The 2020 local government elections saw the continuing trend of a significant turnover of elected members both at Mayor and Councillor level. (See our previous post on the election outcomes). For many first time councillors this presents a steep learning curve of new and sometimes confusing information about council decision-making processes. This can lead to tension and even friction between new councillors and the Council’s organisation while they assimilate to the unfamiliar environment.
Induction training is necessarily brief and is not always fully absorbed in the first pass. Practical experience participating in the decision framework is the only way to fully appreciate the many nuances that can arise…and the various pitfalls that can cause unnecessary frustration and conflict. The legislative underpinning and the Policies and Procedures of Council and Committee meetings can be somewhat daunting to those not experienced in the dynamics of formal meeting structures. New councillors often feel at a disadvantage in these circumstances and are vulnerable to making procedural errors. Mentoring and support by both experienced councillors and senior management can help in this respect.
The Leaders of local government organisations can do much to ensure the development of good decision-making practice during the early period of a new Council, by revisiting a simple checklist.
- Has the Councillor induction training included the key topic of what makes for good decision making?
- Do Councillors have access to quality and professional advice about their role in decision making?
- Do the reports coming before the Council contain accurate, timely and meaningful information, which includes a clear definition of the issue to be addressed and well developed explanations of input/outcome relationships, options available, relative consequences and how success will be measured?
- Have all legislative and policy implications been addressed?
- Have all appropriate consultation opportunities been explored?
- Have all risks been evaluated and mitigated?
- Are Councillors provided with adequate opportunity to absorb the information provided and to discuss and clarify their understanding of it, in a non-adversarial format before being required to actively debate the issue in public?
- Is the formal decision-making forum (the Council meeting) well Chaired to ensure efficient and thorough debate of the matters on the Agenda, with appropriate transparency and accountability in line with the Local Government principles?
This is not an exhaustive checklist but provides the central questions that will assist in evaluating the fundamentals of good practice decision-making for new Councils.
If you need help in improving your decision-making framework, call in Reinforcements.