Skip to content
Podcast Article June 20th, 2023

Reimagining Government episode 4: transcript

🎙️ Reimagining Government

In partnership with Apolitical, this six-part podcast explores radical new approaches to addressing global issues such as the climate crisis, equitable healthcare provision, and rebuilding trust with marginalised communities. By speaking with public servants and politicians at the heart of government, we’ll shine a light on how to reimagine government so it works for everyone.


SFX: [00:00:00] A question at the President's White House Coronavirus briefing yesterday got a whole lot of attention. Mr. President, after three and a half years, do you regret at all, all the lying you've done to the American people?

All the what?

All the lying, all the dishonesty.

That who has done?

You have done.

uh, tens of-

go ahead, please, please.

Adrian Brown: Trust. Where would we be without it? Trust is a fundamental sense that we've subconsciously woven into the very fabric of modern society. The relationship systems and rules we've built around ourselves are all forged upon the rudimentary feeling of trust between human beings.

SFX: I don't accept this ruling. We're not gonna go back. We're not gonna go back. What changed since 1973? What changed?

Adrian Brown: And this is particularly important for governments, whether it is asking the public to stay at home to stop the spread of a virus, or simply to pay their taxes on time.

SFX: Uh, they're fear mongers [00:01:00] cuz they don't know. I mean, people might say though they're the experts. But they're not though because their numbers have been lied.

SFX: My biggest fear right now is how quick American Patriots crumbled and hid in their homes because their government told them that they should. So what do I say to the science? I say, I don't believe your science because I believe my God.

Adrian Brown: Trust is essential for the effectiveness of many public policies. It is the foundation for any well-functioning government. But once trust is broken, it can be hard to rebuild and building trust where there is none to begin with can bring with it even more complexity.

SFX: And to those politicians supported by the NRA that allow the continued slaughter of our children and our future, I say, get your resumes ready.

Adrian Brown: In modern society, we're seeing an uptick in residents showing distrust towards government. Research from the organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that only four in ten people trust their government. Many marginalised communities have never felt trust towards their government. [00:02:00]

This is perhaps unsurprising given that their needs have often been overlooked and their concerns ignored. Not to mention the many examples of governments committing deliberately discriminatory acts against minority groups. Communities are getting tired of empty promises. How can governments dismantle the inequitable power dynamics that persist and often lie at the heart of people's distrust of government?

Is it too late to build a bridge to better relationships between government and those they serve. Reimagining Government is a podcast where we shine a light on changemakers sharing their ideas on how to reimagine a new government equipped to face modern challenges and find real solutions. This episode is hosted by Jorge Fanjul, a director at the Centre for Public Impact in North America, who specialises in government legitimacy.

Jorge Fanjul: My name is Jorge and I lead a team that works to envision a [00:03:00] world where the relationship between the public and government is restored. In this episode, I want to highlight the legitimacy crisis facing government and how leaders are working to repair the broken relationship with historically marginalised communities.

Today we will mainly focus on examples from the United States. Of course, this isn't a challenge only faced by this region. However, because legitimacy is highly impacted by unique dynamics and based on relationships, I wanted to shine a light on some of the changemakers that I have personal relationships with, as well as share the stories of others who have been leading the way in their communities and beyond.

May 25th, 2020. A 46 year old black man named George Floyd was murdered in the US city of Minneapolis by Derek Chauvin, a 44 year old white police officer. [00:04:00] An inexcusable crime. But unfortunately, in the United States today, It's nothing out of the ordinary.

SFX: Officials in Minneapolis hoping for calm tonight after a former police officer was charged with murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. The now fired officer pinned Floyd's neck to the ground for several minutes As he pleaded, he couldn't breathe.

Jorge Fanjul: People had had enough. The world responded to Floyd's murder with protests against the use of excessive force by police officers. The New York Times described the movement as the largest protest in the United States since the civil rights era.

Organisations and companies responded with a wave of public statements and pledges. Like in many cities across the US, residents of Salt Lake City, Utah, took to the streets that summer to call for police reform, community building, and lasting change.

