Can Governments Reverse the Damage to Citizens' Post-Pandemic Loss of Trust?

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Heather Dailey 28 March 2024
Can Governments Reverse the Damage to Citizens' Post-Pandemic Loss of Trust?

Reframing the Narrative Around Trust and Transparency  

The COVID-19 pandemic not only eroded public trust in governments but also heightened concerns about cyber threats and data breaches. As the world became more reliant on digital infrastructure during the crisis, incidents of cyberattacks and data breaches surged, further diminishing public confidence in government institutions. Moreover the proliferation of false or misleading information during the pandemic caused confusion, undermined official guidance, and fuelled scepticism towards government actions.  

The Edelman Trust Barometer's 2023 statistics indicate a troubling decline in trust across the globe. In Canada trust in government sits at a neutral 51%, down 1% from 2022. In Australia the figure drops to 45%, declining 7% since 2022, and in the US it drops further to 42%. Down a further 1% since 2022. In New Zealand, in survey findings by the Public Service Commission, trust in the public sector brand is holding steady at 60% between 2022 and 2023. In fact, New Zealand is one of the few regions bucking the trend with trust in government having increased from 49% in 2019 to a peak of 69% in 2020, then settled at 60% in 2022 and 2023 (figure 7). 

Interestingly, according to the survey, only 8% of global respondents felt that Trust and Security were a major priority. This though has increased 3% already since 2022 (figure 8) and we anticipate it will increase further as cyber threat vectors become more intelligent and attacks more frequent. 

Looking to the future, public trust is crucial for government as it forms the foundation of a healthy democratic society. Trust in government fosters social cohesion, stability, and effective governance. When citizens have faith in their government, they are more likely to comply with policies, support public initiatives, and actively participate in civic processes. Trust facilitates transparency, accountability, and legitimacy, allowing governments to maintain their authority and successfully address societal challenges. Without public trust, governments face heightened resistance, decreased cooperation, and a diminished ability to effectively serve and represent the interests of their constituents.


Regaining trust once it has been lost is a challenge, but is certainly not impossible. The approach must be twofold however, with perception and capability both addressed. What is meant by this is that the perception of trustworthiness must be enhanced, while the capabilities of government to support this through services and systems worthy of trust are increased simultaneously. With trust rebuilt - or at least on a positive trajectory - government stands to gain several benefits from citizens, and their employees.

For Citizens:

  • Ease of policy making  
  • Greater uptake and support in data sharing and digital services 
  • Improved voluntary compliance  

For Employees:

  • Streamlined internal change management   
  • More engaged frontline teams delivering better services 
  • A cohort of agency advocates – after all, public sector employees are citizens too  

Globally trust in government is at all-time lows, but by acknowledging that there is in fact an issue government can begin reframing the narrative. Establishing and maintaining trust relies on two essential elements: consistently fulfilling commitments with competence and demonstrating genuine intentions.  

Competence refers to the capability to effectively execute and deliver on promises. It involves following through on what is communicated or pledged. Intent, on the other hand, encompasses the motivations and purpose behind a leader's actions. It entails taking initiatives with authentic empathy and a sincere concern for the desires and requirements of stakeholders. By consistently demonstrating competence and acting with good intent the public sector globally can build stronger, more connected, and better equipped governments for the future.

Case Study Snapshot – Royal Canadian Mounted Police  

Enhancing Transparency, Accountability and Trust in Policing with Open Government Data  

Insights from Jeff Ball, A/Executive Director - Analytics, Data, and Information Management Branch 

The Challenge: 

Policing was, and still is, facing growing demand by citizens and advocacy groups for more accountability and true transparency. With public trust in policing on a steady decline the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is taking action to be more open and transparent, while building and strengthening trust in law enforcement. 

The Strategy: 

Rebuilding trust is by no means an overnight endeavour. In 2015 the RCMP’s Open Government Implementation Plan is created and published on the Open Government Portal — many targets were unmet in the following years, due to resource shortages and priority conflicts. 

In 2020, with trust still waning RCMP released three key datasets to the RCMP’s Transparency web site. The datasets are: Calls for service, Employee diversity and Use of Force. Realising how powerful transparency can be in keeping governments accountable, improving the lives of citizens, driving innovation, and protecting democracies, in 2021 RCMP created an Open Government and Data Governance directorate to dedicate full time resources to the advancement of Open Government at the RCMP. 


Transparency is not an easy journey and even less so in areas that have been traditionally closed, but honest, open dialogues with radical candour and critical thinking have been great at making waves and progress.  We have a consistent growing network of clients and partners inside and outside the RCMP that are working with us to improve transparency and accountability.”

 - Jeff Ball 


The Outcome: 

Since its creation, in 2021, the Open Government and Data Governance Branch at the RCMP has included commitments in Canada’s National Action Plan on Open Government, started important internal dialogue on increasing transparency in policing, leading discussions with security and intelligence partners on open by design and secure by design approaches, started opening more RCMP reports and records proactively to the public, targeted key data with partners to be released to the public and advanced discussions on citizen participation in program, policy and service development.   


In May 2023 RCMP released the Transparency & Trust Strategy Enabled by Open Government strategy and roadmap to improve transparency year over year in the interest of accountability and trust and in July 2023 the RCMP released the first open data set around the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. This release is the first of many open data releases to come and a major first step in meeting goals in the Transparency and Trust Strategy. 


“The RCMP's Transparency and Trust Strategy demonstrates a commitment to build a foundation and lead by example when it comes to transparency in policing. Enhancing access to data and information can lead to amazing things like innovation, de-victimisation, accountability, as well as improved services, research and engagement.”

 - Jeff Ball 

Interested in learning more?

Sign up for free to Public Sector Network's social learning platform to access the full '2023 Global Government Survey Report'. By analysing global government trends, collected from over 6,000 government professionals across Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada, this report identifies common areas of concern and success, promoting knowledge exchange and fostering international collaboration in an effort to help build the thriving, citizen-centric governments of tomorrow.

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Heather Dailey Content Strategist, Marketing