Recent political events sweeping democratic strongholds around the world reflect a deep loss of faith in government. Citizens perceive their institutions to be captured by elites who are disconnected from the needs of their constituents or complicit in schemes that benefit the powerful at the expense of ordinary citizens. Restoring trust in institutions is arguably one of the most pressing challenges for democracies in the 21st century. Trust is not only based on the evaluation of policy outputs or benefits, it is also based on whether citizens feel that they are part of the policy-making processes. There is a need for a revolution in the state-society system of relations by including the principles of transparency, participation and co-creation within public institutions.

1. Arming Citizens with Meaningful Information: Transparency is a critical first step in rebuilding trust. But information made transparent must be genuinely useful to and usable by citizens.

2. Empowering Citizen Voice in Policymaking: Putting citizens at the heart of policymaking gives them the opportunity to shape legislation and policies in areas that they care about most.

3. Reaching Out to Marginalized Citizens: Inclusion of the most vulnerable in public dialogue and policy priorities is essential to win their trust.

4. Empowering Citizens to Follow the Money: Enabling citizens to monitor government spending and report the misuse of public funds helps build confidence in public institutions by demonstrating that tax money is being spent wisely.5. Responding to Citizen Needs: Transparency and participation are not silver bullets. Beyond feeling heard, citizens need to feel that government is responsive to their voice. Lack of responsiveness may in fact exacerbate citizens’ skepticism and distrust in government. Closing the feedback loop requires that citizens monitor government activities, provide feedback and expect government response.

5. Enlisting Citizens in the Fight Against Grand Corruption & Elite Capture: Elite capture and grand corruption fuel citizen distrust and apathy, reinforcing the corrosive perception that government doesn’t work for the people.

Governments can solve problems with their citizens and credibly respond to their core concerns, including of the poorest and most marginalized. Reformers from government, civil society, private sector and other groups need to forge coalitions to empower ordinary citizens in the exercise and oversight of governance, break the cycle of distrust, and ensure governments truly serve their citizens, rather than serving themselves.


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