By: Rob Hoehn
It probably comes as no surprise that, according to Pew Research, trust in government is at an all-time low. An abysmally low 17 percent of Americans believe they can trust government to do what is right either all of the time or some of the time.
It’s a sobering statistic—2019 was just one of two times numbers have been at this level since Pew began polling trust numbers in 1958 (well below the 77 percent of Americans who claimed to trust government in 1964).
So, as leaders in local government, what role could you possibly play in helping restore trust in government? Local communities are just drops in the national bucket, right?
Not exactly, and for local leaders interested in boosting civic engagement, there’s good news. According to the same Pew Research poll, a full 86 percent of respondents believed that levels of confidence in government can be improved and that local governments are the best laboratories for trust-building.
And now, with the ubiquity of govtech and civic engagement platforms, it’s an opportunity like never before.
In the past, local government traditionally engaged residents through in-person townhalls or meetings. If not in-person, residents would write letters or leave messages on a community call-in line. Concerns and suggestions were stored in bulky manilla folders, stowed away in dusty file cabinets to languish until who-knows-when. And if residents spoke little or no English, there was virtually no opportunity for their concerns to be heard.
But this is the age of open data, inclusive innovation, and digital government. It’s an incredible opportunity for local government to connect with residents in more innovative and diverse ways. Moreso now that ever, local governments have a unique moment to use innovation to help bridge the trust-gap between local government and communities.
So how are local governments taking advantage of modern civic engagement and outreach strategies for trust-building?
Well, for starters, many governments have put an emphasis on building trust by making civic engagement easier for residents. One example is moving in-person processes into easy, online formats. Processes like permitting, licensing, payments, and townhalls are trending towards virtual environments. We live in a mobile world, where many of daily frustrations can be mitigated by a simple smartphone app. As the World Economic Forum put it in this article, “When you never need to visit a bank branch, you start to resent having to visit a government office.”
Accessibility has also taken a leading role in community trust building. Local governments have started trending towards making their crime data open and accessible, enabling residents to get a better idea about safety in their communities. This allows proprietary safety apps (like Citizen) help residents to stay safe.
But one of the biggest trends, and easiest to implement, falls in the realm of government ideation. Namely, making it easier for residents to submit ideas to government on projects important to them. If the 2010s were the decade of process tech, the 2020s are on track to be the decade of idea tech.
Here at IdeaScale, we’ve recognized this opportunity, and we are lucky enough to work with communities all across the country committed to building trust by engaging their residents. Whether it’s collecting cost-cutting ideas or helping leaders connect with residents speaking languages other than English, it’s exciting for us to be at the forefront of a new age in civic engagement.
For example, our work with the City of Minneapolis. Minneapolis wanted more community input (especially from underrepresented communities) on their new strategic plan. They realized, however, that in the age of digital government, in-person townhalls were just one piece of the puzzle. They needed to make engagement more accessible. And furthermore, they wanted to incorporate new and more diverse voices into their planning process. So they worked with us here at IdeaScale to easily reach community members online and gather suggestions via our ideation platform.
Through a combination of in-person and online engagement, they were able to hear from over 1,500 participants with ideas to help make their communities better. In the words of the city’s Results Management Programs Coordinator, “the ideas gathered in IdeaScale will guide city work for years to come.”
This is the basis for our upcoming webinar Local Government: Innovation for Better Civic Engagement on January 29 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time (10 a.m. Pacific Time), which we would love for you to join us at.
We will discuss major trends and potential opportunities to help better engage communities in new and innovative ways.
It’s an opportunity for local leaders to learn what other cities are doing, but also to learn how your local government can help bridge the trust-gap between government and their communities.
If you’re interested in joining us, please register here and join us online for this free civic engagement event, and, hopefully, find better ways to build trust in a new, digital era.
About the author
Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.