How to increase public trust in Government?

Trust in government is being eroded around the world. What lessons can be learned to prevent this - and how can it be reversed? These are the key takeaways from the panel of government leaders who took part in our recent discussion on ‘Trusted Government’.


Justin Placide - Assistant Director of Business, Investment & Growth Team at Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

We need to think about really clear lines around communication, dependability, and accountability. In the UK, of course, like every other country, the government has come up with a number of support measures to help businesses deal with the impact of Covid. An easy example was the furlough scheme - it was very clear at the beginning that the furlough scheme was only going to be for a limited period of time until October. Then after that we saw a number of businesses being clear about the fact that the scheme was the difference between them continuing to trade or having to shut down.

As one lockdown ended and businesses were slowly starting to trade, we saw cases continue to increase, and eventually the Government had to introduce new support measures. So the communication issue here was that rather than the measures being reactive, some citizens would really like that long-term view. So that actually caused confusion. It’s really clear that people just need to know exactly what is happening, why it's happening, and what governments are going to do to help.

Now with the vaccination programme we have a number of different vaccines to be tested and distributed. We need to be clear how that works to build trust with our citizens - how they’re allocated, how that information will be communicated, how people are supported if they’re not first in the queue to get the vaccine.

Mary Idowu - Deputy Director of COVID Behaviour Change Unit, NHS England & NHS Improvement

From a healthcare perspective, we know there’s a direct correlation between patient experience and clinical outcomes, and so trying to ensure that we're maintaining positive patient experience is not just good morally, but actually it's good for patients’ care and recovery. 

Many years ago, our focus was very much on the physical being - on stitching people and putting them back together. More recently, we've started to prioritise mental wellbeing as well as the physical. We’re thinking about shared decision making - how do we as healthcare professionals work with the public, to allow them to tell us about what they want, rather than us telling them what we think they want?

In these unprecedented times of Covid, you have things like the vaccine rolling out and so everyone's excited that may bring some normality back to our lives. But the communication around this is going to be crucial, because while we're saying this is potentially solving the question, we've got several vaccines coming out, we don't really know which one is the best, are there going to be enough for the population, and which part of the population are we going to prioritise? If we're not clear with the public on these messages, this is how the distrust will start to form because we're not giving them all the information.

Trusted on Demand

Honey Dacanay - Executive Director, Employment and Social Development Canada

From a North American perspective, it feels like there’s a perception that government is too much until it's not enough, especially at a time of crisis. 

There is the perception of competence, and also the perception of compassion. Perception of competence erodes with a broken interaction or experience, sometimes over something simple. It can be seen as broken promises, like policy announcements that never result in something being materially different. There’s also a perception that the most basic transaction, like changing an address, which should be easy, is somehow so difficult when it involves the government.

I'm really proud of how we delivered the Emergency Response Benefit. Typical government processes when people apply for financial aid usually ask for information up front, with a focus on verification to make sure that they're not defrauding the government. But that was actually turned on its head - using an honour system in a way - and having it verified at the point of receiving it.

To quickly reverse that type of thinking in order to serve the greater need at the time is something I want to celebrate and see more of - the alignment of programme and product - in decision-making that would usually take years rather than weeks. For a system to come together and to be able to see impact so quickly is really powerful.

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