Can a Governing Body’s Conflicts Be… Constructive?

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:

Read the coverage of the study in Route Fifty, or find the full source material on the Local Government Studies website.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties