A recent study on local governments looked at conflict among elected officials – and found, perhaps surprisingly, that certain “healthy” policy or priority conflicts may actually add to the effectiveness of a governing body.
An academic study on public governing bodies (in Illinois) indicates that conflict among members of decision-making bodies can actually be healthy – but the nature of the conflict matters in this respect.
Coverage on Route Fifty, a website with news about government and policy, included these findings:
In cities where council members were frequently engaged in “healthy conflict” about policies, they were more likely to say the governing body was effective, and researchers concluded policy outcomes were better. “When legislators are in conflict over policy, they often come up with compromises that are better than the two alternatives they started with,” Schraufnagel explained.
In places rife with “petty and personal rivalries,” members were more likely to say the council was ineffective. Still, despite these responses, the study found their arguments had no significant effect on policy outcomes.
The full study separated types of conflict to better assess their separable effects. From the research abstract, as published in the journal Local Government Studies:
Organisational scholars argue there are two distinct types of conflict found in the private-sector workplace. One is referred to as task conflict and the other relational conflict. We use their insights to devise our own measures of conflict on local elected councils. As opposed to ‘task conflict’ we use the term ‘policy conflict’ and keep the same nomenclature ‘relational conflict.’ We will contend it is important to not conflate the two. In this work, we test our unique operationalisations of conflict on an established measure of Governing Board Effectiveness. Because of concerns over using the same survey instrument to measure both explanatory variables and the dependent variable we also test our thesis regarding two-dimensional legislative conflict on entirely exogenous measures of ‘healthy cities.’ We find that higher levels of policy conflict comport with good governance outcomes, while relational conflict provides no measurable benefit.
Read the coverage of the study in Route Fifty, or find the full source material on the Local Government Studies website.