Building trust in government through strategic communications
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Building trust in government through strategic communications

October 25, 2023

According to research by the Partnership, only around one-third of Americans trust our federal government. 

To examine why this trust is so low and to equip federal leaders and other critical stakeholders with the tools to rebuild it, we held our first annual Trust Summit on Sept. 27.  

One of the key themes emphasized throughout the event was the role that effective communication plays in shaping trust and building relationships between federal institutions and the people they serve. Here are three main takeaways: 

1. Use the trust triangle of authenticity, logic, and empathy to guide effective communication.

Donna Garland, a marketing and communications expert at the General Services Administration, emphasized the need for federal agencies to understand how audiences digest and act on information to break through a media landscape saturated with information and multiple communication channels.  

Focusing on the social science theories behind trust, she shared how the triangle of authenticity, logic and empathy can guide agency communications. 

  • Authenticity requires leaders and communicators to genuinely embody the values and ethics of their organizations in their communications. 
  • Logic revolves around the use of science and intellect, highlighting the need to convey complex data in a clear and comprehensible manner that is accessible to the public. 
  • Empathy means demonstrating care for individuals. 
Donna Garland explains the trust triangle at Trust Summit.
Sue Fulton at the panel session: Storytelling, trust and the public.

2. Center those you serve.  

Sue Fulton, an assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs, shed light on the agency’s successful strategies for gaining trust, noting that after years of concerted customer experience efforts, nearly 80% of VA customers trust the agency.  

She emphasized the agency’s commitment to maintaining a veteran-centric approach and ensuring that veterans remain at the core of all VA programs and policies, including prioritizing transparency in agency communications and community engagement.  

3. Balance opportunities for growth with good news. 

Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, underscored the significance of transparency and data-driven decision-making in the realm of science.  

While Pérez-Stable acknowledged ongoing challenges in reducing disparities in health care, he noted that there has been progress in the field over the past two decades. He suggested that it is important to emphasize these positive developments, even while recognizing the need for more equity, as a way to build trust in science and government. According to Pérez-Stable, government also needs to pair these communication strategies with better service to the public by funding new and important scientific work. 

Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable at the panel session: Storytelling, trust and the public.

These takeaways are just a few of the insights shared during our Trust Summit. To experience the event for yourself, you can view it here or below.

To learn more about our trust work, visit our website and our Trust in Government Dashboard 

Photo credit: Darcy Romano Bailey

Yumeng Xie is an intern at the Partnership’s communications team.

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