Four years of financial turmoil, recession and weak growth have taken their toll on people’s trust in public institutions and in government. When governments face hard choices about where to spend scarce resources it is all the more important that their citizens believe they are making the best use of taxpayers’ money. When public spending is cut it affects services that ultimately are very personal whether they be education, health services or social safety nets for the poorest in society.
Everyone has an opinion if their local school, hospital or library is threatened with closure. And the millions without jobs need short-term help and longer-term hope that there will be work for them in the future. This crisis has affected millions of people in very personal ways – loss of job, loss of the family home due to inability to meet mortgage payments or a slide into poverty.
Confidence is key to building trust – not just business confidence, which has for many years been seen as a key indicator of where the economy is heading – but also confidence by individuals in their government and systems.
So what can governments do? For starters, they can listen and be amenable to open, transparent interaction with their citizens. The internet makes it anachronistic not to do so. Countries like Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and the UK to name just a few are asking their citizens fundamental questions like what is important to them in life. At the international level, the OECD’s Better Life Inititiative and the project on measuring progress in societies looks more closely at what governments need to measure beyond GDP to deliver better lives to their people. It’s a tool for generating more informed discussions between citizens and their elected officials.
Information on the who, why and how decisions are made is essential to holding government to account, maintaining support in public institutions and creating a level playing field. Greater transparency is not only key to upholding integrity in the public sector, it also contributes to better governance. Indeed, the more open a government is the less likely its citizens are to believe the system is undermined.
People know that growth is what will get them out of this crisis. And they are willing to climb that summit. They just need to trust the guides that are trying to take them there.
“With this protracted recession, citizens have lost faith and trust in their institutions and their governments. Without this confidence, there will be no growth.”
“The drive towards better well-being and sustainability measurements will not be successful unless we show that they can lead to better policies. If we want to prevent another crisis, we need better policies based on better indicators as well as a better understanding of the challenges.”