Education & Government
Kathleen Vail Image
Kathleen Vail
Former Editor-in-Chief, National School Boards Association

Communication and information access builds trust between governments and their citizens

April 3, 2024
0 min read
communication builds trust between governments and citizens

Most people are awash in information. When they want to know something, they only need to check their digital device, and the answer pops up in an instant. Residents expect their local governments to provide accurate and timely information that is quickly and easily available. When they can’t find out what they need or want to know easily, other information — and sometimes misinformation — will fill the gap. They will seek other sources, including those on social media, which may perpetuate misinformation.

Misinformation and a dearth of communication erodes trust between citizens and their local government and elected officials. Americans’ trust in the federal government is low, and that sentiment often extends to state and local governments. Local government officials can build trust with their citizens by being the best and most accurate source of information for their municipality or city. Officials must ensure they communicate as quickly and clearly as possible using multiple channels. The sheer quantity of information out there can bury their messages unless they can find strategies to break through the noise and reach their citizens.

Trust is the most basic factor in government-community relationships. If people don’t trust an agency, they won’t be receptive to its messages or share their views with it honestly,” writes William D. Eggers, executive director of Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights. “While individual people make decisions about trusting/mistrusting, those decisions can be strongly influenced by factors in their communities. For example, a growing general distrust of government institutions makes it hard to reach the right audiences, and in a highly partisan environment, the medium or messenger often becomes more important than the message.”

Engaged and informed residents strengthen the government’s ability to work on their behalf to create a thriving community. To successfully build a trusting relationship with constituents, government officials must use communication strategies that produce avenues for two-way conversations, address potential barriers to information and participation and commit to transparent decision-making.

How technology aids communication and participation

The town government of Carbondale, Colorado knew their residents wanted to understand and participate in the decision-making process, including about new town construction projects. Access to meeting information and documents was a barrier, especially for Spanish-speaking residents.

The town began to use a board management platform (Diligent Community) to livestream board meetings so residents could attend remotely. Additionally, interested citizens were able to obtain board and committee packets in a format that is easily translated to Spanish or other languages using Google Translate or other online translation tools. People can request to speak via the website prior to a meeting, so that when they attend the meeting they are allocated time to raise points or share their opinion.

By utilizing the public transparency site that is included with Diligent Community, meeting minutes and voting records are readily available. Information on the new construction project, including blueprints, is attached to the relevant meeting and can be easily located using powerful search tools.

“I've received fewer requests for copies of minutes, and that's because it's all on Diligent Community and there is a record of everything said, as it's connected to the YouTube video of the meeting,” says Jessica Markham, Town Clerk.

In another example, language barriers were keeping residents of the Municipality of Resolute Bay in Nunavut, Canada, from accessing information about their local government. The municipality needed a way to translate their documents and information in the local language Inuktitut, which is made up of syllabic characters. By adding the syllabic alphabet to the Diligent Community platform, the town can now publish documents in the native language, which has resulted in an increase in the participation and engagement of the municipality residents.

The town council also uses the public transparency website included as part of Diligent Community, as a one-stop shop for all information about the governance of Resolute Bay.

Ian Dudla, Resolute Bay’s chief administration officer, said, “Once the agenda is published online, there is greater awareness in the community and beyond. We have community members subscribing to the new service so that they are informed when the next council meeting will take place. The stakeholders are better informed.”

5 tips to ensure community access to information

Strengthening local government ties and relationships with their communities starts and end with information access and communication. Here are five suggestions to consider:

  1. Have a single source of truth: Push out consistent, regular and reliable information through your public facing portal of your board management software and ensure citizens know that this is the place to come for up-to-date information.
  2. Remove barriers to information: Make sure that information is accessible to all members of the community, including those with disabilities or language barriers, through easily translated documents and other assistive technologies. People may wish to access information in different formats, such as audio, visual, and translated versions. Your public website should also be ADA-compliant.
  3. Promote accurate information: When incidents or events happen, use your board software to quickly publish accurate information on your key communication channel: your website, as well as enabling notifications for your subscribers. Don’t wait for the news to spread on social media or word of mouth. Clear and timely dissemination of information can foster trust and engagement, even when that news is difficult or potentially controversial.
  4. Create an easy to navigate website: Posting information on a website is not enough to ensure that anyone will see it. Websites should be designed with robust search features and easy and fast navigation in mind.
  5. Encourage two-way communication: Community communication plans should include ways to encourage residents to voice opinions and ideas on matters before the board. Mechanisms to allow the public to request to speak during comment sessions are a useful feature to help foster engagement. Beyond public comment sections, local government officials can also arrange to hold in-person and online listening sessions and allow for written and oral feedback, comments and suggestions.

Trust takes work

Building trust won’t happen overnight, of course. It results from careful planning and focus by elected officials to encourage and create informed and engaged citizens. Diligent Community can help. It is a cloud-based board management software with tools that support transparent decision-making and clear public access to information.

Local government organizations can use their public transparency website that comes with Diligent Community to keep residents up to date with a single source of truth. Livestreaming can be set up through Livestream Manager for public access to meetings with video, broadcast directly alongside public meeting agendas and minutes. It also offers automated live closed captioning for enhanced accessibility and easy search features for the public to find information. Recorded meetings can be viewed later with time-stamped minutes to facilitate easy navigation through recorded content.

Community access to trusted information in the digital age requires digital tools designed for the needs of local governments. Using board management technology specifically designed for the public sector can help municipalities build trust with their community members. Explore how a modern digital solution to support board governance can help build trust and engagement.


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