As our partners and friends know very well, at Zencity, we start from the belief that local government keeps our world running. Responsible for everything from water to waste, public parks to public safety, no other institution influences our daily lives so profoundly.
All of these responsibilities–all of this impact–must be built on one important foundation:
In an era marked by increased scrutiny of government actions, “fake news,” and a declining sense of shared truth, trust is both priceless and paramount for local institutions to be able to carry out their important tasks. After hearing this again and again from our customers today, I’m excited to share that we are expanding our focus from facilitating better engagement between governments and residents to providing a new, comprehensive set of tools necessary for building community trust.
Building on our experience as the world’s largest community engagement platform, this investment in the exciting new platform signifies our commitment to local governments and helping them realize their commitment to the people they serve.
But why is now the moment to think about trust in local government? Here are five important reasons:
1. Trust is the basis for local government work.
It is the foundation on which state and local governments have the mandate to operate. Without that trust, the working relationship between agencies and residents grinds to a halt:
- When residents don’t trust their police force to protect them, they don’t report crimes—much less cooperate with investigations.
- When residents don’t trust the health authority to promote their wellness, they don’t follow treatment and vaccine protocols.
- When residents don’t trust their city council, big capital projects can become prolonged and more expansive due to backlash.
- When residents don’t trust the sanitation department to manage waste, they litter more and recycle less.
When residents don’t trust their government to act in their best interests, they don’t cooperate with that government’s efforts and programs, no matter how well-informed or well-intentioned they are. When there’s a gap in trust, it is that much harder for an agency to provide effective and impactful services.
2. Trust is low and declining fast.
Data shows us that trust in local government is at historic lows. A recent study by the State Policy Network found that only 1 in 3 Americans have high levels of trust in government institutions. According to Gallup, Americans’ trust in local government to handle problems fell from 71% in 2020 to 66% in 2021. Furthermore, Edelman’s Trust Barometer also found that government leaders are the least trusted societal leaders, with a 42% trust score. Trust is vital for effective governance, societal cohesion, and our overall prosperity, and it is imperative that we reverse the trend and start rebuilding trust in our communities.
3. Trust is hard-won and easily broken.
At the same time that trust is fundamental, it is elusive and intangible. Trust can’t be built in a day; it is gradually earned through transparent actions, open communication, and responsible decision-making. Building trust comes along with repeatedly meeting or exceeding the community’s expectations. To do that, government must first learn and thoroughly understand those expectations and develop a plan for both action and public communication. This process takes time, consistency, and the right tools to make it accessible for both government practitioners and members of the community.
4. Local governments are facing greater challenges than ever.
Their responsibilities vary widely in scope and subject, from day-to-day services to national emergencies. Infrastructure development, trust in law enforcement, the Fentanyl crisis—all of these are problems that demand action from local authorities, who are best empowered to address them so long as they have the community’s trust. Only through a collaborative process of understanding the community’s needs can local government build the trust required to be effective in their pursuits. The challenges of our time demand great leadership and innovative ideas in government. Without trust, both are wasted.
5. New tools can help build trust.
Emerging technologies offer an exciting opportunity to make trust-building easy for all stakeholders, making it a convenient and integrated part of local government’s operations and residents’ routines. AI and generative AI, coupled with nearly ubiquitous internet access, allow us to communicate more widely and effectively across our communities, engaging individuals more equitably than ever before. The time is now to take advantage of these technologies to create the tools we couldn’t have even dreamed about in the past.
Community trust stands out as the cornerstone of significance for state and local governments. It functions as a dynamic driving force, supporting effective management, legitimizing actions, amplifying transparency, encouraging active participation, and fortifying resilience in government in times of adversity. Establishing and nurturing trust isn't a one-off accomplishment; it's a continuous dedication demanding unwavering vigilance, integrity, and a sincere commitment to the public’s welfare.
Now is the time that all local government leaders need to put trust in their top priorities, because trust is declining, it is hard won, and the challenges are greater than ever - but also, the tools at our disposal are better than before. Let’s take action today- to set up our communities for success for the years and decades to come.
At Zencity, we’ve long been working at improving community engagement for the 21st century and beyond. I’m proud to say that we are making our 360 platform synonymous with using the best technology has to offer to build trust between local governments and those they serve. We hope that by serving our partners, we can support them in leading by example, encouraging governments worldwide to prioritize forging, maintaining, and growing trust as the critical factor in making our towns, cities, states, and countries successful and resilient.
Learn more about our new “360” platform for community trust and how it helps agencies with performance management, planning, communication, public safety, capital projects, and more.