Furloughed staff. Knee-jerk no votes on spending – even for much-needed repairs and maintenance. Angry letters to the editor. Low turnout at the polls. And in some areas of the world, mass protests. Trust in government remains at a troublingly low level, and the symptoms are real and painful. What can be done?
One of the most promising ways we’ve seen governments regain their people’s trust is by making data about everything – from street light and pothole repairs to crime rates, emergency response times, and restaurant inspection grades – more accessible to the public.
Another is to make it easier for citizens to re-engage with their government: to report what they see, provide data that government can analyze and act on, and help make their communities a better place by influencing government decision making. “Whether the issue is building trust anew or rebuilding it from a deficit position, people have to feel like nothing’s being hidden. And they have to know that their voices are being heard and considered,” says Robert Galford, co-author of the book The Trusted Leader.
The promise of sharing government data and using mobile and social technologies to create new channels of communication with government is enticing on both economic and social fronts. In Boston, for example, new analytics on some types of permitting led to an 83 percent increase of on- time processing in just a few months.
And that may be just the tip of an iceberg. At the 2013 G8 summit, government leaders released an “Open Data Charter,” which said in part, “Open data are an untapped resource with huge potential to encourage the building of stronger, more interconnected societies that better meet the needs of our citizens and allow innovation and prosperity to flourish.”
What’s more, not only can these sorts of activities help rebuild trust, but they can also be important differentiators. States compete. Cities and towns compete. They compete for investments and businesses, for families and students. Governments that make it easier for private industry leaders
and individuals to work with them by providing the same sorts of online and mobile services that are commonplace in the private sector will have an advantage in attracting new residents and businesses. The need is there, and the big-picture potential is clear.
The question is, how do we do this well?