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Podcast Article October 18th, 2023
Delivery • Cities • Innovation • Justice • Legitimacy

Reimagining Government season 2 episode 1: transcript

🎙️ Reimagining Government

This 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.

Listen to season 2 episode 1

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SFX: Respect for human rights is not social work, it is not merely an act of compassion. It is the first obligation of the government and the source of its legitimacy.

[00:00:00] Adrian Brown: Hello and welcome to Reimagining Government. My name is Adrian Brown and I'm the Executive Director at the Centre for Public Impact. Now to have a legitimate government means it must follow its own rules and be accountable, coherent and transparent.

And in order for a government to be legitimate, it must have its people's trust. Currently, there are many communities across the globe who show distrust towards governments. In 2021, the OECD published a study that found just over 4 in 10 people indicated high to moderately high trust towards their national government.

We've got some work to do, therefore, if we want to build trust between governments and citizens. And it's important to keep in mind that legitimacy isn't something that is granted overnight. Earning legitimacy is a gradual process. Time and dedication is needed in order to make this change. So where do we start?

Well, in this episode of the podcast, I'm delighted to be joined by Naja Nelson, who's a senior associate at CPI, and together we'll be exploring what it means to earn legitimacy in government, highlighting some examples of work in this field and try to answer how we can reimagine government to make it more legitimate to everyone.

Naja, this is a big topic. This is a sensitive topic. How did you go about thinking about this?

[00:01:37] Naja Nelson: Yeah, it is super complex and also super sensitive. I think I probably did a mixture of primary and secondary research. So looking at some articles about how folks are viewing trust between residents and community.

And unfortunately, a lot of the research is suggesting that there isn't a lot of trust. And then on the primary side, I think just given the fact that we all exist in a community somewhere, I talked to friends, I talked to family, just picked their brain, asking them like, ‘what do you think about legitimacy?’ 

I probably didn't use those exact words, probably talked more in the sense of like, ‘what's your relationship to the government? How do you feel about it? Do you like that relationship? How would you like it to be different?’ And that was kind of the starting place for how I got smart on this. 

[00:02:24] Adrian Brown: And is this a topic that you've. you've looked at before, or was this something new that you were looking at at CPI?

[00:02:31] Naja Nelson: So this is a topic that I've had a little bit of experience with at CPI. So back in 2021, I supported the Earned Legitimacy learning cohort where I got to partner with the city of Detroit. They had some really ambitious goals as they were launching their Office of Disability Affairs. In addition to wanting to launch that office, they wanted to repair the relationship they had with residents with disabilities.

So this was kind of like a way of like, looking back at some of the lessons learned from that experience, since there's more, always more to learn. 

[00:03:03] Adrian Brown: I know that through your research, you've been speaking to various experts about the topic of legitimacy. Tell us a bit about the first person that you've interviewed and what their expertise is in this subject. 

[00:03:15] Naja Nelson: Yeah. The first guest that I spoke with was the accomplished Dr. Oliver Escobar.

[00:03:20] Dr Oliver Escobar: So my name is Oliver Escobar. I'm a professor in public policy and democratic innovation at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. 

[00:03:28] Naja Nelson: He also is an academic lead on democratic innovation at the Edinburgh Futures Institute.

And he also co-led a couple of projects, um, the first being the European Smart Urban Intermediaries, Distant Voices, and What Works Scotland. But overall, he's done an enormous amount of research and work on looking at participatory and deliberative democracy approaches. 

[00:03:51] Adrian Brown: So let's hear Dr. Escobar's definition of legitimacy to get us going.

[00:03:58] Dr Oliver Escobar: There is a very long, theoretical definition that we could, uh, spend the rest of our time together.unpacking. I'll keep it at a fairly straightforward level and say that, uh, is, is the ability to do things because you are trusted and empowered to do those things. The important element for me though, when thinking about legitimacy, uh, is that legitimacy cannot be separated from capacity when we are thinking about government and governance. In order to sustain legitimacy or build legitimacy, you need capacity to act and to get things done.

Those are the two fundamental pillars of democratic governance: legitimacy and capacity. A lot of our institutions are struggling to either sustain or develop legitimacy, but it often has to do with questions of capacity to act in the face of the poly-crisis, if we want to use that term, that confluence of challenges that we're facing as a humanity.

