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Why the Government needs systems thinking to win the next election

In this post, Guest Analyst Garrett Tyler Parker from Pollinate Research investigates our attitudes towards the government, and posits how systems thinking might help the government as it heads into the next election.

The October data from the Catalyst program, a research-for-good study into social and environmental issues, discovered that only 42% of Australians are satisfied with our elected Government, leaving most Australians without a feeling of satisfaction. 


What do Australians want from our government?

The next federal election must be held before the end of May (when the current Senate term expires), meaning the Government has seven months to improve our satisfaction, or enter a losing battle. So, what is it Australians want? Having a customer/citizen-centric approach makes a lot of sense for both business and government. One route to improving satisfaction is to bring to light the issues requiring the most immediate attention and focus, according to Australians, and outline a plan for tackling these issues. Looking at all 34 social and environmental issues addressed in the Catalyst data, ranging from ocean pollution to job security, from aged care to LGBTIQA+ inequality, the top ten issues of concern are an even mix of economic, environmental and social issues (with COVID-19 being a triple-threat issue):
Graph: Which of these social or environmental issues do you believe require the most immediate attention? – Top 10 issues (% agree)

So, what does this mean? Going into an election with a single-minded message – an economic-only focus, for example – is unlikely to cut it. Similarly for businesses, speaking about product price without acknowledging the environmental cost is likely to deter some potential customers.

The reality is, when it comes to understanding your customers, a classic (old fashioned) linear approach to audience understanding and message development is no longer quite good enough. Instead, a systems approach is required, wherein an organisation acknowledges the connectedness of issues and the need to find the levers in the system that can drive the desired change, whilst limiting any unintended consequences. 

At Pollinate Research, we have been applying a systems approach to our work for the last four years. We have seen that taking a systemic approach to a problem often results in a more palatable solution. Considering the category, influential stakeholders, and the social zeitgeist ensures the results are applicable in the real world, not just in an artificial research bubble.

In the context of this data about government satisfaction, it means we should consider the context and the zeitgeist – looking at the shift from September to October to see if there are upcoming trends. As COVID restrictions ease, concern about COVID is likely to continue trending down, whereas issues such as climate change and cost of living are most likely to replace COVID as the issues of concern for Australians, as both trend up in October.


Climate change action can drive perceptions of trustworthiness  

When it comes to speaking about climate change, recent research conducted by Pollinate indicates Australians not only want action on this issue, but they also want organisations to be vocal about the work they are doing in this space.

Graph: Thinking about brands and companies, where do you sit on the following? (% agree, polar scale)

Furthermore, there is a clear link in the minds of Australians between sustainable practices, trust in an organisation, and perception that an organisation is ethical. So, if your organisation, agency, or Government body has something genuine to say about climate change, you should seriously consider taking action to get your message out there. It could be the one major factor that shifts the dial on your audience’s sense of satisfaction.

For the government, taking a systems approach to messaging might mean incorporating a strong focus on climate change action (more than we’ve seen so far, post-COP26) whilst also addressing the multiple causes of cost of living concerns. Perhaps that’s the best way to create a little more satisfaction for the masses. 


Garrett is the Canberra Managing Director of Pollinate Research, an independent market and social research company. Garrett’s experience covers a broad range of categories; from small not-for-profit organisations to Local, State, and Federal Government agencies, through to nation-leading companies and multinational organisations. Garrett’s specialisation is strategic research and bringing the voice of the public into the decision-making process. Garrett is also a guest lecturer at ANU and UNSW on Market Research.