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Our advocacy for councils, and the people who both lead and work in them, is driven, in large part, by our recognition of how important regional communities are becoming to all of us.

In a complex world, where our sense of purposeful engagement is getting more and more ambiguous, where trust in leaders and the institutions they are tasked with leading is standing on increasingly troubled ground. Innovation, which is essential to our ability to solve some of our most wicked problems, is instead fueling concerns about vested interests and political meddling, particularly in the very science that is informing innovation.

We can’t tell truth from lie, fact from belief. Aren’t they the same?

Right now, people are genuinely worried, and worry produces fatigue, which in turn leads to mental checkout.

We trust the opinions of our peers, friends, and friendship networks more than those who lead us. We do our own Google searches to validate what someone says or claims, or we check out YouTube or TikTok.

Science is perceived to be under political pressure, and big-ticket items like AI, are scaring the living daylights out of people and we suspect can’t be regulated by governments, exacerbating our belief that the incumbent leaders aren’t competent to do what is required to lead us to a better future.

All these patterns are there for anyone to see in the Edelman 2024 trust barometer results. 32,000 respondents, 28 countries, an average of 1,150+ respondents per country.

The patterns are consistent and insistent.

It is worth noting that 48% of the world’s population will vote this year, with this backdrop. In Australia, NSW goes to the polls in September, and Victoria in October. What and how will we choose, with what consequences?


Listening in councils to our community and staff

In this context, in Australia, regional councils will be meccas for individuals and their families seeking a safer whole of life choice. Where once regional councils (and the communities they serve) were seen to be dinky, parochial, backwater, butt of jokes territory, increasingly they have the capacity to hold out a promise to people that is credible. They are clever, capable, deliver services directly to ratepayers, and are populated by people who actually live in the community they lead.

AND we, the new as much as the old, can have a voice. We can be closer to the decision-making bodies who have a very direct responsibility to serve the communities in which they are embedded. We can see firsthand the impact of our choices – from swimming pools to art precincts, from road maintenance to environmental sustainability policies.

Councils can and should attract talent from the cities. Historically this was a tough gig. Today it is shifting. ‘The last time I put a job out 4-5 years ago, I got three applicants; six months ago I put the same job out and got 27.’ Josh Fern, Supervisor Water Treatment Plant, Armidale Regional Council. GM James Roncon adds “we are now beating people away with a stick.”

Part of what will make councils attractive to city employees can be the approach to culture. Culture describes a belief system that directs how we behave. A council that invests in hearing the voice of its people (community and staff) can do a great deal.  We think the method for informing and developing community strategic plans is well-tested in councils. The strategy underpinning community planning is based on the agreement to provide the opportunity for all community members to share thoughts on the development of the plan and its review every four years.

We might not yet exercise this opportunity, but it is mandated as a process.

The second (and we would say the most important group) is internal stakeholders. This sadly is not mandated. Hearing from staff is up to the discretion of the general manager or CEO of the council (and his/her ELT). Some leaders never think to do this, some leaders are intimidated by this, and some (a small minority) embrace the opportunity. Feedback is always a gift.

This now brings the voice of employees into the game. At best, it’s a qualitative process (certainly initially) that enables leaders to hear the stories and perceptions of staff on what it takes to be successful as a paid staff member. You can explore people’s alignment to purpose (of council), values and behaviours (‘as is’ to ‘should be’), connection to organisational culture and strategy, perceptions of community strengths and challenges of the way we work and then (with our encouragement) strengths and challenges of the practice of leadership.

This information must be patterned and synthesised. We must find the common stories (and this is very much about perception rather than fact). The common stories provide evidence of where we will or won’t put our discretionary effort. They inform the sequence of initiatives that should be invested in to turn our culture into a tailwind to strategy.


This is referred to as the wisdom of the crowd. This, according to Wikipedia, is ‘the collective opinion of a diverse independent group of individuals rather than a single expert.’ The voice of the crowd flattens or cancels out the voice of the individual, however, the patterned sum of the individuals consistently proves to be better than the voice of the individual or isolated expert.

Of course, there will always be geniuses, whose insight and foresight, compel us forward on a very rapid trajectory. However, this is rare, very. The wisdom of the crowd is not, however. It is just rare to see it used properly.

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