In 2013, the VLGA initiated a research project to elicit the experiences of newly-elected councillors. It was prompted by anecdotal evidence which suggested that some aspects of the transition, from citizen to councillor, posed particular difficulties and challenges.
This report provides some insight into the experience of newly-elected councillors. This includes the reasons for standing for council, their relationship with the local community and with fellow councillors, the information needed to work effectively, the rewards and the challenges.
The research project had two components. First, a literature review was prepared with the support of the Australian Centre for Excellence in Local Government Research (ACELG); this review confirmed a lack of empirical data about the specific experience of new councillors and suggested it an area worthy of local investigation (UTS, 2013). It also guided the design of the surveys, which formed the second component of the project.
Two surveys were conducted by the VLGA. The first was a quantitative survey conducted over December 2013-January 2014. The voluntary, online survey captured the views of 62 respondents (a response rate of 23%); women and men were equally represented. Between them, the respondents represented 41 different councils across the State (52% of all councils); 6 regional (60% of regional councils); 19 metropolitan (61% of metropolitan councils); and 16 rural (42% of rural councils).
The second was a set of open-ended interviews of 12 people (March 2014); these were conducted over the phone and, on average, took 45 minutes to complete. Most of the quotations which follow are derived from those conversations.
Together, the surveys explored the expectations and experiences of first-time councillors, particularly their perceptions of the role and the challenges of meeting their own expectations and those of their community. The design of the qualitative phase was informed by the outcomes of the online survey and allowed some themes to be explored in greater depth.