[00:05:00] Mayor Aaron Mendenhall spoke of the need for transformative reforms to erase racial and gender inequities in the city. And asked all residents to come together to intentionally address systemic oppression and discrimination in the city.

SFX: And part of the pain of, uh, unpacking the centuries of oppression and racism that have existed in this country is acknowledging even if we don't feel any individual that they had a part in what's happened in the past, we all have a part in what needs to come on.

Jorge Fanjul: May 18th, 2021, mayor Mendenhall appointed Kaletta Lynch as the inaugural Chief Equity Officer and established the Mayor's Office of Equity and Inclusion. Since then, they have been building an equity and inclusion team to help Salt Lake City level the equity playing field for all. I [00:06:00] sat down with two key members of this team, Moana Uluave-Hafoka and Michelle Mooney to find out about the work they have been doing.

Moana Uluave-Hafoka: My name is Moana Uluave-Hafoka and I am the equity manager in the Salt Lake City Mayor's Office. I think the role for the mayor's office equity and inclusion team is to provide equity, which in our definition is policy, programming and practice within Salt Lake City to provide that infrastructure and support both internally and externally for Salt Lake City.

Michelle Mooney: My name is Michelle Mooney and I am the equity liaison in the Salt Lake City Mayor's Office. I believe that our role is to overall engage with the city staff, elected officials, and the public to provide education, policy recommendations, as well as technical assistance in various forms related to diversity, equity, [00:07:00] inclusion, and belonging.

Jorge Fanjul: Moana and the wider equity and inclusion team have been working hard to address past harms and rebuild legitimacy in Salt Lake City. The city focused specifically on advancing equity in policing and public safety. To make headway on this longstanding and highly charged issue, the city knew they had to not only speak directly with impacted communities, but they also had to take the time to understand the history in context of their relationship with the government and the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Moana Uluave-Hafoka: What was really, um, impactful for us was to go to community members and speak directly to them to see what they wanted, and having that participation directly from community members.

Jorge Fanjul: In addition to community outreach, the team also undertook historical analysis to further develop their understanding.

Moana Uluave-Hafoka: [00:08:00] The activity that we did with connecting Salt Lake City's historical background with a lot of the, the issues and challenges that Salt Lake City has today. What we had with the historical analysis exercise was this board that you were drawing lines from, like Salt Lake City PD. Why was it created and how come it reacts in the way it does?

A lot of the, the discussions we had with community members as well as Salt Lake City internal staff was something that I still think about today, which is a whole year later, seeing that East West divide and how it all connects to public policy right now. I think that that piece, what we were able to do was think through things that we've understood and known within Salt Lake City, but then to put it up on the board and really connect the dots. I think that that was one of the most impactful lessons for me.

Jorge Fanjul: [00:09:00] As part of their efforts to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion in policing and within the community at large, the Salt Lake City Council convened the racial equity and policing commission.

Michelle Mooney: So the racial equity and policing commission was established to examine The Salt Lake City police department’s policies, culture, and budget, as well as any other city policies that influence SLCPD'S culture policies in terms of how they work with the communities around them. The racial equity and policing commission is important, in the sense that we understand that there's an issue, and this is not just unique to Salt Lake City or Utah.

This is an issue that occurs all throughout the us, all throughout this world, and this commission is very important in terms of being unique in the sense that it is focused on an institution, which is the police department, and trying to work hard and diligently to establish a culture that has been historically [00:10:00] biassed and prejudiced towards marginalised communities.

There is an issue with certain interactions being different in terms of how the police navigates these communities. However, again, it's not just an issue that's unique to Salt Lake City or Utah. The difference is the courage of this city's administration to move forward with their efforts to listen to all of their communities that they serve and bring about institutional change for all.

Jorge Fanjul: Transparency builds trust, seeking out strengths and addressing weaknesses within the Salt Lake City police force while proactively sharing information with the community on what is being improved challenges the status quo of what many people currently expect from government.

