Rory Sutherland, the wonderfully ebullient Vice Chairman of Ogilvy Mather UK and founder of Ogilvy Change spoke to Westco about our behaviour. For anyone who has not heard him you are missing a seriously good treat. Look him up on Ted Talks. But one of the insights we gained from his four hour master class was not how to nudge the behaviour of your residents but to look inwards first and foremost at your own behaviour.
Finding solutions to local government’s deepening challenges will require a courageous and entrepreneurial outlook. But how many councils have developed an environment conducive to this? Instead, much of decision making is made with a behavioural bias for defensiveness which could become even more pronounced during troubled times. The premise behind the bias is simple. People generally will take a decision based on the fear of failure so will take the ‘safe’ option. No one ever got fired for hiring IBM. Think of how busy the ‘top four’ consultancies are in helping councils develop change programmes at the moment. They are a ‘safe’ pair of hands. When you fail conventionally you get sympathy; when you fail unconventionally you get blamed.
This bias is not unique to local government. Defensive decision making affects almost everything we do. It’s why for example footballers will aim for the top corner when taking penalties rather than aim down the middle which is statistically a more productive shot. They basically don’t want to look a fool (apart from Paolo de Canio who was a special case).
But we think councils are so far past the ‘safe’ option. They need to be courageous and think beyond that. We’re not advocating anarchy. Or even mild hysteria. But we are suggesting a way to look beyond the safe option in an environment that councils feel comfortable with. We are working with clients to fully understand their communities, residents and businesses and what stops them from acting or changing. We put residents centre stage in designing solutions and continuously learn from them - we learn what the physical and psychological barriers to change are from their viewpoint.
Interventions that go beyond the ‘safe’ option can then be developed and tested through Randomised Control Trials so we understand what works and learn from it before rolling out more widely. I think there are some great opportunities to do some very exciting work but we need discipline, insight and experience to ensure the best possible outcome for clients.
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