Public Trust and Local Democracy – The Secret to Successful Crisis Management

What is public trust?
Is there a way to measure it? And how can one know if it was harmed during the COVID-19 crisis?
Let's start from the beginning – public trust is a crucial ingredient in any democratic country, and it is not just an expression.
Public trust is a tangible metric and criterion for establishing a more democratic country. Democratic countries around the globe are measured by the Democracy Index – a report that showcases the level of democracy in a given country, and one of the criteria is public trust.
The annually published Israeli Democracy Index is a report compiled by The Israel Democracy Institute, providing an annual estimate of the democracy in Israel. One of the criteria in the Israeli Democracy Index is the public trust index, which includes metrics such as trust in state institutions, trust in elected officials, and more.
The public trust index is currently measured at 30%, and the downtrend continues since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.
Why is this happening?
Why was this index harmed specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic, and why is our confidence in our elected officials’ ability to change our reality decreasing?
Here are a few reasons:

Lack of transparency

What motivates our elected officials’ decisions is unclear. Their decision-making process is not transparent, which prevents us from understanding their reasoning and logic in terms of new restrictions or even which types of businesses will open up and which stay closed. The public trust in the government has weakened due to lack of information.

Distance and lack of dialogue

Our elected officials are not part of our daily lives. They are detached from the citizens’ normal day to day experience, and there is a prevalent a sense that they are disconnected from the real world. Their decisions are conveyed to us through the local municipality; therefore, when local government provides proper advocacy, there are unmistakable higher levels of public trust.

Lack of responsibility
and setting a personal example

If there is anything that the Israeli public dislikes, it is feeling like a fraier (Israeli slang for sucker, originating from Yiddish). The public senses that the government (the main authority) and the elected officials have certain privileges in terms of the restrictions. So, if they allow themselves to break the rules, the civilians can do the same. The responsibility is not shared by the leadership and the citizens, and there is no sense of a shared struggle or unity
Studies show that the public’s ability to trust the government’s actions has decreased due to miscommunication between the most fundamental parties that are present in every country – civilians and elected officials.
Coronavirus crisis and public trust: it’s all been said
“The most important tool in dealing with crises is public trust” -
Yifat Shasha-Biton, Chairperson of the COVID-19 Committee.
שיתוף הציבור
המכון הדמוקרטי
“Public trust is critical in dealing with the crisis" -
Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, former Director General of the Ministry of Health stated in an interview following his retirement.
“We must have the public's trust,” claimed Yoav Kisch, Deputy Minister of Health. And even the Acting Director General of the Ministry of Health, Professor Ronni Gamzu, said, “The main thing that we need here is the public's trust.”
שיתוף הציבור
So how can we restore public trust? Can it be renewed?
How can we overcome the miscommunication between the government and the civilians? How can we defeat the pandemic with trust?
At a time when every statement by an elected official is perceived as politically motivated, it is difficult to trust government institutions and the central government. The last 3 election campaigns, the way the Coronavirus crisis was managed, and the public protests prove that the public and the government are not communicating on the same wavelength.
עיר דמוקרטית

“A relay race”

Transferring government responsibilities to local authorities. During these days, the local authorities occupy more space in our lives. The community we belong to becomes much more significant to us the as days go by, and a relay race between the government to the local municipality is important and critical in forming a relationship between the little guy and the elected official. The local authority is the body that can build the bridge between decisionmakers and the public.

Advocacy, Transparency, and Dialogue

It is as simple as it sounds. The public wants to know why – why are things done differently abroad, why can one shop be open while the other must be closed, and why ministers are traveling and violating the restrictions while the public cannot. The public needs a clear answer to all their questions, and to do so, the government needs to form a platform that will facilitate a dialogue with the public, where they can ask questions and discuss issues. The national information and knowledge center for dealing with COVID-19 published a transparent and clear document that included the detailed plans of countries around the globe for reopening the market and returning to certain routine activities. 

Public Participation

Countries that have managed to contain the pandemic had high levels of trust in the government.
Among these countries is Taiwan, which accepted suggestions directly from its citizens. The country established a unique platform to which citizens could send suggestions to help the government become more efficient. In New Zealand, which responded to the plague rapidly, they formed personal relationships with the citizens by sending special text messages emphasizing the importance of cooperation with the authorities. During lockdown, the government provided the citizens with specific dates and indexes to measure its success. Thus, it established hope that encouraged the residents to follow the rules. These tools and platforms contributed to public participation and forged a bond between the civilians and the local government, which are milestones in dealing with the situation.
In short, as seen in the piece that was produced by Channel 12 on Israeli television, the cities that made the transition from red to green
Encouraged public participation and direct contact between the citizens and the authority.
Provided advocacy, clarity, and transparency about the situation, And set a personal example.
Transferring the authority from the government to the local municipalities will allow them to steer their relationship with the public in a better way. Using democratic tools such as the democratic city, public participation, and other tools, will allow the chief directors and elected officials to restore and re-facilitate public trust.
Directing and solving the crisis requires one to restore public trust – and urgently so. The best way to do so is through public participation, proper advocacy, and local democracy.

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