Moana Uluave-Hafoka: The, the racial and gender makeup of Salt Lake City Council and the mayor have drastically changed within the last five years. There was never an elected on the city council person of colour, even though Salt Lake [00:11:00] City has a large Latinx population as well as Pacific Islander and various other racial identities. And so to look at what the Salt Lake City Council looks like today, as well as having a woman at the helm of leading us out in policy and the administration can attest to what representation can do.

But also, the piece of having earned legitimacy and knowing people and working with people and then becoming the electeds that, or the community feels best represents them, I think has been a huge shift within Salt Lake City.

I think that any city within the United States can learn from that, that just small groups of people who are like, we're gonna get folks elected who look and think and are from our neighbourhood, um, so that we can make these institutional changes. The creation of [00:12:00] the, the chief equity officer, uh, as well as our team, and then all of the policies, practices, and programs that have come out in the last two years have been linked directly because residents and those who are voting have put into power people who think and want the same things as them. And I think that that's the beautiful testament of what Salt Lake City can teach the rest of the United States.

Jorge Fanjul: Salt Lake City continues to make great progress to improve policing and earn the people's trust in their government. Earning legitimacy is a complex, unique, and involved process, but the city is committed to forming the unique relationships necessary to build a more equitable Salt Lake City now and in the future. Let's leave Salt Lake City behind for now and learn from another great city [00:13:00] making strides to practise a more equitable way of governing. Let's head over to Chicago.

SFX: Mitchell was just seven years old in July of 1919 during the red summer, a century ago. She just had moved to Chicago with her mother and sister and was staying on the south side with her Uncle Cecil when the unrest began.

I can hear my uncle saying, here they come, and when he said, here, they come it meant the white folks were coming.

Jorge Fanjul: In 1919, a racial conflict between white and black Americans broke out in the south side of Chicago. The events largely triggered the segregated boundaries that we see in place today. Although the city is very different in the 21st century, Chicago's racial and economic inequalities persist. Today, 21% of Chicagoans live below the poverty line.

But this is something the city seems intent on tackling. Upon taking [00:14:00] office, one of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's first actions was to appoint Candace Moore as the first ever chief equity officer for the city.

Candace Moore: A big reason why cities need to focus on equity is because the results that the city's institutions, really the world produces right now is inequity.

Jorge Fanjul: Candace was tasked with building a new office of equity and racial justice from the ground up. She explains why the role of chief equity officer is so important to creating more equitable cities.

Candace Moore: It almost doesn't matter what data set you're looking at when you're looking at population and community level outcomes, we so often see patterns of, of inequity, one of which is often around the construct of race. We know that this isn't fair. We know that this is unjust. We can point to the moments in history that have driven, uh, some of these dynamics, but [00:15:00] the question is, what are we gonna do about it now? And as a city, there is an opportunity to focus on equity to say that we care about driving different kinds of outcomes. So we are going to have an intentional effort and strategy at building more equitable practices that drive to more equitable results. And so why you need a chief equity officer is not because that person is your superhero coming in to save the day and to drive all the equitable results.

But because if you're doing any kind of change process, if you're trying to work across policies and practices, you need a leader. You need someone whose job it is to dedicate their time and their energy to thinking about what needs to be different. [00:16:00] How do we support people to have the skills and the capacity to drive at different results? And how do we look at our data and our information to see if we're in fact being successful?

Jorge Fanjul: Being the first ever appointed chief equity officer, Candace had to pave the way in what this kind of work looked like in Chicago. She chose to centre Chicago's approach around three strategic pillars.

Candace Moore: So the first is to support community healing. We can do real healing work. So what that looks like in a tangible sense is thinking about the convening power of government. The power to connect people across lines of difference. Here in Chicago, in America, I would argue maybe around the world, communities often have a really fraught relationship with government, and so what does it mean for a leader in government to acknowledge that there has been harm and set and create a condition in which you own it, you reclaim it, and you think about a path forward. And so we have been taking that model of reflect on the past, reclaim the present, and reimagine the future, and actually drive it into policy. [00:17:00] So our pillar around a support community healing is powerful and full of, of different ways in which we're doing that work.

Jorge Fanjul: Government acknowledging and owning past harms is the first step to community healing. Reimagining the future also requires new tools, approaches, and partnerships, as Candace suggests.