[00:05:07] Adrian Brown: So that's really interesting that Dr. Escobar is talking about these two pillars of legitimacy and capacity. Naja, what, what's your reflection on that?

[00:05:17] Naja Nelson: I thought it was really interesting, right? Especially the part about capacity. Because I think if people are not careful and they focus too closely on legitimacy, they can be really,like outcome driven as opposed to process driven.

So like him discussing the importance of capacity in the sense, if I was to think about it, like, can the government have, has the government demonstrated their capacity to show up on their promises? Has the government demonstrated that they have the capacity to be responsive? I think that that's a core part that if people jump immediately to wanting to go into legitimacy and focusing on having trust, they can miss the important part to get there.

[00:06:02] Adrian Brown: It also seems to me it works the other way around as well, though, in that sometimes in order for the government to be able to achieve something, it does need to have legitimacy in people's minds. And I'm thinking of covid, for example, that if people just didn't feel that the government was able to tell them whether or not to have a vaccine, then, uh, then the vaccination programme itself would be less successful.

So high levels of legitimacy can help the government to get what it needs to get done. But equally, if a government has a track record of getting things done, then that will also help improve legitimacy. So it's causality can run both ways, right?

[00:06:40] Naja Nelson: Definitely. And I think specifically on the case of COVID, I think a lot of cities who were really, like, exceptional at navigating getting folks vaccinated, um, they were honest about the fact that they might not have had those strong relationships with community and leaned into like developing relationships with maybe community partners, non profit organisations, community organisers who had those relationships to really support them in getting those actions done so that folks can get vaccinated.

[00:07:09] Adrian Brown: Do you think that government sometimes misses the opportunity to benefit from the legitimacy that is held by other groups like civil society organisations, as you were just describing there? Um, or are we thinking about this wrongly by focusing on the legitimacy of government institutions themselves, when of course they have to work in partnership with, with many other actors?

[00:07:30] Naja Nelson: I think sometimes if we think about legitimacy only through the lens of government, we're looking at it as something that only like larger institutions can have when institutions are filled with people. And so when we tend to like zoom out a little bit and just look at like regular, degular folks who might just like have relationships and community and look at the ways in which they approach it. I think there's, there's a lot of lessons to be learned from it.

[00:07:57] Adrian Brown: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. Let's hear a little bit more about what Dr. Escobar has to say about legitimacy and the role that it plays in government. 

[00:08:06] Dr Oliver Escobar: When you're trying to think about legitimacy in terms of government, you need to take into account trust in government, you need to take into account the public perception that government is responding to the public interest and acting in the common good, all those kind of things.

Because government is not one thing it’s many things and it's made up of all kinds of institutions, networks, levels of governance, multiple actors, and so on. You need a more fine-grained analysis of legitimacy because parts of that amalgam of things that go into this term government, they suffer from different types of legitimacy deficit.

There are indicators that suggest that we are in the middle of the most significant democratic recession we have had since the second world war. And that you look at indicators like satisfaction with democracy, satisfaction with public services, satisfaction with the way we conduct political life. And often with some exceptions, but often you will find that many of these things have been in decline.

In the UK, for example, just before the pandemic, there was some research that showed the lowest level of satisfaction with democracy since these things started to be recorded. It's that traditional understanding that legitimacy just comes through elections and voting and that very minimal role of citizens every once in a while.

That's kind of constraining our ability to think of democracy and democratic governance and public action mediated by government. As something that, that is capable of grappling with complexity, with the long term thinking required, uh, and with the urgent short term action based on long term thinking that we require on things like the climate crisis.

And it's no, it's no longer enough - that traditional legitimacy of elections to act. And this is why in many ways the space for public participation and all kinds of participatory and deliberative practices has emerged. Governments recognise that a manifesto for an election, for example, can never anticipate all the issues that are going to come up.

Once you are in that kind of situation as a decision maker, you realise that you need citizen input and citizen collaboration all the way, not just at the point of an election. 

So, in many ways, what we need to do is to take a more nuanced take on legitimacy that recognises that these traditionalist stories no longer work for, for our institutions.

[00:10:34] Adrian Brown: A lot in there to, to potentially, uh, unpack, uh, Naja, but many familiar themes. But I'd love to hear your reflections on, on how sort of that complexity relates to the question of legitimacy and the challenge of, of trying to grow trust and legitimacy in the face of just massive complex challenges like the climate crisis, COVID, et cetera.

