We’ve all seen the headlines: “Trust in government at all-time low” or “Declining number of Americans have confidence in government to fix problems” or “Government shut down—what next?” Like many of you, I’ve become numb to these headlines.
One positive aspect to this otherwise depressing news is that the public’s confidence in local government continues to be vastly higher than their confidence in state or federal government. Gallup’s most recent poll, from September of this year, shows that 71% of those asked had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence and trust in their local government to handle local problems. Compared to the public’s confidence in their state government (62%) and the downright dismal results of federal government (34%), those of us in local government should view this as a win.
That being said, we increasingly face anti-government sentiment and frustration with government within our communities, and that can make local government work difficult.
So the challenge is: how do you lead effectively amidst this anger, frustration, disgust, and unhappiness towards government? How do you change some of the public’s perception that government is cumbersome, ineffective, lazy and slow? I think the answer is in taking a bite-size approach.
Attempting to change the public’s perception of government as a whole is an overwhelming and awesome task, but attempting to change one citizen’s interaction with the Parks Department when that person calls to rent a pavilion for his or her child’s birthday party is attainable. When you tell a resident you will provide an update on a problem you agreed to look into, keep your word and call back when you say you will. When there is a fair and ethical opportunity to cut down red tape for a business trying to open its doors in your community, take it. And, even more importantly, when you find out you cannot solve that resident’s problem, or that red tape is necessary and cannot be avoided, taking the time to deliver that message in a timely fashion can soften the blow of the “no” and build trust.
When you build trust with citizens and clients, their opinion of you and your organization increases.
Although what happens in Washington is largely out of our control, we can have a positive impact in our own communities on a daily basis. Each interaction with a customer is an opportunity to change how the public views their local government a little bit.
As local government professionals, we know that the vast majority of public employees are passionate, committed, and highly skilled. Let’s give the public more reasons to have trust and confidence in their local government.