/ Resources
Better behaviour at a local level

Better behaviour at a local level

How do we improve bad behaviour at the local council? Geoff Paine provides some ideas from his experiences as a local councillor.

The local government sector is under intense pressure to balance its budgets, provide a wide range of services and manage the expectations of the various communities it serves.  There is no formal training for this – as councillors, we put our hands up to be elected and if we are, find ourselves having to quickly learn the basics of not only ‘roads, rates and rubbish’, but how politics works at its most basic level. Some bad behaviours need calling out, and some patterns of thinking need to be understood.

I recently brought together the two careers I'm juggling at the moment; working at BehaviourWorks Australia, and serving on the local council as a councillor. At a recent local government event run by the Victorian Local Governance Association, I presented some behavioural insights to share with fellow councillors. Being elected to council can bring out a range of behaviours which may or may not be helpful. While most councillors are dedicated, committed people putting in many hours each week to make the best decisions they can for their communities, there are some seeking to dominate the debate, shut down ideas they don’t want to discuss and disrupt proceedings for their own agenda.  

Governance is hard to maintain in a room where getting agreement gets second place to getting attention.

Throughout the day, the speakers and panel guests came back to the same themes; governance crises require flexible thinking and compromise, engaging with people and opinions we may not agree with takes effort (but that’s what councillors must do), and there are tools to deal with conflict that can help de-escalate potential blow-ups.

For my session, I explained how mental shortcuts (or heuristics) like biases affect how we think and make decisions.  Common biases include looking for information that we already agree with (Confirmation Bias), avoiding loss when possible (Loss Aversion), and continuing with projects and life choices not because of potential benefits in the future, but because of the resources we’ve sunk into them in the past (Sunk Cost Bias).  While I went through 12 of the most common biases, the Codex of Biases lists literally hundreds of these individual heuristics.  

I also explained the concept behind Simulation Training, comparing it to a low level vaccine that imitates a potential threat just enough to help the body prepare to deal with it. A simulation (such as dealing with a difficult conversation) should be real enough that those taking part should experience a kind of ‘muscle memory’, so that when they are faced with this situation in real life, they have a sense of being prepared for it. With the help of a volunteer, I was able to recreate an exchange with a councillor and an obnoxious character (perhaps a little exaggerated), where we crowd-sourced solutions to getting this person to quieten down.

The lesson?  Often, to get better behaviour from others, we need to change our own.

If you have any questions, are interested in having us talk at your event, get in touch with us.

No items found.

Sign up to the broadcast

Get monthly behaviour change content and insights

I'm an alumnus, friend or supporter (including donors, mentors and industry partners)
I'm a Monash student
I'm interested in studying at Monash
I recently applied to study at Monash
I'm a Monash staff member
I recently participated in research activities or studies with Monash

I agree to receive marketing communications from Monash University. Monash University values the privacy of every individual's personal information and is committed to the protection of that information from unauthorised use and disclosure except where permitted by law. For information about the handling of your personal information please see Data Protection and Privacy Procedure and our Data Protection and Privacy Collection Statements.

If you have any questions about how Monash University is collecting and handling your personal information, please contact our Data Protection and Privacy Office at dataprotectionofficer@monash.edu.

Education & training

Looking to upskill?

Check out our Monash University accredited courses, along with our short and bespoke training programs.


Have a project for us?

We offer a broad range of research services to help governments, industries and NGOs find behavioural solutions.


Explore our resources

We believe in building capacity and sharing knowledge through multiple channels to our partners, collaborators and the wider community.