Restoring public trust is an important priority for state and local governments in general, as well as individual agencies. On the one hand, higher trust may often be a reflection that government is delivering competent and empathetic services. Higher trust in government may also help agencies to be more successful in their missions, as increased trust may lead to desirable behaviors such as greater compliance with regulators, participation in optional programs, and engagement with government. Strong trust can enable greater government effectiveness, while low trust can increase costs and make it more difficult to achieve desired outcomes.
Our survey insights point to some key steps that state governments can take to restore trust:
1) Identify where trust is lacking: The first step to restoring trust is assessing trust levels among the population, and then digging deeper to find out what’s behind those views. Government could benefit from greater insight into the trust perception of its people. Polls or surveys can be valuable instruments for discovering which agencies are trusted, which are not, as well as what groups of people lack trust in public institutions and why.
2) Focus on your agency’s digital experience: Our results showed a clear link between satisfaction with online services and trust in government. Keeping the end-to-end user experience in mind can help agencies design services that are easy to use and deliver positive results. Governments should consider enhancing the digital experience as a way to foster greater trust in government.
3) Choose trust building actions based on agency mission: Assessing the appropriate archetype in which an agency fits based on its mission can help to identify the key trust signals—humanity, transparency, capability, or reliability—that an agency might focus on to restore trust. Benefit-providing agencies and enforcement agencies may gain from different approaches.
4) Proactively and transparently sharing performance data: Government agencies sometimes miss the opportunity to share good news about what they have accomplished. The shortcomings of government services tend to be highlighted, while success stories are often overlooked. Government agencies that transparently share their own results—good and bad—can help combat this bias.
5) Make the journey to restoring public trust a priority: The lack of trust in government has reached a point where it merits the attention of public leaders. The journey to restoring trust should include not only measuring it, but also enhancing services and managing trust perception in a way that ensures the areas of weaknesses are addressed.
Understanding the trust signal and composite scores
The composite trust scores shared in the paper were calculated by grouping the responses to individual questions into three buckets: low trust, mid-level trust, and high trust, as shown in the figure below. We then subtracted the low-trust responses from the high-trust responses to generate a net score for that question, which could theoretically range from -100 to +100. The responses for each question were combined according to the drivers of trust, with humanity and transparency being grouped to yield a value for intent, and capability and reliability being grouped to yield a value for competence.