A Countervailing Force to the Global Crisis in Trust
The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer released last week shows a very troubling, continued decline of trust in institutions across the globe, which was already at all-time low in 2017. Citizens perceive their democratic 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 citizens.
In the United States, for example, trust among the general population fell to 42 percent from 52 percent in 2017, driven by what appears to be a lack of faith in government and media. Trust also fell in other Open Government Partnership (OGP) countries, including Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Spain, Brazil, South Korea, Germany, Sweden, Australia, France, U.K., Ireland, and South Africa. At the same time, China has emerged as the government most trusted by its citizens.
As trust continues to collapse in Western democracies and rise in authoritarian states, the global community faces a profound challenge: how to rebuild citizen trust, lack of which now threatens the very foundation of democracy.
It is at this time that OGP – with 75 countries, a growing number of local governments, and thousands of civil society organizations – can serve as a countervailing force to show a more hopeful path. A few months ago, we launched a landmark publication of essays from leading thinkers and practitioners on how open government approaches can rebuild trust. . To be sure, we find similar challenges of deep citizen distrust in some OGP countries. But what anchors and grounds our hope is that within many OGP countries, courageous reformers from government and civil society are joining forces to put citizens first.
In Estonia, citizens crowdsourced and voted on policy proposals to usher citizen-led legislation on political party financing. In Paris, citizens are setting budget priorities that respond to their needs.
In Uruguay, citizens have been able to take control of their health care choices through the government’s A Tu Servicio portal to track healthcare costs, compare providers, and view treatment wait times online.
In Georgia, Ukraine and Mongolia, citizens are following public money, open contracts and delivery of basic services, and flagging problems for corrective action, saving $1 billion in Ukraine.
Colombia, Costa Rica and Argentina are advancing women’s voice, participation and empowerment through open government approaches.
In Chile, to curb influence peddling, citizens are tracking meetings and donations between lobbyists and officials.
And at a time when several governments are shutting down voices, Latvia and Serbia are expanding civic space so more voices can be heard.
These are inspirational reforms – but they are too few and far-between.
We need government, civil society, and other stakeholders to join forces to scale up and transform these innovations into global norms, into a new social compact where citizens shape and oversee open governments. It is then that the open government movement can serve as a force of change to this global crisis of trust, prevail over the looming threats to democracy, and put citizens first – to deliver on OGP’s essential vision of governments truly serving their citizens.