Can governments use technological innovation to regain the trust of citizens?

People tend to trust their governments less than they trust business, the media, and NGOs. Jaideep Prabhu writes that our experience with big tech companies has made us expect the same level of convenience and responsiveness from public services such as healthcare, education, and the judicial system. He suggests four principles to help governments innovate and catch up with big tech.

For over two decades now, Edelman, a communications marketing firm, has conducted an annual survey of the trust that people place in four key institutions in their respective countries: government, business, media and NGOs. A major and consistent finding is that of these institutions, citizens trust their governments the least.

Indeed, trust in government reached historic lows in the aftermath of the financial crisis and was just beginning to creep back up when the pandemic struck. In the first few months of 2020, trust in government went up but then subsequently fell again. So much so that by January 2021, business, NGOs and media were all trusted more than governments were in several countries around the world. In some countries—South Korea, the UK, China, Mexico, and Canada in particular—the loss in trust in government entered double digits. And in 18 out of 27 countries surveyed, businesses were the most trusted institution of all.

Why do citizens trust their governments so little and why do they trust businesses more? I would argue that responsiveness and competence are key drivers of trust in any organisation, whether in the public or private sector. And while businesses around the world have been convulsed by radical change and innovation and have learned to do more with less under the sheer dint of shareholder and competitive pressure, governments have been slow to catch up. Indeed, new forms of organisation in the private sector, enabled by digital technologies, have shown ordinary people what is possible in their lives.

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