There's been a big emphasis in local government communications about trust. But is there more to things than that?
by Mark Miller
For more than a decade communication strategies across Government and Local Government have had ‘build trust’ in big capital letters on strategies.
From recent polls on national politics or even my Twitter feed you would also be right in thinking that building trust quite rightly deserves to be front and centre.
In Cambridgeshire we strongly believe putting trust at the top misses the point – authorities need to go further. Trust is vital but the battle cry of ‘build trust!’ feels you are separate to the people you are trying to convince. Which of course is self-defeating, because acting as if we are somehow removed from our communities instantly makes it harder for them to relate to what we do.
Community designed practice is at the heart of our transformation and communications programme - our answer to the challenge of improving or even saving lives with less money.
Pollsters also say people fear national decision makers are somehow aloof from what is going on around them.
Being part of the community builds trust but building trust does not make you part of the community. You can still be leaders but you need to be community listeners too.
We are rethinking our communications and engagement - from changing the way we talk to people on social media to positioning our budget consultation as a challenge for Cambridgeshire not a council challenge.
We are taking a step beyond –‘trust me, we know what we are doing’ to ‘we are part of your community’ – your problems are our problems and our successes are your successes.
If you are part of the community, and act how the community would expect one of their own to act then trust comes from that.
This means eating humble pie - you may not have the answers and you might get it wrong. We have swallowed our pride and admitted to communities we have been coming at this the wrong way. Changing how we engage with communities over road safety.
Of course the tricky part is defining what a community is – is it geographical, is it the local knitting group or indeed the Minecraft group that meets online.
This approach has seen us changing how we work online, face to face and even what we stand for. We have taken some first positive steps in improving relationships with Parish Councils who are at the centre of many of their communities – looking at devolving funding, power as well as support to get the best outcome for our communities.
We won an MJ Award this year for Community Engagement that has had real world benefits in increasing volunteering and community cohesion as well as reducing isolation and improvinghealth outcomes.
Residents need to know they can trust us with sensitive information or deciding where a bridge is to be built. But they have to feel we are a champion for their community – we may not always get it right but we always do the best for them.
I admire two Cormacs in Local Government – Cormac Smith and Cormac Russell. Mr Smith rightly champions why trust should be now and continue to be at the heart of what we do. But I think Cormac Russell takes us onto the next stage. He talks of the role councils can play in:
“C rucially not just working with communities to ‘identify the problem’ or even to identify solutions – but to be the solution itself.”
Mark Miller is strategic communications, marketing, community engagement manager at Cambridgeshire County Council.
Picture credit: Galt Museum & Archives.