Candace Moore: The second pillar is build transformative tools and partnerships. And the basic concept here is that you can't get to different results doing the same old things with the same old people. If you want different results, you are going to have to think about what does it mean to partner with some of the folks who are most impacted by the problem. But that might mean you have to support those partnerships in different ways. Often those folks haven't been partnering with government for a reason.

If you are gonna try to build a partnership with them, one that's rooted in listening to them there, there's a line that I often say in the work [00:18:00] is that communities, they are experts in their own experiences. They are partners in the creation of solutions and they are evaluators of whether we are successful.

Jorge Fanjul: Candace believes that it is also vital to build and embed equity into our institutions.

Candace Moore: And then our last pillar is owning institutional transformation that we actually have to change the way we work. So if my job is streets and sanitation, what does equity look like in streets and sanitation? At first glance, people might say garbage and street cleanings, like what does that have to do with equity?

An example is that in many of our cities, what places get served is often a huge equity issue. Many of our systems rely on complaint based [00:19:00] systems and who feels comfortable enough to call government and complain, taps into who feels like they have a relationship with government? Who thinks they have power in government?

Um, and so you can begin to very quickly see the inequitable results and the, and, and the really awesome part is that we could actually do something very different and actually have very different results. We can not rely on complaints. There are different ways of us understanding whether there are problems with streets and sanitation issues, and we can rely on some of those as well to tell us what's not coming through the complaint based system and allocate our resources accordingly.

You can't get to equity, thinking you can keep everything the same. You have to be willing to invest in what you want, and then ultimately, you have to operationalise the work. You have to be clear about what your plan is. Be accountable to progress against that plan, but [00:20:00] also be accountable to the need to iterate and the need to learn from mistakes that were made or strategies that aren't working and that work is not linear. It is a cycle. It is an ecosystem that you are constantly strengthening as you learn more and you have more opportunities.

Jorge Fanjul: As Candace has mentioned, it is unrealistic to think we will achieve legitimacy in government without experimentation and iteration. Learning from mistakes and building upon successeses is how government shows that it is listening to its people.

Candace Moore: There is a community leader that I was working with who said, progress moves at the speed of trust, and I'm sure it's a quote that many people have heard, and I don't know who originally said it, so I can't attribute it to them. Trust is so important. Trust is our currency in the work. When I talk about the broken relationship between government and community, that happened because trust was broken, and so [00:21:00] government should see it as its fundamental responsibility that relationships aren't just a nice to have, they are an essential to any process.

Jorge Fanjul: The road to trust is a long one with plenty of dead ends, but with each wrong turn comes an opportunity to listen, learn and partner with the community to steer a better way forward. We will hear more about how other city governments are rebuilding trust with communities after this brief ad break.

Adrian Brown: Hi there, Reimagining Government listeners. It's Adrian here. Before we continue the episode, I wanted to tell you about a podcast I'm really enjoying right now. I Hate Politics is a podcast about neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools, and streets and local governments as they function in diverse and democratic societies. In a news environment dominated by national and international crises, polarised politics [00:22:00] and snarky social media, I Hate Politics, takes a worm's eye view of suburban Washington DC in the shadow of the world's most powerful government, and in doing so, finds universal truths. No matter how much we may hate politics, we are never exempt from it, even when we refuse to participate.

The purpose of politics is to keep society functioning precisely when we don't agree with each other. Like now, you can listen to I Hate Politics on YouTube and your favourite podcast or streaming platform, and if you do let them know that the Reimagining Government Podcast sent you.

Jorge Fanjul: Detroit is home to over 128,000 residents with disabilities according to the Census Bureau's 2020 American Community Survey. That's one out of five [00:23:00] residents.

SFX: Here's a live look at downtown Detroit right now. Can see a little bit of that cloud cover that Kim was talking about. We're definitely gonna see some changes though for the next few days. Uh, nothing major, but definitely change.

Jorge Fanjul: The city government wanted to improve its awareness and consideration of citizens with disabilities. Transforming Detroit into a more welcoming, inclusive, and accessible city began with creating an office of disability affairs. Reevaluating the city's core values, educating city employees about disability related issues and empowering individuals with disabilities to lead the way.

