Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

The Secret to Restoring Trust in Government

Image via Steve Heap/
Yesterday morning, I attended a panel that spoke about a new report released by the communications firm, Edelman, entitled “2013 Edelman Trust Barometer.”  The findings, especially those that pertain to US citizens, industries, and institutions, are striking.

Who we trust now

The Trust Barometer examined how various countries’ populations viewed a number of industries, including tech companies, financial service companies, and government as a whole, among others.  People had the highest levels of trust in the technology sector, followed closely by the automotive industry.  The lowest levels of trust were found in the banking and financial services sectors.

Interestingly—and tellingly—trust in every sector has gone up over the past year, though some more than others.  Trust in government, business, the media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has increased by five percent; of those, NGOs enjoy the highest levels of trust. 

One important point that I cannot find in the executive summary of the report, but that Edelman’s CEO related in his opening remarks is that what he called “the elite” have a 47 point higher level of trust in the government than everyone else.

Why we trust

It is important to understand why people place their trust in people and institutions, because in doing so, organizations can take steps to earn the trust of their customers, clients, or constituents.

When I look at the data, what strikes me is that people have the greatest level of trust in people and organizations to which they have access and over which they have at least some level of influence.  In short, the more people can see what an organization is doing, and how it is doing it, and the more they feel that they have a voice in the organizations goals and activity, the more trust they have in that organization.

Access and influence: open government is a part of this, but only the beginning.  People want to know what is happening at all levels of government, but that’s not all.  They also want to affect those organizations’ activities, as the Republican House discovered when they launched “America Speaking Out” and the Obama Administration realized when they were overwhelmed by the response to their ePetition site, “We the People.”

What makes the difference

The American people right now have an historically low level of trust right now in their government.  Numerous polls have shown very low levels of popularity with Congress, in particular, but individual representatives are fairly popular in their own districts.  What makes the difference is that people feel that they have access to and influence over their individual representative, but little access to and no influence over Congress as a whole.  And what gives them that access?  Social media.

Through social media, citizens can earn the attention of their mayor or governor (for better or worse), and government is expanding the tool-set through which it can engage citizens.  As it does, I expect to see levels of trust increase further.

(Images via 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer, Executive Summary)

(Cover image via Steve Heap/

Gadi Ben-Yehuda is the Director of Innovation and Social Media for the IBM Center for The Business of Government. Previously, he was a Web Strategist for the District of Columbia's Office of the Chief Technology Officer. He has taught creative, expository, and Web writing for more than 10 years to university students, private-sector professionals, and soldiers. He has an MFA in poetry from American University, has taught writing at Howard University, and has worked in Washington, DC, for nonprofits, lobbying organizations, Fleishman-Hillard Global Communications, and Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.