needs to look like or the terms of reference for the current constitutional review. They were instead encouraged to consider the question of what New Zealanders need, constitutionally, for the coming century – leaving open the possibility of completely reframing what our constitution might look like.

Constitutional Pyramid

Over two pressure-cooked days the participants were taken through a process developed by Victoria University School of Law lecturer, Dean Knight. He provided what became known as the ‘constitutional pyramid’, and developed six exercises which can be seen here. During the workshop Dean was supported by seven other facilitators, young experts in constitutional law, many currently lecturing at universities throughout New Zealand.

A key ingredient was to ensure there was lots of left brain thinking in the room. Carwyn Jones, also a law lecturer from Victoria University, supplied this in spades; he led the powhiri at the beginning of day one, dealt with some of the more complex legal questions, and directed the presentation team in the second half of day two. The final presentation is a credit to his multi-talents.

The process was beautifully documented by Megan Salole, who created a mural for the walls of the Banquet Hall during the workshop. Her illustrations were superb and have been showcased in the document. Gillian McCarthy and her team of designers were instrumental in bringing the ideas of the participants to life. For example, Kieran Stowers’s group thought a window was an appropriate image to reflect what a constitution should be for the 21st Century.

“The window speaks of transparency and clear accountability, people who look in it can see their own reflection, which is important as a constitution needs to reflect the ambitions, the values, and mana of the People first. It’s also scalable and most importantly repairable, because no constitution is perfect.” - Kieran Stowers

The participants were inspired by a range of excellent speakers. Hon Jim McLay’s keynote address provided a thought provoking and enlightening account of his experiences during the 1984 constitutional crisis. His paper can be downloaded here. Other speakers included: Emeritus Professor John Burrows, Charles Chauvel MP, Hon Peter Dunne MP, Te Ururoa Flavell MP, Paul Goldsmith MP, Hone Harawira MP, Sir Tipene O’Regan, and Metiria Turei MP. In addition we were fortunate to have two roaming experts Professor Philip Joseph, from the University of Canterbury School of Law, and Dame Dr Claudia Orange from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.  Dame Dr Claudia Orange has followed the initiative from its early stages, and was a key collaborator on this project. (The Memorandum of Understanding can be seen here.) All the speakers were filmed, and these videos will be placed on the McGuinness Institute YouTube Channel over the next week.


To learn more about the outputs please click on the following links.

Still to be completed:

  • - An article written by the lead facilitator, Dean Knight,  and participant Julia Whaipooti, outlining in more detail the ideas discussed over the duration of the workshop. This is planned for publication in the  New Zealand Journal of Public and International Law in February 2013.
  • - Youth Submission for the Constitutional Advisory Panel, to be prepared by participants ideally in a workshop 5-7 July 2013.
  • - A Think Piece by Wendy McGuinness reflecting on the constitutional review. (July 2013)


We hope that the long-term outcome will be a wider and deeper discussion of constitutional issues and that this will permeate through youth networks, law schools, universities and those involved with the constitutional review over the coming 18 months.