December 20, 2011

How Can Public Leaders Get Back Public Trust?

TRUST IN government these days is in short supply. In fact, it's one of the most important political problems of our time.

Why is this decline in trust happening? One answer comes from Todd Donovan, a professor of political science at Western Washington University. He claims that the constant barrage of information has contributed to the trend. "People don't like politics, and now it is on the news 24/7. A generation or two ago, "they didn't see that," he says."

Whatever the actual cause, what's a city, county or state to do?

Maricopa County, Arizona is one of the few places in which improving trust in government is a clearly pronounced goal.

The county's strategic plan outlines a number of approaches to increase citizen trust. The basics of the program include:

-Increasing visibility. The idea here is to make sure that citizens are aware of the many services the county is providing for them. This includes finding opportunities for leadership to participate in local and regional community events and to provide media training for leadership and staff.

-Expanding public engagement. The county plans to redesign its website to focus on services, not departments, thus adding more to the public's understanding of what the county is really doing for them. What's more, the strategic plan calls for finding more effective ways to solicit citizen participation, including the simple notion of holding informal board meetings throughout the county at night - when taxpayers can actually attend.

-Comparing efforts. Maricopa County is focused on transforming the organizational culture in a way that benchmarks the county against best management practices utilized by other public and private organizations.

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1 comment:

Christopher Schmidt said...

They'll only get back the earlier level of trust if they can get back the earlier level of public ignorance.

Fortunately, I don't think that will ever happen, due to increasing transparency.

My optimistic hope is that transparency will motivate somewhat greater trustworthiness, and that's the desired public good, after all.

Trust, per se, is not necessarily a good thing. As the working tool of the charlatan and the con man, trust is dangerous. The more of it offered by the public, the more evil can be achieved by charlatans, con men, and --at the risk of repeating myself-- politicians.