England & Wales Communities and society, Democracy, devolution and governance

LGiU and public trust


Image via https://pixabay.com/

Ingrid Koehler casts an eye over the LGiU’s recent work on trust in the public realm.

Trust is nebulous thing. Like love, it requires qualification. Is it active trust or passive trust? Is it part of a two-way relationship or is the trust required in a single direction. Trust in a romantic relationship is not the same as trust among colleagues. It’s different again from the kind of loose bonds that allow us to trust one another enough to create a society where we, the people, trust the people enough to all cast a single vote each to determine our leaders and our direction.

Despite the difficulty of defining trust, we think we know what it is. We know when we have it and we know when we’ve lost it. We also know it matters. We know that it’s required for every single interaction we have – we trust that our partners haven’t poisoned our tea, we trust that there remains an infrastructure to get us to work, we trust that our employers will pay us at the end of the month. We trust that the basic matters of living in any kind of human density – potable water, breathable air, rubbish removal will be taken care of.

Yet, at its core, trust must be worked on. Trust in a family situation is maintained by spending time together and displaying certain behaviours that demonstrate trustworthiness like checking in and  showing thoughtfulness. If this is so, then so must it be so that there are ways to improve and build trust in other contexts. There wouldn’t be a whole industry of team building otherwise.

Trust of our fellow citizen, while just as important to living with a sense of calm and security, is harder to identify a clear path of improvement. But we know that people who engage in more group leisure and sporting activity and who volunteer trust the ‘average person in the street more’.

Even harder to identify are ways that we build loose bonds of trust, such as those who required to live in a democracy or to work with local institutions for the common good.  And how do we build bonds of trust where there is little relational reciprocity? Such as the trust in institutions or processes. Yet if we believe that trust is falling or that if we need more trust to enable us to work together to achieve the common good then we must be able to find ways to repair and build trust and ways to amplify the cohesiveness of civic society.

Throughout the year we have focused on issues of public trust. Through looking at engagement, civic discourse and relationships between organisations and between citizens and the state. We deliver a keystone project on local elections each year – and more than ever we have focused on supporting the efforts to make candidate and results data quickly and readily available to the public. This year we could not have done it without support from our members who came to support our on-the-night coverage. We continued to work with partners supporting transparency in Government from the Cabinet Office sponsored transparency review and the civic society groups like Democracy Club. Local government elections are now given the kind of media attention they deserve and so we are now developing new ways to share the story of public trust and democracy.

On our blog and our podcast LGiU Fortnightly we have regularly explored issues of public trust, from fake news to the foundations of democratic legitimacy (See our 16 November edition as one example). We have also taken a deep dive into the granular issues of engagement by looking at the enduring relationships which much be developed throughout regeneration and estate re-development and will be publishing a toolkit to support long-term engagement in the new year.  Find out more about this work here.

We have also published a specific look at the role of trust in outcomes based commissioning in adult social care. This is an area where trust is lacking and where the processes of procurement have pushed trust out-of-reach and narrowed an area of service that should be focused on achieving outcomes and maintaining independence has devolved to hours (or minutes) spent in someone’s home and LGiU has worked hard with our partners including Kingston Council to develop a new model for outcomes based commissioning which supports transparency and trust.

We will round up our thinking and learning in the New Year and will continue to look at public trust in 2019.