Christopher Samp: Hi, I'm Christopher Samp. I use he, him pronouns. I am deaf, and I use sign language to communicate.

Jorge Fanjul: Christopher Samp is director of the Office of Disability Affairs for the City of Detroit. He is deaf and uses sign language to communicate. Here he explains what the Office of Disability Affairs is and how it is making Detroit into a more welcoming, inclusive, and accessible city. [00:24:00] Christopher explained why the Office of Disability Affairs is so important to the 128,000 residents with disabilities in Detroit.

Christopher Samp: The disability community has been advocating for the Office of Disability Affairs for more than the ten years, including petitioning the city council in 2020. In February, 2021, mayor Mike Duggan formally announced the launch of the Office of Disability Affairs, which is one of the eight teams under the Civil Rights Inclusion and Opportunity Department.

We have over 128,000 residents with disabilities and the Office of Disability Affairs’ mission statement is to increase independent opportunity, community participation, safety, and wellness of people with disabilities. So it's important to have some kind of consistency in the government. You have one place you can go to for help and not have to worry about if there is a staff turnover, someone forgets or drops the ball. You have one office that is stable and consistent [00:25:00] and will be there to be supportive of people with disabilities.

Jorge Fanjul: Disability advocates and disabled constituents worked directly with the Office of Disability Affairs to understand important issues that impact people with disabilities.

Dessa Cosma: I am Dessa Cosma. I use she, her pronouns. I'm the Director of Detroit Disability Power, and I'm a wheelchair user and a little person.

Jorge Fanjul: Detroit Disability Power is a membership organisation that works to build the political power of the disability community, which has been actively collaborating with the Office of Disability Affairs. Here Dessa speaks to the importance of a strong relationship between communities and government when deciding solutions on disability issues and beyond

Dessa Cosma: The Office of Disability Affairs, as Christopher said, really came out of a community demand for access to all that our city has to offer. Until there was an Office of Disability Affairs, there was no one or no department for us to go to when we had [00:26:00] concerns specifically about navigating this huge, amazing, complex city. If we had any challenges because of our disabilities or because of access needs, there was no one to go to before and now there is.

And so the ability to go to Christopher or others at the Office of Disability Affairs with uh, concerns with help navigating the city, with ideas, with frustrations to be able to go somewhere and have that information received, not only respectfully, but by other people with disabilities who understand what our experience is, is, um, really huge for us.

It's a new office, but it's already very helpful in helping us make sure that our city is making decisions that are good for some of the most marginalised residents, or those of us with Disabilities.

Jorge Fanjul: Though Detroit's Office of Disability Affairs was just recently established in 2021, it has its roots in more than a decade of activism from the local disability community.

Dessa Cosma: The Office of Disability [00:27:00] Affairs exists because of activists. So more than 10 years ago, activists like Lisa Franklin from Warriors on Wheels started pushing the city to open an office like this. And about five years ago, a coalition was formed with Warriors on Wheels and Collective for Disability Justice, the National Federation for the Blind, as well as my organisation Detroit Disability Power.

And we organised together, we pushed really hard on council and the mayor to create this office. And thankfully, after a bit of organising, we were successful. And that is where the office came from. That's why Christopher's position was then posted. And so now our job we see is really to help the Office of Disability Affairs live into its vision and its mission.

Jorge Fanjul: Detroit's Office of Disability Affairs and its work with community-based organisations shows the importance of working across boundaries to get results. It's also a testament to the importance of having people with [00:28:00] disabilities spearheading the change.

Christopher Samp: Empowering someone who has a disability to lead the Office of Disability Affairs is so important. A person who has a lived experience as a person with a disability, like myself, I'm deaf. I grew up in an environment where everything was not accessible to me. It was a really audio centred world. You know, I don't have access to information without support of interpreters or captioning. It's so important to have someone who has that experience, that understands another person with disability.

There's challenges that they face every day. The discrimination, the ableism added to. We are far from being perfect. The ADA is at the bare minimum, so we have to do more than the bare minimum requirement of the ADA.

