• Listen to @NadineMCSmith discuss @CPI_Foundation's #FindingLegitimacy project with @thejamesmax of @talkRadio
  • People are feeling disconnected to government + concerned they won't have any say over their future, says @NadineMCSmith #FindingLegitimacy
  • The frontline staff of government *can* do empathy, says @NadineMCSmith, but the question is have they got the time? #FindingLegitimacy

Earlier this morning, Nadine Smith, CPI’s global director of marketing and communications, was interviewed by James Max of the UK’s Talk Radio. They discussed our new report, Finding a more human government, our research on #FindingLegitimacy, and how governments can go about building a better relationship with citizens.

Here’s what they had to say…

James: Let’s find out a little bit more about a brand new report that has been published. It’s called Finding a more human government and has been published by the Centre for Public Impact and, in essence, it is about the legitimacy of government and about how you and me interact with it, not only in the UK but elsewhere.

Let’s find out a little bit more about what this means and the impact on us. Nadine Smith is global marketing and communications director for the Centre for Public Impact and she joins me on the line. Nadine, a very good morning to you.

Nadine: Good morning

James: So, you’ve been in Paris to launch this report and I’ve been lucky enough to have a read of it. What you’re concluding is really quite profound in terms of people’s engagement with government and why we really don’t trust them very much.

Nadine: That’s right. We went around the world and spoke to people from all walks of life, young and old, those who were pretty connected to governments every day in their businesses, and those who never really thought much about it. What was really striking – and partly why we thought we had to bring this report out now at this conference in Paris on integrity and trust – is quite how similar people’s concerns were, no matter where they were or what type of government.

They are concerned about their relationship with government – it’s quite clear that people were feeling very disconnected to government every day, and very concerned that they wouldn’t have any say over their future as well. That was particularly true for young people who really are, encouragingly, desperate to work with government to think about their future and to envisage a vision for their future.

We often talk about our vision for our own country, and we often hear government saying that it has a very clear vision for the country but, actually, younger people, particularly, felt that this wasn’t so clear. They didn’t know how to access the channels and services that government has, and they didn’t know how to talk to government about what they wanted. The felt that the media and commentators and academics are really good about talking about this stuff in a way that frankly they don’t understand.

So what we are seeing is a building disconnect. This is really, really dangerous because if government wants to connect with people and run services that work for people then they are going to need people to collaborate with them to make these services work.

This is not just citizens but the frontline as well – the people who run our health service and our teachers, for example. They, too, are feeling disconnected from the policy process and if they feel disconnected from a policy process that they can’t influence, then certainly when a policy is done to them, with the government saying “do this, this is a great policy and make sure people pick up this service,” and the frontline doesn’t understand that service or believe it is the right thing to do and hadn’t had any involvement in the design of that service, then the chances are that it’s going to completely fail.

James: Let me ask about some of the impacts of this. Inevitably, we’ve got Facebook all over the news and the impact of technology companies. In some ways, tech has democratised us as individuals and given us power to have far more say and resonance than maybe we’ve ever had, even though, to be honest, an awful lot is in echo chambers. But government has not. Is that part of the problem? We feel as if we have been empowered by technology and then suddenly we realise that no one was listening to us before but we kind of didn’t care – and now we know that no one is listening to us. Is that fair?

Nadine: Yes, I think so. I think that what is happening is that we are feeling much more connected, and we feel more empowered – whether that is true or not is another debate possibly – but we certainly feel like we can talk to one another more easily. Everybody is talking but it’s not very clear who is actually listening.

Government is a bit late to the game when it comes to engaging on social media and through platforms with people directly. Governments are absolutely starting to deliver better services through digital, so you can get your driving licence much more easily and you can apply for your new passport much more easily – these are great things.

Government talks about being digital by default, which is certainly what we need for the times we are living in, but what is interesting is that not only are people saying that they want government to talk to them, but they want government to talk them face to face. What they are asking for is a more authentic government – one that can actually do empathy.

James: They don’t really do empathy, do they?

Nadine: Well, certainly people in government like those in job centres, social services and health clinics – they probably can do empathy. The question is have they got the time? If governments aren’t valuing that skill even at the frontline then we’re really in trouble, because actually if you can’t empathise then you don’t know whether people are going to use your services or why they are not taking them up or why things aren’t working.

So what’s encouraging that in this age of talking online and of everybody thinking they are empowered, people are craving a bit more of a human government. Even at the very, very top of government – senior cabinet levels and people in political parties – they at least need to get out a little bit more and understand how people lead their lives today, but they’re not doing that.

James: If you could give one piece of advice, particularly to our government here in the UK, to kick this off in terms of what you’ve found and what they need to do, what would be the first thing you recommend?

Nadine: Have a look at the people who are running your services from the very top to the very bottom of government – do they understand the way people are living today? Are you training them properly? And are you allowing them to have the time to understand people? And are you promoting those who care, rather than just promoting those people to the top that can do policy and really good ideas and are wonderful thinkers, can they actually run the government properly for people?

So, I would say take a great look at your staff first of all and fix your diversity for goodness sake! The people we spoke to in society – particularly in the UK – felt that government just didn’t reflect the society we are living in and that there will absolutely never be any trust until they saw that fixed.

James: Nadine, if people want to find out more about your research and what you’ve been doing, where’s the best place for them to go and have a look?

Nadine: Centreforpublicimpact.org and we have a hashtag on social media, #FindingLegitimacy – get involved, tell us what you think about how governments can build better relationships with you.

 

FURTHER READING

What is legitimacy to you? Where do you see legitimacy working well? How governments work with citizens to build legitimacy is a big question for CPI. 

Find out how to get involved in our Finding Legitimacy project 

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