Prosocial Polycentric Governance

Crawford School of Public Policy | Executive course
Policy Essentials


Learn to build a polycentrically governed, cooperative, productive team culture across your organisation.

This workshop has been tailored for developing high performing teams and establishing morally and ethically bound systems of polycentric governance. Harnessing the latest research advances in contextual behavioural science conducted by a dedicated team of US, UK and Australian prosocial researchers, this workshop will cultivate the principles and strategies for building highly productive divisions and teams.

Course date: 
30 November – 4 December 2020
Online and distance

Before/by 14 November 2020: $1,195

After 14 November 2020: $1,495

Group discounts available.

Course overview

This course is based on Nobel Laureate Ruth Ostrom’s classic delineation of the core principles that underlie the altruistic, cooperative behaviour and efficacy of prosocial groups. Prosocial groups work together for the benefit of other groups in the system without seeking to selfishly exploit the situation for personal gain. In this workshop, your team will learn and apply the core design principles and tools for cultivating prosocial behaviours and unleash the team productivity and performance outcomes. Enculturating prosocial approaches will unite interrelated teams with a cohesive sense of purpose who will be guided by established norms of trust and reciprocity and the universal set of principles that reward cooperative and productive behaviours and sanction poor behaviours.

At the systems level, this entails aligning the many centres of decision making under an overarching set of prosocial norms, policies and procedures. This polycentric vision leverages the forms of self-governance and organisation that naturally result from stakeholder interactions as they constitute themselves into mutually respectful and working relationships. Leaders will learn to guide the establishment of such an overarching morally bound normative and regulatory environment as the various players in their system order their interactions in response to shared super-ordinate goals. It will become apparent how such normative contexts tend to persist through time and prevail, even under conditions of seeming chaos.

Topics to be covered:

  • Build and sustain a strong team identity and purpose
  • Establish norms of mutual trust and reciprocity
  • Monitor and quality assure team behaviour and outputs
  • Fairly and quickly resolve conflict – deal effectively with problem staff
  • Cultivate local autonomy and empower team members to greater achievement
  • Improve inter-team effectiveness and performance
  • Guide the establishment of prosocial normative and regulatory systems of polycentric governance

Learning outcomes:

  • Individuals more able to positively integrate their strengths and personal values with their bosses, peers and subordinates
  • Identify and reinforce team goals and values
  • Teams better able to set benchmarks for performance indicators
  • Establish self-monitoring plus quick, fair and effective problem resolution mechanisms
  • Empower localised decision-making and autonomy
  • Consider approaches for generalising prosocial principles across a polycentrically governed system


Participating individuals and organisations will be more adequately equipped to response to the challenges of this century. For example, in the areas of food, water and energy security while taking into consideration gender equity and social inclusion. The issues being faced by the public and associated sectors are complex and seeming intractable. An effective response, I believe, will necessarily be multi-disciplinary for those who rise to the challenge. Hence the design of the program – an accessible, well informed, deliberative process that catalyses innovative responses from individuals within nested and interrelated team and community arrangements to the challenges they face within their sphere of influence.

Anticipated behavioural and business impacts of the course include:

Participants will learn to:

  • Analyse what is motivating and directing individual and team behaviours
  • Clarify processes directed toward achieving key value propositions
  • Review prevailing norms regulating team and inter-team behaviours
  • Identify strengths and opportunities for innovation and improvement in team and inter-team performance
  • Plan initial actions for designing, testing and prototyping new ideas and behaviours
  • Review what is required to reinforce systems level inter-group cooperation

Who should attend?

Leaders and team members at any level in your organisation striving to enhance team and organisational performance.

Selected participants should hold a mid or senior-level policy, practice, research or reform role, in either government, civil society or the private sector. Ideally they should have completed at least an Undergraduate or Masters level tertiary qualification, have at least five years’ work experience at mid to senior levels, and have a good understanding of the discipline they are representing.

Course presenter(s)

A/Prof Robert Styles

Dr Styles is an academic at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University. As a Contextual Behavioural Scientist, his applied work has been a study of how language and cognition functions to influence psychological and social wellbeing, particularly the enhancement of team and institutional productivity, collaboration and performance. This work has been part of an international initiative stemming out of the University of Nevada and The Evolution Institute, Florida, aimed at applying evolutionary and behavioural principles to solving real-world problems.

Within ANU, the ongoing application of Dr Styles’ research is at the operational nexus of a number of different disciplines including applied behavioural psychology, organisational and cultural sociology, evolutionary science, and systems engineering. Currently this work is being applied in Australia, SW Asia, Africa and the Pacific within corporations and public-sector agencies striving to improve strategic and behavioural approaches to human capital development. Particular areas of impact include food, water and energy security, gender equity and social inclusion realised through the sustainability of individual and collective endeavours.

Over the last decade Dr Styles has advised and mentored over 300 top executives and leaders and consulted to a range of clients including: the Australian Public Service Commission, NSW Health, Australian National University, Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, Australia Federal Police, NTU Executive MBA Singapore, Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Bhutan Electricity Authority & Senior Government Officials and the China Ministry of Education. Between 2008 and 2012 he was a principal leadership consultant for the APSC-DFAT Leading Australia‘s Future in Asia-Pacific (LAFIA) SES training program; he led the design of the SES leadership development suite of programs implemented by the APSC from 2011-12; and, he designed, lead and researched the impact of an approach to applied behavioural psychology with systems engineering within the Museum of Australian Democracy and Australian Government Department of Finance between 2014 to 2017.

Previous positions include:

  • Contextual Behavioural Scientist, The Australian National University (ANU) 2010 – Present
  • Deputy Director (Strategic Engagement), Australia Pacific Security College, ANU 2019-present
  • Advisor, International Development, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU 2017 – 2019
  • Director, Organisational Leadership & Performance – ANU Enterprise (commercial arm ANU) 2013 – 2017
  • Senior Consultant – Human Resources Division, ANU 2009 – 2012

Updated:  8 December 2021/Responsible Officer:  Crawford Engagement/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team