Jorge Fanjul: the ADA or the Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

As it was written in 1990, this act is [00:29:00] becoming increasingly outdated and only outlines the bare minimum care for Americans and disabilities. So how does Detroit's Office of Disability Affairs plan to go further than the ADA and provide satisfactory care for the citizens of Detroit?

Christopher Samp: So when we work with people with disability, we need to understand what are the challenge that are preventing them from have access to resources?

What can we do to create equitable opportunities? So when we started the Office of Disability Affairs, I had to figure out what topic should we prioritise because I'm only one person leading the office. So we did a survey out to the community and we asked them, what are the challenges you face right now? And most of them just said, I have a difficulty having access to public transportation. Some of my sidewalks are broken, making the entire route inaccessible to me, or employment - I'm having difficulty finding a job. [00:30:00] Employers or hiring managers don't know how to interview me or set me up for success. So there's a lot of different challenges the disability community faces.

Jorge Fanjul: Christopher and the Office of Disability Affairs listened to the concerns of the community, including barriers to transit and access to jobs. Then created a three year strategic plan to prioritise and address the myriad of challenges members of the disability community face every day.

Christopher Samp: So the three year strategic plan we created helped me prioritise and focus on key areas. The first phase was building the efforts from ground up. What kind of services should we provide to the disability community? And so there are three parts that the Office of Disability Affairs do. One is to increase public engagement and community partnership. You know, building relationships between the community and the city government.

Second is providing constituent services, making sure that our program and services are exceptional quality and delivered in a timely [00:31:00] manner. And then the last disability awareness and ADA compliances. So my role is to make sure we help educate the city employees on what the Americans with Disabilities Act says and how we can do more to make the environment more inclusive to residents.

Jorge Fanjul: The work in Detroit exemplifies the positives of listening to residents’ lived experiences in championing the voices of those who have so often been heard the least. By working together with communities, government can co-create the solutions that form the foundation for more inclusive, welcoming, and accessible cities for all.

Christopher Samp: And we have learned a lot of important tools for creating public trust between the community and the city government. And one of the important tools is to host listening sessions with the community, bridging them between the city government and the community. Because sometimes policymakers or decision makers make the [00:32:00] decision for the disabled community and not with..

Christopher Samp: So the most important word I want to emphasise is with the people with disability not for. Because people with disabilities in Detroit, they love living here. They love the history and they love working or living or raising their family here. Here we have the most amazing pizza. We have the most amazing parks, but we wanna make sure that the city is accessible and create equitable opportunities for them to be successful. And to live here as long as they can. And their being a contributing member of our society.

Jorge Fanjul: As we have found from the changemakers so far in this episode. building trust is much easier said than done. There is no one size fits all solution. Each instance of distrust between residents and their government comes with its own history and complexities to navigate. But in cases where trusting relationships do exist, how can government best seek out these strengths and build on them. Let me show you a city that has already seen success from nurturing [00:33:00] relationships, bringing the city and community closer together, and ultimately building government legitimacy.

The residents of Cincinnati, Ohio have a complex relationship with their government. In the past, Cincinnati's community engagement efforts have prioritised expediency, perceived expertise, and proximity to power. This has disempowered historically marginalised communities and voices. As such, these residents don't see the value in engagement, creating a cycle of distrust.

To help address this, a team was assigned to build an equitable community engagement infrastructure within the city to build trust with residents.

Scott Dean: My name is Scott Dean and I'm a public health educator with the Cincinnati Health Department, and Cincinnati is, well, I don't wanna say it's unique, but we have 52 neighbourhoods that compose the city and what's good for [00:34:00] one neighbourhood isn't necessarily gonna be good for another neighbourhood. So that's why it's very important to build those uh, relationships.

Jorge Fanjul: Scott Dean led this work to build trust with the marginalised residents of Cincinnati, helping them reclaim their voices and have a say in what happens in their neighbourhoods.