[00:10:57] Naja Nelson: I think government practitioners are well aware of the fact that the problems they're trying to navigate are really complex and super, super hard, honestly, that there's a lot of conflicting factors, a lot of limitations that are impacting their ability to do the work. If they were vulnerable with residents,right, in the sense of I think the vulnerability is key to most relationships right kind of have to show your cards if you want people to partner with you, I think government practitioners have to be willing to, like, hold their cards not so close to their chest and say, like, ‘this is the thing I'm trying to do. These are my limitations. Do you still want to partner with me to help me figure it out?’ and join them on that road of navigating the complexity.

 If they hide the fact that it's complex or pretend like they have it all figured out, um, they're not going to be able to live up to those expectations and then that's going to make them have even less legitimacy than they currently have.

[00:11:55] Adrian Brown: Yeah, I love the way you framed that. It seems to me that often there's a tendency, whether it's driven at the political level or just through the sort of natural desire of a bureaucracy, to want to have things under control and to look like they've got everything covered, uh, but in doing so, that of course sets up a dynamic where people are going to be disappointed because in the face of these complex challenges, the truth is, we don't have, no one has all the answers and nothing is ever always completely under control and we are muddling through, right. But muddling through isn't a negative thing in this case, it's actually a sort of somewhat sensible strategy, you just have to muddle through in a way which is purposeful and collaborative and trust-enhancing rather than trust-diminishing.

That's what we're observing some of the better public officials or, or governments doing as opposed to the sort of, ‘I've got all the answers’ version. 

[00:12:59] Naja Nelson: Yeah, it's also a lot more easy for folks to connect to that in the sense of like, Oh, this person is not pretending to have it all together. They're just as human.

They're trying, they're, they work a job just like I do. Um, it might be a different type of job, but they have challenges on that job too.

[00:13:24] SFX: Right, one last question. Clap, really loud, if you are satisfied by the way funds are spent in city government (one person claps) Who’s this?

Okay, now let's hear a clap if you think you could do a better job of making some of those decisions (loud applause).

Dr Oliver Escobar: So participatory budgeting is one of the most advanced forms of democratic innovation because it now has a 30 year history. It's a democratic innovation and now you can find it in all continents. Um, there are around 11,000 participatory budgeting processes. The way this works is it's based on a very basic premise, which is let's involve citizens and communities in deciding how to allocate public budgets.

There are many different ways of doing it. There are many different models of participatory budgeting. Some of them are more effective than others, but the reason PB became so popular is because in its first 10 years in Brazil, it really showed a lot of capacity to address very difficult challenges, especially for the most disadvantaged populations.

So, it was a very powerful way of mobilising the capacity of citizens to come together in neighborhoods, at municipal level, and then also in some cases at regional level, to, to try and put forward the best arguments possible to direct funding to where it was really, really needed. And the result, in the case of Brazil, which is the case best studied so far, show really important achievements, like a reduction in infant mortality, a decrease in health inequalities, like an expansion of civil society capacity to act on a number of issues.

So all of that is on the administration side, but on the community side, it's really interesting because what it does is it unleashes the potential of communities to, to try and respond to their own priorities and fulfill their own aspirations. So essentially it's a way of democratising the way we allocate some parts of public budgets.

[00:15:17] Adrian Brown: So I love, I love this example because often when we talk about a concept like legitimacy or trust, it can still be pretty conceptual and high level, but participatory budgeting is a fantastically concrete way of getting into this. But I'm not sure I'm still clear what it is, Naja, from the answer there.

Could you perhaps fill in a few more of the blanks as to what exactly is participatory budgeting? I understand it's about getting... the community involved in the budgeting process, but how does that actually work?

[00:15:48] Naja Nelson: From my perception, participatory budgeting is a process in which government practitioners intentionally set a time and a place for community residents to show up and vocalise what it is are the community’s, maybe three to five top priorities that they believe that from the limited budgeting that they do have as a community, they want to put pull their resources to focus on those big buckets or big bets. 

[00:16:18] Adrian Brown: That's, that's really helpful. And I suppose through that conversation, it's not just the outcome of the conversation that we've decided these three things. But it's the process of having the conversation between the different interests that necessarily will exist within any community.

Where hopefully as a result of that process, I could see, you know, people's appreciation and understanding of other points of view and other priorities and then the necessary trade-offs that that do have to get made that you can't just have everything you want and through that process, a lot of benefits will come in terms of understanding mutual trust, not just between the community and government, but between the different parts of the community. And I would imagine commitment to sort of support the follow through of whatever has been decided there, or certainly at least to keep engaging in that conversation, which is also feels important. 

[00:17:15] Naja Nelson: I also think in addition to sharing resources, it's it's honestly sharing power. So in the sense of like power, it typically comes with a lot of responsibility. And so that means that you get the benefits of it. And you also unfortunately experience the negative impacts of it. If, if you make a, a not ideal situation through participatory budgeting, people can ideally test and explore things together.

So in the sense of if you were previously not involved in the process and the government. pays for something that isn't necessarily great or didn't necessarily meet all the expectations, there's kind of a communal responsibility where you all made this decision collectively. And so rather than pointing the finger, you get to learn from it as a collective and say, well, what did we learn from this?

We made a decision and we learned that we probably don't want to spend our resources this way again. So I think there's some benefits to it too. 

[00:18:12] Adrian Brown: That’s yeah, that's a great point. And by opening up, by being more participatory, by being more vulnerable, you are, as you, as you just said Naja, you are somehow repositioning or redistributing, in some sense, the power that you might traditionally think of as being held by government.

[00:18:33] Dr Oliver Escobar: If I share power, I lose power, right? And for a lot of power holders, that's quite daunting because, you know, not, not just, it's not out of, oh, I want to hold on to the, to the power I have is more to do with, well, I'm here to try and make something happen. I need this power. So I can do these things, right?

Uh, it might come from a good place. I'm not saying that it's always just, um, you know, greediness. But the point I'm trying to make is that a zero sum understanding of power is very limiting. Because power can also be generative. Power can generate power that wasn't there before. When you share power, what you're potentially doing is mobilising legitimacy and capacity that you wouldn't have otherwise.

Sharing power is a way of generating new power that wasn't there before. 

[00:19:17] Adrian Brown: It's absolutely true, I think, that We have a tendency, I have a tendency, to think about power as zero sum. Whereas this idea of it being generative and almost like, I don't know, like gardening or something. Like if you, if you share out the seeds in the garden, then they will generate more plants or more vegetables, right?

That's, uh, it's, if you hold on to the ball, there's, nothing's going to happen at all. 

Have you seen that concept come to life in your work Naja or through examples you’ve seen/ 

[00:19:47] Naja Nelson: This reminds me of our program at the innovation through the innovation track program where CPI partners with cities using human-centered design to tackle complex and difficult problems.

So I guess an example could be the city of Chattanooga. With the city of Chattanooga, they were really interested in working on that. youth gun violence back in 2022. And through the process of co-design sessions, resident interviews, specifically focused on having those interviews with youth, youth mentors, parents, coaches, they, they learned a lot about the, the problem with youth gun violence. But they also learned a lot about how they were people who were doing a lot of great initiatives already that maybe the government didn't necessarily need to reinvent the wheel on. 

But maybe just needed to help enable them to do more impactful work, such as like equipping people who are already doing great work with more resources or access to better supplies. But I think that there is something there to the idea that it can generate power, generate stronger results when you tend to move beyond trying to hoard power, but share it. 

[00:21:01] Adrian Brown: Let me just voice one potential problem with this. If you say come to a community meeting to discuss the budget, a certain category of people is going to show up, which are the people who are presumably quite interested and quite engaged and maybe have, you know, the ideas of the things that they want funded, and they're going to lobby for that. But then a lot of people are not going to Uh, turn up because that's absolutely not what they're interested in, they don't trust anything to do with that process, or they, or they never even hear of it in the first place because they're just not connected with whatever the channels are that that's, that's shared through.

So I think we do have a problem of like who's turning up and let's hear what Dr. Escobar has to say about that. 

[00:21:37] Dr Oliver Escobar: So this is the problem we've had traditionally with standard government consultations. They only create a space where certain type of people engage. You know, some people. use a very stigmatising label for them.

They call them the usual suspects. I think that's problematic because we're punishing those who are engaged. We shouldn't do that. We should just expand the range of engagement so that, you know, these people who are already there can be there, but then the space becomes a more inclusive and diverse space where others come in.

The field of democratic innovation, tries to be a bridge between communities and institutions, right? And the whole point of this is it has to be a space that is built for all kinds of people to come together because all these issues affect everyone. So this is about getting beyond partisan tribal alliances and trying to build a democracy that is a bit more participative and deliberative so that we can deal with conflict in more productive ways.

[00:22:31] Adrian Brown: So that sounds like a great idea. How does that work in practice, Naja?

[00:22:33] Naja Nelson: Yeah, I think in practice, it looks like the idea of always asking who isn't here, who is missing? I also think shifting from the idea of like creating spaces where people have to come to us might be a reactive approach, whereas there could be a proactive approach from government practitioners.

So if I was to do like another example to shout out the city of Chattanooga, one thing I really appreciated in their approach is that they were showing up to summer camps, uh, they were showing up to schools because they were like, ‘we want to talk to teachers, so, and we know that teachers are really busy, so, we're going to show up to where they are’.

‘We want to talk to parents, so, we're going to show up where we know parents are’. I think that that, as an approach, gives, uh, government practitioners way more results that they're looking for because they're not, like, putting the power on the sense of, like, I need all of the perfect outcomes to happen for everyone that I want to show up.

They're instead creating the outcome so that they can meet the people that they want to see and talk to.

Adrian Brown: Hi, if you like what we’re doing at Reimagining Government, check out our friends over at How to Really Run A City podcast. It’s hosted by a couple of smart, hilarious and outspoken former two-term mayors: Atlanta’s Kasim Reed and Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter. Each episode features a different A-list guest sharing their secrets about how to really get stuff done in the urban laboratories we call cities. So check out How To REALLY Run a City, brought to you by the nonprofit Philadelphia Citizen and co-hosted by award-winning journalist and author Larry Platt, wherever you get your podcasts and at

Naja Nelson: In addition to talking with Dr. Escobar, I also had an opportunity to touch base with an old friend from Detroit. She is someone I actually met during the original earned legitimacy learning cohort back in 2021: Jaime Junior. 

[00:24:38] Jaime Junior: I am. Currently serving as the Advocacy and Community Education Coordinator for the Disability Network of Wayne County, Detroit.

[00:24:47] Naja Nelson: But before that, she also served as a disability organiser and also is currently the reigning Miss Wheelchair Michigan.

[00:24:56] Jaime Junior: In both of my roles, I have the opportunity to advocate and educate the general community about individuals with disabilities and discuss the importance of uniqueness and beauty.

Disability Network Wayne County, Detroit is a centre for independent living and centres for independent living are organisations that are ran primarily, 51%, by individuals with disabilities, and that's cross disability, that use their lived experience and learn and education to assist other individuals with disabilities.

[00:25:42] Adrian Brown: So Naja, Jaime there is starting to talk about the importance of lived experience and how that can be brought to bear both within a particular community to support other members of that community but also to influence decision makers whether those are in government or elsewhere. Could you talk a little bit more about how you understand that concept of sort of bringing lived experience to bear and any examples you've seen where it's worked well.

[00:26:06] Naja Nelson: So in addition to working alongside Jaime, I actually got to work with an individual named Christopher Samp, who serves as the Director for the Office of Disability Affairs.

[00:26:16] Adrian Brown: And Christopher, I think we spoke to in episode four of our last season of Reimagining Government. 

Christopher Samp: Hi, I'm 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 grew up in an environment where everything was not accessible to me. It was really an audio centred world. 

[00:26:44] Naja Nelson: I think that him having that lived experience has really informed a lot of the ways in which he has approached community engagement.

So, I know that one of the things that he has really made an effort to do with, like, more, like, community-based sessions is making sure there's always a translator there, uh, making sure that ASL is available for folks. But I think, if someone who didn't necessarily have that experience, that lived experience, such as being deaf or maybe having a disability to think about how accessible getting into a room is, I think that could impact how they might create a space for residents to join them.

[00:27:23] Adrian Brown: So let's hear from Jaime again as to what her definition of legitimacy is 

[00:27:29] Jaime Junior: So legitimacy to me means transparency, willingness to step out of that policy box in government and really understand the needs of the people that you are serving and the uniqueness that they bring to the community as a whole. I think sometimes in government, at least from my experience we tend to focus on the path of least resistance. That might meet the needs of the greater majority, but what I find as I work to build more equity, when you create a system that works best, for individuals in the margins of your society, you generally make it better for all. 

So, legitimacy to me is really digging in your heels, being transparent, being open about what needs to happen in order for you to serve your purpose as government, which is making it better for the people.

[00:28:36] Adrian Brown: That's really interesting because there are some themes there, which are similar to what Dr. Escobar was saying, but also potentially some contradictions. So she was saying, yes, you need to be open and transparent and creating that collaborative space, which is what Dr. Escobar was, was arguing for. But she, she also made that important point about not following the path of least resistance and I think that there potentially is a danger with the sort of participatory approach that we arrive at a sort of vanilla average that is agreed by everybody but actually doesn't meet the needs of anybody specifically and certainly won't meet the needs of the, as Jaime described, the groups that are more at the margins.

[00:29:18] Naja Nelson: Yeah, I think that it's an interesting thing of like if you want to go the the route of breadth of trying to reach as many people as possible versus depth of like really wanting to go deep on maybe a particular couple of issues. It will require government practitioners to maybe set the stage if they are even in conversations with a large group of folks to say, ‘hey, these are our values. These are our priorities. Whatever decisions we make, we want to make sure they benefit the collective. So let's be mindful of that.’

 I think that also means that maybe doing some, like, intentional work to prioritise certain perspectives that might get missed. So, like, if they're facilitating a conversation, I think, as a facilitator, that could look like saying, ‘hey, I've heard from these folks, but I haven't heard from these folks, so before we continue on, let's pause and make sure we get your perspective. Does this meet your need? Does this not?’ I just think it might require, like, a stronger, more intentional facilitation approach, but I think participatory budgeting Could still be a powerful tool. 

[00:30:17] Jaime Junior: Something that I learned in our first cohort that was re instilled in me is the idea of ABL, always be looking for who's not in the room, always be looking for who's not represented, even as you're mapping resources. Look at the fact that your community members are one of the largest assets you have.

[00:30:43] Adrian Brown: In your work, I'm guessing, uh, Naja, particularly your work with, with Jaime, that was perhaps a concept that was used quite a lot.

[00:30:53] Naja Nelson: Yes, definitely. Especially in the sense of, we were trying to support the Office of Disability Affairs to, like, support residents with disabilities, um, really well. But if you say people with disabilities, that's a really large group of folks.

So I think it does require some intentionality to, to name who those folks are, who are those groups, who are we looking for? Because if not, you can run the risk of missing some really important perspectives. 

[00:31:18] Adrian Brown: And then it's the sense that you should try and bring them into the room or, or rather, or maybe sort of go out and engage with them in the way you were describing earlier.

What do you do when you, when you you're mindful that there are groups who aren't in the room? 

[00:31:31] Naja Nelson: I think you can do some intentional outreach to invite them, but I also think that in that intentional outreach, I think I'd be interested to ask, ‘do you know this is happening? Are you choosing to not come? Why is that?’

Because then maybe there's some information that could be useful to sit to know if maybe I'm not creating an inviting environment, maybe the space isn't accessible, or maybe they didn't know. Maybe we just haven't like publicised it well. I think before asking people, you know, like, please come, I think it's also useful to understand why they might not come.

Was there any particular moment or action that you found that your team took to really start to create that organisational change? 

[00:32:16] Jaime Junior: Our presence, myself, and the director of the office, um, and it's the office of disability affairs. Um, the director's name is Christopher Samp. He is a deaf person. I am a person with cerebral palsy that uses a wheelchair.

So I want to say, honestly, our presence created an atmospheric shift. Because when we were in meetings, we forced them to think about a perspective other than the one that they had as an able bodied individual that didn't have difficulty communicating.

[00:32:55] Adrian Brown: Now, before we finish up, Naja, I think you've got another example of community participation that's quite interesting to, to look at before we close. 

[00:33:02] Naja Nelson: Yes So recently, Calgary, Alberta, located in Canada, they participated in the innovation training program where they delivered a partnership with CPI and the Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation.

The Innovation Training Program is a collaborative program designed to help cities adopt innovation techniques using human-centered design that engages residents in testing, adapting, and scaling ideas with the potential for long term impact. 

[00:33:33] The innovation lab people were talking about, well, how are we going to record responses? Well we have clipboards, you know? How can we, how can we get people to interact?

[00:33:41] Naja Nelson: We worked in partnership with Cathie Christensen, who served as the team lead for the City of Calgary. 

[00:33:49] Cathie Christenson: I knew that whiteboard markers worked on my car because my car is white. I said, we'll just drive up onto the plaza, we rolled the windows down, we put music on that would be, well it's the music that I like, but it's also the music that 20 year olds like.

And we did the engagement, rather than writing down what they said, we just invited them to write their comments directly on the car, and then we just took pictures of it. It was a spectacle, so it attracted people to come and see what we were doing because we were doing something a little bit wacky. And who doesn't like tagging cars?

[00:34:24] Adrian Brown: I love that example because it shows how this topic doesn't need to be sort of all serious and you know how can we come up with some some quite intricate process for getting people to participate in a budgeting, which, you know, that is one aspect of it. But just that fun, creative, engaging way of just, of just in this case, parking a car and getting people to write on it.

That, that's such a, it's such an inspiring way of thinking about engagement. And, uh, and I'm, and I'm sure, you know, there are many, many ideas like that, which just don't normally come up because we're thinking of -we're thinking of something too seriously, uh, when actually there's some really fun alternatives that would be massively engaging and help improve trust and legitimacy along the way.

[00:35:14] Adrian Brown: It sounds like there might be some building work starting in, uh, in your apartment, but I just said we should, uh, we should look to wrap this up. So certainly one of my reflections is that when we talk about legitimacy, people might be talking about actually slightly different things and certainly our old ways of talking about legitimacy, which were much more derived from sort of voting or from formal power in organizations, are giving way now to a whole wide spectrum of different ways of thinking about how to bring people into conversations, how to think about who's not in the room, how to be fun, as we were just hearing.

So one takeaway for me is, when we think about legitimacy in government, we need to be pretty open minded about, about what that is and, and creative, uh, about how we can, uh, reimagine even what, when we're talking about legitimacy, what we're talking about and certainly how we approach sort of building legitimacy and earning legitimacy within, within government.

What are the main takeaways for you and any final practical piece of advice for any listeners who are interested in sort of taking some of these concepts forward in their work?

[00:36:18] Naja Nelson: Yeah, I think in addition to maybe wanting to avoid, uh, the self selection bias that Dr. Escobar talked about, I think that that part relates heavily to what Jaime is like they were, they're very similar talking about the similar theme of thinking about who you're constantly engaging with.

I think that there's something there to like taking note of who you're talking to, how often you're talking to them to make sure that maybe you're not like overburdening this person, but also making space to like include other perspectives. I'm also thinking about how important it is to sometimes think about, like, the roles in which we play in a space, right?

So I think Jaime brought up the example of how, like, Christopher and her play a role in, like, encouraging a space to be, have to be more intentional and be more inclusive. But I also think about, like, are there ways in which sometimes we can be in a space and be making it maybe not as inclusive. So I think that that's something that I'm thinking about and something I want to be mindful about as I'm in spaces, facilitating, thinking about like, what role I should play in it and the the atmosphere the energy that I want to create by being there 

[00:37:35] Adrian Brown: That's a great thought to finish on and that I'd also say that government as a whole perhaps does more inadvertently to suppress legitimacy than it releases so in a similar way, it's like we know government is taking up space government is setting the boundaries or the framing for a conversation in a way that is just making it difficult to build legitimacy from the get go and the more we can reflect on that and maybe just stop doing some things might be one of the easiest things that we can do to help build legitimacy in government.

Thank you so much Naja. This has been a fantastic and fascinating conversation and, and a really interesting set of interviewees. And that's the end of this episode of Reimagining Government. If you're a public servant or policymaker, we want to hear from you. What good examples of earning legitimacy have you seen?

You can tweet us at @CPI_Foundation, or you can email us at to let us know what topics we should cover in future episodes. And also please remember to leave a review on your favorite podcast platform and let us know your thoughts on the series.

And until next time, I've been Adrian Brown. Thank you for listening and goodbye.

🎙️ Reimagining Government

This 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.

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