Trust and Transparency: Twin Keys to Engaging Citizens in Government Innovation Initiatives

Four smiling people.
Engagement matters, across all constituencies.

Governments need the trust of their stakeholders to function. Such trust is built through transparency, in every sense. Both trust and transparency become especially important when pursuing an innovation strategy at the government level.

The Transparency/Trust Loop

Transparency is fundamental to any government simply because good government represents all citizens and is funded in various ways by those citizens through taxes, fees, and other costs. Most governments have disclosure rules and publicly accessible databases on the simple principle that if you pay for it, you have a right to it.

However, transparency is more than just making documents or data available. The perception of transparency is also important. If key records citizens want to consult every day are only available on paper in the attic of a government building with no parking, there will be no perception of transparency and rising suspicion of wrongdoing on the part of the government or someone employed by the government. Ease of access and simple procedures build both trust and transparency and work in a loop; the more citizens can see for themselves the honesty of their elected government, the more trust they have in it.

Being Clear

Innovation presents a new challenge, namely, using information that governments collect. As records are digitized and more accessible, constituents may wonder who’s looking at the data, and why. Especially in situations where some constituencies may be concerned about the impact of a certain innovation, this can come to the fore and detract from trust.

Data handling is a good example. Some forms of data can be collected with little objection, such as a car counter placed at an intersection. As more potentially sensitive data becomes involved, however, trust may become an issue.

Good citizenship starts with trust.

The best method to address this is to ensure that everyone knows that they’re being heard and that both government and their fellow citizens can easily find, understand, and incorporate what they have to say in their questions and concerns. Consider the following to build trust and transparency at the government level:

  • Provide a platform that allows citizens to submit suggestions and feedback online, for example, or vote on different approaches. This assists with your goal of visibility.
  • Automated updates that can be opted into, and are posted online on the platform, are another useful tool. These allow you to get the innovation process in front of as many people as possible while creating a live, constantly updated record to be referred to and shared.
  • Innovation strategies, at the government level, benefit most from the transparency-trust loop. Look for tools that let you organize and present relevant information in ways that make it easy to find and access, such as virtual libraries with shareable links.
  • For meetings, consider livestreaming and recording so a video record is available, posted on a public forum to be easily shared. Transcripts are also useful tools that can be shared on your platform.
  • Finally, actively solicit feedback and share it where possible at every step of the process. This will make feedback simple to track and offer more insight into what changes were made and why they were made as you go along.

Governments must cultivate and maintain the transparency-trust loop at every moment of the innovation process. However, that care will pay off with better citizen engagement, more and better ideas, and a smoother overall process. To learn more about innovation in government, contact us today! 

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