Scott Dean: Generally, the way things would work in the city is. We have our city council meetings and they have, uh, committee meetings. And in the committee meetings is when a lot of the community members have a chance to come down, voice their concerns, their complaints, if they were like the project. Like that's their time to get an input. The only drawback to that is you get like two minutes to speak and then the committee meetings are usually during the day, which is not opportune for a lot of people because people work, have families attend to, so they don't really get a chance to come all the way down to City Hall to talk about a project that might be coming to their neighbourhood. So that's how we came up with the [00:35:00] idea. What can we do to make it easier for the residents to interact with the city officials where we can, you know, do our job of going out, seeing what you know your concerns are.

What are things you want done in your neighbourhood versus you having to come to us? It'd be easier if we just came to you. So that's how we came up with this mobile engagement unit.

Jorge Fanjul: The idea of the mobile engagement unit was to bring engagement to historically underrepresented communities. Meeting them where they are to listen, ideate and co-create together on challenges that they are prioritising in their communities.

The team brought the idea to life in various ways, depending on the residents they were working with.

Scott Dean: We, we kind of do background work, like what is gonna be coming up that we need to present to, uh, neighbourhood X. We would take that question and then take it to the community and we would just pop up in [00:36:00] random places, set up a table, have um, maps about like, this is the area that would be impacted.

You know, what are your thoughts on this? Like, what would you like to see go here? How would you like to see this program?

Jorge Fanjul: What makes this work unique was Cincinnati's approach to who brought community engagement. It was paramount that the public servants working with community were trusted. In Scott's case, he oriented his work around Madisonville, a community close to where he grew up.

Scott Dean: Madisonville is a neighbourhood in Cincinnati that's been going through the kind of a resurgence, spending a lot of money in that area trying to help redevelop it. A lot of companies and businesses have been pouring back into the community. It's been moving kind of fast to the point where some community members feel like stuff is happening to them and they're not really having a voice in the process anymore.

You know, when you start having more business pop up in the community, property taxes start going [00:37:00] up. The price of living in that area starts going up. So you have longtime residents who've been there through the good and the bad times, but now they may be older on a fixed income. They're being priced out of their neighbourhood because they just, they can't afford to live there anymore.

Scott Dean: So it was real important to make sure we, we started to recognize what was happening here and figure out how, how to start incorporating these other voices to make sure the thoughts of the community as a whole was captured.

Jorge Fanjul: In order to promote greater community involvement. Scott tested out the mobile engagement unit with local community residents. He shares more about what they learned from young people when they hosted a unit at a youth recreation centre.

Scott Dean: When we did our prototype in Madisonville, we got down there, it really wasn't a lot of foot traffic or everything, so when we were like, Hey, you know, there's a rec center that's right around the corner, let's go and, and [00:38:00] set it up over there.

So we went to the rec center and there was a lot of kids that were just coming over cuz they were getting out of school and to work with kids and see like what their priorities are, what they deem beneficial to the neighbourhood or what they wanna see in the neighbourhood. It's interesting because of course there's a lot of like kid related things like, oh we want a game room or we need a McDonald's over here, or, but then there's also some like, hey, it'd be great if we had like a laundromat that was like closer so we didn't have to walk so far to do laundry cause my mom's car isn't that great and we’re trying to drive that much. Or it'd be great if we had a grocery store that was easy to walk to instead of having to catch a bus like 5, 10, 20 minutes away and then have to carry all these groceries back home. So it was, it was really interesting to work with the kids, see their perspectives.[00:39:00]

Jorge Fanjul: Of course, it's not always possible to pair a community with a public servant who they already trust. But by diversifying who you put in power, speaking to the residents in question and creating opportunities for people of all backgrounds, we can improve government legitimacy and ensure that those who have historically been marginalised have a voice and a say in what happens to their city.

Scott Dean: When talking to residents a lot of people already have some type of feeling towards government. Some people love government. Some people don't love government. Some people feel like all government does is take their money. All of that is is okay. The biggest thing is to respect people, respect their, their difference of opinions in their ideas, and make them feel heard.

If you go to someone and you're asking them for something, whether that be information, feedback, um, how can we make things better for you? They're taking time out of their day to do [00:40:00] something for you. When you create a feedback loop like this, you wanna make sure that you circle back around with the information that you're getting because if people just feel like they're just giving information, just giving information, but they're never getting anything back, then they probably don't want to talk to you again.

