Analysis: 3 Ways Governments Can Regain Citizens’ Trust
Transparency, efficiency and accountability are the key ingredients to rebuilding confidence.
Trust between government and the public is essential to ensure the effective operation of services.
When there is trust between citizens and their government, government leaders can tackle bigger, longer-term projects with public support and increase the public’s understanding of available resources. This in turn creates more willingness from citizens to contribute time and money (i.e. taxes) to government projects.
In recent years, the level of trust citizens have for the different branches and levels of their government has changed significantly, with numbers ranging from 70% all the way to a dismal 33%.
Rebuilding trust—especially in our environment that is filled with skepticism, misinformation and disinformation—is a difficult task. I’ve found that through my experience working with and creating solutions for the public sector building trust comes down to three letters: TEA.
What is TEA?
TEA stands for transparency, efficiency and accountability. Each of these elements is critical to building trust and are inextricably linked.
Whether it’s an election or a new program being implemented, we all expect our government to be transparent about how and why they do what they do. At the end of the day, it’s our tax dollars at work.
Transparency in the public sector relies on the inclusivity of information, be that specific data or a shared understanding of government processes. By creating a transparent system, you enable a more meaningful dialogue between government and citizens. One built on fundamental, shared knowledge instead of disparate opinions and beliefs.
Efficiency in the public sector is a balancing act of doing more with the available resources without going so far as to remove the human element of governing. However, by creating efficiencies where they’re needed, governments can better serve their communities and put more efforts behind bigger, long-term projects.
Accountability is often the most difficult of the three components in TEA to attain. Inherently, we want to hold our elected officials and our fellow citizens accountable for their decisions. As it relates to government, everyone, including citizens, is responsible for their own actions. Knowing that everyone will be held responsible for the good and the bad builds trust on the basis that no one can cheat the system without repercussions.
Why Trust is Dependent on TEA
When governments are transparent, it’s easier to hold them accountable. And when they know they can be held accountable, they tend to operate more efficiently.
It is only by improving the levels of transparency, efficiency and accountability that governments (from the local to federal level) can amplify their ability to serve citizens and stakeholders alike.
What does all of this look like in action?
The impact can range from innocuous to life changing. For instance, a modern 311-like service request system that allows citizens to track the progress of their request, as well as their request’s place in the queue, creates transparency and accountability in a system that was once shrouded in uncertainty.
By transparently sharing information, creating more efficient systems, and holding everyone accountable in the process, government can serve as a better ally and resource for their citizens.
Digital Technologies: The Sugar That Sweetens TEA
Having worked in the technology field and public sector, I have become attuned to how impactful digital transformation can be in improving a government’s ability to build trust through TEA. According to survey findings published by Deloitte, “individuals who are pleased with a state governments’ digital services also tend to rate the state highly in measures of overall trust.”
However, it’s important to note that digital technology alone is not a surefire solution to building trust. A government must have the willingness and drive to improve its transparency, efficiency and accountability to build a harmonious relationship with its citizens. Such willingness can often be hindered by the fear of change or the uncertainty of how technologies will impact careers or historical processes.
When a government can overcome those hindrances, embracing change and integrating the right technology to support these new initiatives, the outcome is well worth the effort. A few examples of this kind of impact include:
- Data Generation: Technology provides the means to gather and share data, keeping every stakeholder well informed on the levels of resources, capabilities and ongoing processes efficiently and accurately. With data comes the ability to have a meaningful dialogue about how specific programs or services are supporting the community and where government should focus its efforts to best serve the community.
- Accessibility: Technology opens the door to accessibility, breaking down the barriers of language, geography and means to allow every citizen within a community to share their voice and be a part of the citizen-government relationship.
- Elevated Engagement: Some citizens will always be engaged, but by leveraging the right solution, governments can provide a convenient, personalized experience that drives broader user engagement and improves the relationship between every party.
To achieve these results, digital solutions must be built with the explicit goal of improving engagement and generating dialogue between a government and its citizens. This can be a tall order, especially when digital technologies are looked at as point solutions instead of holistic platforms or engagement services.
For a digital solution to help build trust through transparency, efficiency and accountability, it should include:
- Real-time data for better community decisions, program updates and ongoing dialogue.
- Personalized communications and engagement with citizens based on language, location, past interactions, etc.
- Citizen relationship management functionality to manage every interaction between stakeholders (internally and externally).
The makings of a “perfect” solution will vary by government and citizen needs–and will require a keen awareness of citizen preferences. But, if a government can take the time to leverage the right technology to improve transparency, create efficiencies and increase accountability, it will ultimately gain its citizens’ trust and the many benefits that come with it.
Rajiv Desai is the co-founder and CEO of 3Di, where he oversees the company’s strategic vision, operational management and positioning in the marketplace.