What can the government do to increase people’s trust in it?

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This topic contains 9 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Gary Berg-Cross 8 years, 4 months ago.

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  • #106663

    Gary Berg-Cross

    The Center for American Progress had a day long session called “Doing What Works” .

    The event included a major gathering of government reform leaders and speakers including HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Sen. Mark Warner, D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee, Jeffery Zients and many others.

    The Doing What Works project has three main goals:

    • Eliminating or redesigning misguided spending programs and tax expenditures, focused on priority areas such as health care, energy, and education
    • Boosting government productivity by streamlining management and strengthening operations in the areas of human resources, information technology, and procurement
    • Building a foundation for smarter decision making by enhancing transparency and performance measurement and evaluation

    OMB’s Zients proposed to respond with “six strategies that offer the greatest potential to improve performance:

    eliminate waste,

    drive top priorities,

    leverage purchasing scale,

    close the IT performance gap,

    open government to get results, and

    attract and motivate top talent.”

    You can see the event video at: http://www.americanprogress.org/events/2010/02/dww.html

    The day started with Peter D. Hart Research Associates survey results on how trust has declined, but noted that citizens are eager for it work for the better. They want “better not smaller”.

    One idea is that trust will be improved if people see more than general efforts to fix a big problem but see concrete results.

    Do you agree or do you have alternative things that could improve trust in “government”?

  • #106681

    Gary Berg-Cross


    You can get Guy Molyneux’s (Partner, Hart Research) slides on Restoring Trust in Government: Results of Major New Poll to be Released from http://www.americanprogress.org/events/2010/07/dwwconf.html

    It also has a link to the Presentation by McKinsey and Company on “Transforming Performance in the Public Sector”

  • #106679

    Justin Mosebach

    Making public meetings more accessible (by putting them online) and on-demand for those who can’t make the meetings helps.

  • #106677

    Gary Berg-Cross

    One of the key lesson embedded in Hart Research Associates’ May survey of 2,523 adults was the seemingly paradoxical survey results that:

    “Americans want a federal government that is better, not smaller. CAP’s new research shows people would rather improve government performance than reduce its size. And they are extremely receptive to reform efforts that would eliminate inefficient government programs, implement performance-based policy decisions, and adopt modern management methods and information technologies.

    The May survey also found that public lack of confidence in government’s ability to solve problems is “more closely related to perceptions of government performance than it is a function of partisan affiliation or political ideology. A majority of respondents indicated they would be more likely to support political candidates who embrace a reform agenda of improving government performance, effectiveness, and efficiency.”

  • #106675

    Mark Hammer

    In Canada now, we are going through the torture of an unnecessary debate about the 2011 census long-form, and whether it should be mandatory or voluntary. I’ll steer clear of the politics here, since it is not theplace.

    Much of this was brought on by, and has elicitted, considerable public mistrust of: a) what the use of the data is, b) the need for the metods used by Statistics Canada, and c) how “intrusive” it is.

    Quite frankly, there aren’t that many regular citizens (and seemingly, Parliamentarians too) who understand:

    a) the link between census methodology, statistical methods, and confidence in the data quality;

    b) how the resulting data is used to address all those things around them that they simply take for granted, like schools, hospitals, roads, sewage, water mains, public transit routes, social programs, job training programs, etc., and how individual census items inform those plans;

    c) how you sometimes have to ask things on surveys in order to get the information needed.

    In short, the public mistrust is a result of simply not understanding how things work, and how to follow the links from method to purpose to outcome. They look at the census form and go “What the hell is this crap?”. Once the links are made clear, though, and well explained, folks outside government often trust the practices of government as much as the good folks inside who carry them out daily.

    So if one wishes to enhance public trust, you have to explain EVERYTHING, such that the public sees it as exactly what they would do if they were in the same place. Not just your methods and needs, but how you reason things out, how you set your priorities, what you need to balance (people have a hard time imagining stakeholders other than themselves), and the constraints you have to operate under.

    Sounds simple, but it’s actually pretty revolutionary, because it requires a complete culture shift in many places. Public servants will often gripe about, and mistrust, their own leadership and mission because it isn’t explained particularly well to THEM, either. Management, AND legislators, have to get better at clarifying. They may find they, and the bureaucracy they work with, become more efficient by doing so.

    A decade ago, I was browsing the State of Washington DOP website, and was impressed enough with the content there that I contacted the folks behind it to find out what prompted it. I learned that they had originally posted information about what goes on behind the scenes and how things work (this was pertaining to their recruitment, testing, and selection practices) simply because they lacked the staff to handle the volume of calls and complaints. What they found was that complaints just dropped by several orders of magnitude, simply because people knew what was going on and understood it better.

    Remarkable what a little clarity can do, isn’t it?

  • #106673

    Gary Berg-Cross


    Thanks for the clear expositon on the need for clarity so citizens understand what particular government efforts are about and what the benefits are.

    Another point is that citizens need to know that government efforts are grounded in reality and that the government has performance baselines so they know what is working and what to scrap.

  • #106671

    Daniel Honker

    It seems to me there’s a difference in the “retail” vs. “wholesale” approaches to increasing trust — and what builds trust at the retail level doesn’t necessarily build trust at the wholesale level.

    If a citizen has a positive experience obtaining certain benefits or going to Post Office, they might gain a more positive impression of government. This is good, and it’s extremely effective at building trust with people. But government can only do this one citizen at a time. I’m actually a little afraid that improving service and performance won’t do much to change citizens’ more macro (wholesale) views of government, as these have developed over generations. Wholesale trust in government might only change with broad, slow-moving societal changes, such as the growth of a new generation with a more positive view of government. CAP’s study gives me hope!

  • #106669

    Gary Berg-Cross


    Your wholesale vs retail (one citizen at a time) distinction is a good one and there is also the issue that a good experience at the Post Office might not transfer to larger views of government operation which are categorized differently so I may view FDA as not being responsive on food testing which is very different than everyday mail service.

    BTW I should have mentioned Bill Brantley’s earlier item: Trust in Government Starts by Lowering Stress in Citizens

    According to the study, trust in the government is at an all time low because of the stress people feel due to the recession. When college students were given a squirt of oxytocin they reported feeling more trusting of other people. From this trust, they also reported less distrust in the government.

    Bill asks, “So, by promoting wellness and lowering the national stress level, could the government also be promoting better citizen engagement?” Well this might be easier to do retail – so look for those oxytocin squirts the next time you are in line to renew your passport.

  • #106667

    Gary Berg-Cross

    On this issue of needed a cultural shift, lots of thought is going into doing this as part of, and in support of, Open Government.

    For example there is an Open Government Guidebook (I guess under development) that describes step-by-step processes for opening government. Last time I looked the processes were organized into 5 sections:

    •Build Alignment
    •Develop Policy
    •Derive Value

    See http://wiki.openmuni.org/Open_Government_Guidebook

    There is also a similar effort underway by the Group at

  • #106665

    Gary Berg-Cross


    There Patrick Quinn had an earlier and related posting on trust entitled “Pew poll: 4 out of 5 Americans don’t trust Washington”.

    Among the comments was the idea that Republicans have been running Gov down and arguing that it can’t be efficient. A counter is to offer some best practices rather than featuring “misadventures” which pillory the Gov in general when certain people do the wrong thing.

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