You have to make sure you're giving back to the community. So if we're going and we're asking you for something, whether that be your time, information, thoughts, opinions, we need to make sure that we're gonna follow up with you in a reasonable amount of time and let you know what we're doing with this information we just solicited it from you, you know, just being there with people. So people don't feel like it's us versus them, and they really feel that we are all in it together. That's a big thing that will go a long way in improving community engagement with everyone, building trust, building authentic relationships, [00:41:00] and make sure you close feedback loops. Don't ask for information if you don't plan to do anything with it.

Jorge Fanjul: Talking to residents as people on a one-on-one basis, giving them time to air their concerns to public servants shows that the government is open to their input. In order to build trust, residents need to feel heard. However, listening and accommodating every individual resident's needs is an impossible task, but that's why it's important to be able to lean on trusted voices within communities, to advise on issues that need to be.

Scott Dean: As a government entity, there's things that certain community members know that I have no clue about. So having someone from an area that's worked with the community that you can go and talk to, that helps to bridge that gap. Because if I'm going and talking to this person, they're already a gatekeeper to the community.

Scott Dean: They, they know the community, they know a lot about the [00:42:00] leanings and the movements of people in the community, thoughts of what the community wants, and they can convey that information back to us. They already have that built in trust and them having that trust in going and being able to say, hey, no, I work with these people they do good work. Like we can trust them. It's then on us to make sure we're doing our job of like, okay, we've taken the information that you've given us. This is what we've done with it. This is what we came up with. Like what do you think about this? Like seeking, like going out and actively seeking their input. Being proactive in seeking input.

Jorge Fanjul: Cincinnati's example demonstrates how cities can take strides forward and build stronger relationships with residents, but their work is not over. They remain focused on finding new ways to engage their communities in championing the voices of those often excluded.

Scott Dean: We definitely want to keep finding [00:43:00] innovative ways to reach community members. We want to definitely make sure we're elevating voices of those who don't feel heard or those who feel disillusioned with interacting with the government. The fact that some people have an opportunity to even air out their concerns, their grievances is huge. The people just wanna feel heard and a lot of times they don't feel heard by government.

I feel like as a people, we have a duty to elevate the voice of the people that feel like they're voiceless, because if we just have one voice dominating the whole conversation, we're gonna lose everything that makes our city what it is.

Adrian Brown: Our society relies on trust between government and the people it serves. Without it, we risk dismantling the relationships, systems, and processes we rely upon in our day-to-day lives. Government is not all knowing, nor will it ever be. And [00:44:00] because of this, tackling problems with a learning approach rather than a control approach results in more durable and inclusive solutions.

By listening to residents, taking the time to truly hear them, we can rebuild trust between government and communities, many of whom have been marginalised in the past. Through difficult conversations, sharing power with and empowering residents, we can help forge a more equitable future, rebuilding the relationship between government and the community.

We have a long road ahead of us, but as the changemakers from today's episode have shown us, actions will always speak louder than words. Thanks for listening to this episode of Reimagining Government. The conversation on the theme of this episode, reimagining a More equitable government, continues over on If you're a public servant or government official, we want to hear from you. [00:45:00] How can governments build trust with underserved communities?

Head over to the apolitical Q&A link in the show notes to this episode, and share your experiences with other public servants from all over the world. In the next episode, we look at what a reimagined government looks like at a national scale with the Centre for Public Impact’s director for Australia and New Zealand, Thea Snow.

Make sure you don't miss an episode by subscribing to Reimagining Government on your favourite podcast. Remember also to leave a review to tell us how we're doing. Until next time, I've been Adrian Brown. Goodbye.[00:46:00]

🎙️ Reimagining Government

In partnership with Apolitical, this six-part podcast explores radical new approaches to addressing global issues such as the climate crisis, equitable healthcare provision, and rebuilding trust with marginalised communities. By speaking with public servants and politicians at the heart of government, we’ll shine a light on how to reimagine government so it works for everyone.


Written by:

Share this article: